HomeNewsMore info needed on Blvd. traffic plan

More info needed on Blvd. traffic plan

op-ed

By Chris Bordelon

John Palmer’s recent letter to the Times expressed dismay about the PennDOT/City/SEPTA plan to reduce a section of Castor Avenue from four lanes to two lanes. Palmer’s letter reminded me of the PennDOT/City/SEPTA plan to reduce the lanes on Roosevelt Boulevard from 12 lanes to either 8 (“Alternative A”) or 6 (“Alternative B”), with two other lanes exclusively for SEPTA’s buses. With lane configurations providing only 1 or 2 lanes for local traffic, either alternative could make it harder to travel in the Northeast by driving on the Boulevard.

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PennDOT wants to give people a choice between those two “alternatives,” and only those two, in planned upcoming public outreach. PennDOT’s slide at page 8 of  https://www.penndot.pa.gov/RegionalOffices/district-6/ConstructionsProjectsAndRoadwork/Philadelphia/Documents/2023-12%20Open%20House%20Display%20Boards.pdf depicts the alternative lane configurations, with a summary at https://www.phila.gov/media/20240313111015/Roosevelt-Boulevard-Information-Sheet_Web.pdf

Most neighbors I speak with haven’t heard that any radical lane-reduction plan exists for the Boulevard. Their surprise is understandable. No one ever meaningfully consulted Northeast Philadelphia residents about whether they’d like to permanently forbid drivers from using a third or a half of the Boulevard’s existing lanes and to reconfigure remaining lanes to local drivers’ disadvantage. But when Somerton Civic Association recently asked PennDOT (as the lead agency in the so-called “Route for Change” project) for speakers to attend our meeting to discuss PennDOT/City/SEPTA plans, PennDOT’s representative told us that now isn’t a good time to meet because there isn’t new information to share.

That’s a shame. PennDOT ought to acknowledge the shortcomings of its earlier public outreach. Few people who will be hurt by the lane-elimination plans are currently aware of them. Certainly, prior outreach was too limited to allow PennDOT officials to conclude (as they seem to have done) that most people want drivers’ access to the Boulevard reduced, and that the only question now is, should the reduction be by a third, or by a half?

PennDOT ought to be visiting many civic associations and similar groups right now to discuss what it proposes to do. Sure, it might be easier for PennDOT to hold a few lightly publicized “outreach” events, as it has done in the past. Attendees sent by local political advocacy groups that tend to support making life harder for people who drive cars and trucks to get around would likely be well-represented at such PennDOT meetings. Their voices could drown out others even though they may not reside in the Northeast or care whether Boulevard traffic ever moves.

If PennDOT wants only echo chambers of support for the alternatives shown in its plans, such meetings will suffice. But for insight into what people living in the Northeast think about eliminating Boulevard travel lanes, PennDOT needs to seek out more authentically local sources of public reaction to its plans than those that it has relied upon so far.

PennDOT needs to be more forthcoming about its Boulevard lane-reduction plans, and it needs to give far greater consideration than it has thus far to the interests of drivers, who make up the large majority of the Boulevard’s users. It is hard to understand why public officials would purposely design traffic jams. The choice that PennDOT wants to present to the public in the near future (should the Boulevard be reduced to 8 usable lanes or 6?) is a false one. The PennDOT/City/SEPTA team needs to offer the choice of not reducing the lanes available to private and personal vehicles, such as those that most neighbors in Northeast Philly use in the course of their everyday lives.  ••

Chris Bordelon is president of the Somerton Civic Association.

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