By Steven B. Ujifusa
Robert Cousar, a board member of the East Parkside Community Revitalization Corporation, feels that his neighborhood has been “literally abandoned and forgotten by some… but that’s just an opinion.”
At the heart of his argument are the east-west Amtrak railroad tracks that sever Parkside from the rest of West Philadelphia. Three street bridges span these tracks. But only one of them is open. The bridges at 40th and 41st Streets are closed, blocked by concrete barriers and strewn with trash.
According to Jon Musselman, Director of Project Planning for Habitat for Humanity in Philadelphia, the 41th Street Bridge has been closed for upwards of fifteen years as the result of a maintenance dispute between SEPTA and the city or the city and Amtrak. The Streets Dept. blocked off the 40th Street Bridge a few years ago, he added, even though it was a major bus route.
On the bright side, the bridge at 42nd Street, a recently-restored steel truss structure, is open to pedestrians and vehicular traffic. And the city says it is committed to repairing the two closed bridges.
According to John Lutz of the Philadelphia Streets Department, the 41st Street Bridge is an Amtrak structure. According to Lutz, in a series of court cases the city tried to get Amtrak to pony up the funds needed to fix and reopen the bridge. The city, Lutz said, won every court case except the last one, and Philadelphia got “saddled” with the project.
To many residents, these bridges are not just centers of blight, but symbols of a neighborhood's isolation. Residents feel they are cut off from city services, employment centers, the Microsoft “School of the Future,” and the Philadelphia Zoo.
The bridge closures have not only disrupted car and pedestrian traffic, but also the Route 43 Parkside bus route. Cousar claims that police response times have doubled as a result of the bridge closures, and that criminals are taking advantage of this. Even worse, many feel that these abandoned structures are magnets for prostitutes, drug dealers, and illegal trash dumpers.
“The only way to get in [the neighborhood] is through the bridges,” notes Cousar. The closures have caused “a lot of traffic over Poplar.”
Alice Wright, who lives at 40th and Pennsgrove and is affiliated with the United Block Captains Association, described the bridge closures as being “really bad for a lot of seniors and some of the youth.” Older residents, she said, now must walk an additional few blocks to the 42nd Street Bridge. They are “scared to death” after nightfall.
Although the city does plan to repair and reopen the spans, Cousar feels the community has been “disserved” for too long. “We hope to have the bridges done as quickly as possible,” he insists. “It’s been damaging to our neighborhood. If you look at 40th Street there are no active businesses there.” In order to shop for groceries and other basic needs, Cousar says that most residents have to go outside the neighborhood.
* * * *
(i) East Parkside Community Revitalization Plan