Thursday, June 09, 2005


Is it the clout of a Democratic Party ward leader in West Philadelphia?

Is it the councilman who wants to be mayor?

Is it SEPTA management?

As reported in yesterday's Philadelphia Daily News (the fully-paid subsidiary of Michael Moore, Inc.), there appear to be plenty of fingers of blame being pointed over the 15/Girard trolley fiasco, but no apparent solution in sight:

This year, amid all the parades and fireworks of the July 4th holiday, Philadelphia will celebrate another, more embarrassing anniversary:

It will be exactly one year since this city's political leaders shelved the Route 15 trolley - an estimated $82 million public works project that was already paid for, and ready to resume its historic route along the Girard Avenue corridor.


Because Carol Campbell, a ward leader who also happens to be an officer in Philadelphia's Democratic City Committee, didn't want to lose parking on one side of a block in her neighborhood.

"I don't think anyone would really have objected to the trolley itself, but when they started talking about taking away the parking, well, that was a different story," said Campbell, who lives on the adjacent block.
Oh, boo hoo hoo...

Of course, the spots aren't exactly legal.
Of course, this is Philadelpia. Illegal parking is as much a part of the culture in this city as corrupt politicians (see: Street, John F.).

But residents had grown accustomed to parking on both sides of the 400 block of 59th Street since the trolley stopped running in 1992. This narrow stretch isn't wide enough to accommodate both the parking and the trolley, so something has to give.

A compromise position, which would have made room by turning this block into a one-way street, was also rejected by the neighbors. So City Councilman Michael Nutter, who could have forced the issue by introducing a city ordinance to change the traffic pattern, opted not to do so.

That was a year ago.

And until last week, it was the last word on the subject. The fleet of antique trolley cars, which cost some $24 million to refurbish, sits gathering dust in a SEPTA parking garage, and millions in city street improvements are being wasted.

Then I called Nutter, to ask him what was up.

I called SEPTA.

I called party chairman U.S. Rep. Bob Brady.

I called Gov. Rendell, who got this project rolling, back when he was still mayor.

And I called Sen. David Brightbill, Republican leader of the state Senate and a key player when it comes to state funding for SEPTA.
Well, as we shall see, those calls got a response...

"All of a sudden, after you called, out of the clear blue sky, here they are on the phone, telling me they need to talk to me about the Route 15," Campbell told me yesterday.

She still says she won't budge.

"Last year, when this first happened, [SEPTA board chairman] Pat Dion called me and left a message. Well, I returned his call three times, and he never got back to me. So to hell with them. I'm not going to kiss their a----."
Apparently, Don Pasquale was too busy planning his annual fishing trip with other Bucks County hacks to respond.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is something that has lain dormant for over a year, they really didn't bother with it," she continued. "Now all of a sudden it's an emergency, and everybody's supposed to jump through hoops?"
Um, yes.

Roger Kern, director of the Girard Avenue Coalition, says all 50 of his member organizations are frustrated, and disappointed. The trolley line had been the centerpiece of the avenue's revitalization efforts, he said, which stretch from Route 95 to the Philadelphia Zoo, and beyond.

"Other cities, like Houston, are digging up the whole city just to put in a trolley line, and here we already have one," said Kern. "And we know that trolleys, where they've been tried, have brought an immediate improvement in the business community."

Meanwhile, all the responsible parties are pointing fingers.
That's not news...

"We've had innumerable meetings with the people on that street," said SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney.
Of course you have.

Nutter, in turn, blamed SEPTA.

"There was some work that should have been done on this that just wasn't," Nutter told me. "There was a need for SEPTA to talk to the neighbors who would also be directly affected by the proposed return of the trolley to Girard Ave., given the fact that the trolley has to get out of the Callowhill barn, and go right down their street."
So who do you believe, Councilman Nutter, or SEPTA's Minister of Mis-Information, who wouldn't know the meaning of credibility if it hit him in the ass...

Kate Philips, spokeswoman for Gov. Rendell, said it was the city's responsibility to fix, adding:

"The governor certainly thinks the trolley should be up and running, and the city should do whatever it can to rectify the situation."
Fine, except for the fact that a substantial amount of funding came from Harrisburg. Apparently, Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) is too busy attending the opening of an envelope in DuBois to worry about this issue ... or for that matter any other state government issue.

None of this squabbling, and waste, has been lost on the Republican leadership in Harrisburg, which controls state spending for the regional transit agency.

"There needs to be some kind of accounting for this," said Erik Arneson, Chief of Staff to Senate Majority Leader Brightbill.

"The next time mass transit gets discussed in a serious manner, which is likely to be June, this is going to be a big issue," Arneson continued. "This is exactly the kind of thing that people from the middle and western parts of the state think of when they think about SEPTA's waste, bad management and bad decisions."
Not to mention some people in the Philadelphia area...

If it wasn't so sad, it would almost be funny.
Actually, it's neither. It's rather embarassing...

Clearly, Campbell is doing her job as ward leader, representing her neighbors' wishes. And they have a right to feel put out by SEPTA. The transit agency hasn't exactly been the perfect neighbor.

But how can our elected officials allow this spat to stymie a major public works project, which was supposed to help revitalize a critical swath of the city's core?

How can they be so cavalier about $82 million wasted dollars?

The shame in this story is not just that one powerful party leader is holding the entire city hostage over a handful of parking spaces.

It's that the rest of our leaders are letting her get away with it.
And you wonder why people have no desire to lay down long-term roots in Philadelphia?

Meanwhile, in today's Daily News, Arneson attempted to clarify some of his statements:

It was not my intention to imply that SEPTA management is solely responsible for the problems related to the Route 15 trolley.

I don't know who should shoulder the blame. In fact, it doesn't really matter. Many legislators will rightly focus on this basic fact: $82 million was wasted.

No matter whose fault that is, the current status of the Route 15 trolley project will make developing a long-range solution on mass transit significantly more difficult.
I can't help but wonder if State Sen. Stuart Greenleaf (R-12th) - a SEPTA board member - may have re-educated Arneson to the point where the clarification was needed...

In any case, stay tuned. If we're lucky, trolleys will be on the street by 2008...

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