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Differing opinions on Castor Avenue plans

Rep. Jared Solomon and the crowd listen to a woman outlining her opposition to the proposed Castor Avenue changes.
What Castor Avenue might look like with one lane of traffic each way.
What Castor Avenue might look like with one lane of traffic each way and a left turn lane.

A public meeting took place on Saturday for feedback on proposed changes to Castor Avenue, with most people opposed.

Neighbors gathered at the Hub, 6434 Castor Ave., to meet with state Reps. Jared Solomon and Anthony Bellmon, City Councilman Anthony Phillips and representatives of PennDOT and SEPTA.

The proposal would change Castor Avenue, from Oxford Circle to Cottman Avenue, from two driving lanes in each direction to one lane each way.

There would be bicycle lanes next to the curbs in each direction. Next to those lanes would be flex posts and a buffer lane. Then, there would be a parking lane on each side of the street. A green median would separate the two driving lanes.

“Making that one lane is ridiculous,” a woman said.

Proponents want to slow down traffic, but also make it flow better.

“Why not create a left-turn lane?” said Nik Kharva, a project manager with HNTB, which is working with PennDOT on the plan.

A left-turn lane would be installed at each cross street with a traffic light, along with signal timing improvements and pedestrian countdown signals and crosswalks.

Another addition would be a boarding platform for SEPTA Route 59 bus users.

Trees and greenery would be added to sidewalks, along with repairs to the sidewalks and improved lighting.

Many neighbors contended that the loss of driving lanes on Castor would hinder emergency vehicles and lead to increased traffic on side streets. They also told officials that few people will actually use the bicycle lanes, since the ones on nearby Loretto Avenue are generally unused, and they worry motorbikes will use lanes set aside for bikes. They noted that cars would have to stop every time a delivery driver double parks or a bus stops to drop off or pick up passengers. And they envisioned a real mess during a snowstorm.

Residents seemed particularly concerned that the median would be made of concrete, further clogging the avenue.

“That is not etched in stone,” said Ashwin Patel, a district traffic engineer at PennDOT.

Solomon said the proposed 2-mile “road diet” would slow down traffic. A study showed that, from 2018-22, there were 197 crashes on Castor Avenue, with 15 serious injuries and five fatalities.

“Road diets do work,” Kharva said.

Thirty percent of the design has been completed on the $10 million project, with construction expected to begin in late 2025.

Kharva said a somewhat similar plan on Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia has worked well, with no increase in travel time for drivers.

SEPTA backs the plan.

“We’re in support of all of this,” said Rochelle Culbreath, SEPTA’s manager of legislative affairs.

The work would be done in stages to limit the disruption to businesses.

“Castor Avenue is still open for business,” said Andrew Simpson, district manager at the city Office of Multimodal Planning.

Though officials sough public feedback, one man at the meeting called the plan a “fait accompli.” Officials said that’s not so.

“It’s not in stone,” Solomon said.

The meeting got raucous at times, with one plan supporter asking the crowd to listen to Solomon.

“Jared should listen to us,” a man replied.

A woman called the plan the “stupidest thing I ever heard.” One man was so unhappy with the plan that he suggested the Northeast take up an old idea and create its own Liberty County. Another man said he planned to challenge and defeat Solomon in a future election.

Suggestions included speed bumps, diagonal parking, tickets written by the Philadelphia Parking Authority for double parking, alternating turns and a four-way green light for pedestrians.

Joe Picozzi, a candidate in the 5th Senatorial District, wants more lighting and pothole repairs and opposes a SEPTA plan to cut the number of stops on Castor. He called for an up-or-down vote on the road diet, but Solomon said more information is needed. Some residents complained that officials have not been transparent.

Solomon sensed that everyone agreed on the need for greenery, better lighting and sidewalk repairs, with disagreements on the median and fewer lanes of traffic. He said there will be another meeting, suggesting a robocall to reach the most people.

“You’re going to have full transparency,” he told the crowd.

Robert Rudnitsky, who heads Take Back Your Neighborhood and opposes the plan, thanked people for attending.

“Please stay engaged,” he said. ••

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