Image: Jenna Fortunati

Jenna Fortunati

The members of the community have spoken and officials at SEPTA heard. As a result, improvements are being made along the 36th Trolley route along the Grays Avenue Corridor.

These changes were announced last month during a community event held by SEPTA and officials in which participating city agencies, organizations and local advocacy groups got together to clean along the Grays Avenue Corridor in Southwest Philadelphia.

To find out more, we spoke with Jenna Fortunati, planner for the South Eastern Region Transportation Authority (SEPTA). We wanted to know what was going on and why, and she told us.

“We held this event because we had a grant from the Federal Transit Association to create a Complete Streets Plan for what we are calling the Grays Avenue Corridor which stretches from Grays Avenue and Lindbergh Boulevard,” said Fortunati.

During our  interview, Fortunati said that this area along the route of the 36th trolley was “really dangerous” and that there had been 3 fatalities there between 2014 and 2018 “.

“One of them involved the trolley,” she said.

“That is why the ridership along this stretch of the 13th Trolley is really low, because it’s a really dangerous place to walk, it’s a dangerous place to bike and it’s dangerous to be in your car.”

To help resolve this matter, transit officials sought community input and began a study, the ‘Complete Streets Study’, to determine how to effectively address these concerns and ultimately change how these roads are used.

This community driven effort is referred to as ‘Complete Streets’ which is, “… is a new-ish movement in planning to change how streets are designed in order to comfortably accommodate all types of road users. Not just people who are driving but [also] people who are walking, people who are biking, riding transit and just making it a more pleasant and safe street to be in,” Fortunati said.

It’s one thing to philosophize about making dangerous streets safe but another thing to actually create a strategic plan to do so and to subsequently implement those plans. That’s where Complete Streets  planning and community engagement comes in.

“This often involves installing protected bike lanes, more greenery, narrowing vehicle lanes so that cars travel slower and so all of those things are on the table,” said Fortunati.

Far too many times, planners decide what should be done and then impose those conclusions upon the residents who live in the affected areas. This isn’t the situation with Complete Streets:

“This project is dependent on community input, and we really want the findings of this plan to be driven by what the community wants, we held this community clean up Day to be [there in person] and get feedback from residents immediately about the existing conditions of the corridor,” Fortunati said.

The Community Clean Up Day consisted of organizers, planners and other stakeholders who met at the site of the 36th Trolley who invited the surrounding community to come out and get involved with both the physical clean up of the area but also give their comments and suggestions as to what they believe should be done to improve conditions along the route.

“The one thing we consistently heard over the last couple of months during our initial outreach for the study was that illegal dumping was a huge issue along the corridor,” she said.

“There’s a lot of abandoned vehicles, there’s a lot of trash, there’s a lot of overgrown weeds along the sidewalks making it difficult for people to walk and bike along there.”

Upon receiving these initial responses from the community, Fortunati said that planners first considered getting SEPTA, other city agencies, and other organizations to volunteer in a good faith effort to go and clean up a stretch of the corridor themselves – and they did.

There were a couple of  important reasons for doing this: One, it provided immediate assistance and second, it helped show what could be done and inspire hope in what could be with ongoing collective effort.

“It’s really hard to imagine what a place could look like when the existing conditions are so rough, that was our thought on that,” Fortunati said.

Some 30 volunteers from SEPTA, Office of Transportation Infrastructure and Sustainability (OTIS) along with additional volunteers from other city agencies,  organizations and advocacy groups joined in, rolled up their sleeves and cleaned up the area.

Not only did the volunteers clean up but they also set up information tables outside the entrance of Bartram’s Garden on Lindbergh Boulevard where residents could receive information about the project and be invited to participate in feedback activities.

“The whole purpose of this event and having the information table was to make it really easy for people to give their feedback about conditions on the roadway as they are just walking to the corner store in the morning, walking their dogs or just going outside.”

This method not only had the benefit of getting agencies, organizations and members of the communities they serve together but it also helped make getting feedback from the public more convenient to those who otherwise would find it all but impossible to attend community meetings or public hearings at night because of their work or family obligations.

“We were really happy that we could be outside and get feedback on the corridor, just catching people where they were.”

To learn more about this project, visit www.septa.org where you can keep up with future projects and upcoming events.

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