Bicyclists rejoice! 11th and 12th Street rail lines to be paved over [Update: No they won't]
Talk to any bicyclist who regularly travels through Center City, and they’ll give you a horror story. Not just about drivers hogging the road, or pedestrians jaywalking in front of them, or seemingly endless potholes—but of the unused hazardous rail track up and down 11th and 12th streets, from Spring Garden to all the way down in South Philadelphia.
While researching a previous cover story on bicycling in Philadelphia, almost every cyclist I came across had a problem with the metal street columns.
Those unused tracks all over Philadelphia are mostly the byproduct of a time when Philly’s public transportation was above-ground rail lines. Most of these lines are gone today, but the rail line remains, and it’s dangerous as hell for bicyclists, most of whom, including me, have at least one instance of catching their tires in between the metal columns, then flipping over the handlebars alongside car and bus-laden street traffic. That they remain unused sort of adds insult to literal injury.
That said: bicyclists, your prayers have been answered. Sort of. Because according to the Philadelphia Streets Department, those lines will be partially paved over this fall. [Update: As detailed here, the Streets spokesperson now says she relayed incorrect information and the tracks will not be paved over, as originally stated.]
“The Streets Department will be resurfacing 11th and 12th St. from Market St. to South St. this fall,” says Keisha McCarty-Skelton, Public Relations Supervisor at the Philadelphia Streets Department.
She adds: “The tracks will be paved over unless it is determined that they are too advanced that they cannot be buried and will affect the smooth overlay in the street.”
Last year, the rail lines on Fourth Street in Old City and Society Hill were paved over. The project on 11th and 12th Streets will be similar: The rails will be paved, but not ripped out completely.
This is a temporary solution. When rail remains below pavement, the pavement around eventually gets worn down and the track begins to resurface. But according to McCarty-Skelton, ripping out a single block of rail lines can cost as much as $400,000—which is not money the city has to spend.
At that, both trolley tracks and areas within 18 inches on either side are the responsibility of SEPTA, according to the Streets Dept. And we assume you must’ve heard about their financial woes at this point.
The rail columns between Market and South represent just two miles of the 30-plus mile-plus circuitous route of rail from Chestnut Hill to Oregon Ave. and back.
Once in Center City (where the majority of bicyclists complained about the route), it heads from 12th and Spring Garden all the way down to South Marvine St. in South Philly, a left onto Bigler, a left onto 10th, another left onto Oregon, where it makes its final turn to complete the loop onto 11th St., and back into Center City. All above ground. That’s about seven miles of unused rail track from Spring Garden to South Philly. And doesn’t include the sections of North Philadelphia or Gemantown (mostly outside Center City) which still has connecting railtrack on it, too.
Many of Philadelphia’s rail lines, if you can believe it, were built back in the late 1800s. Route 23, for example—now Bus Route 23—was built “sometime prior to 1877” and was originally referred to as the Germantown Avenue Line, running from the Germantown Depot, near what’s today Musgrave Street and E. Phil Ellena St., to 8th and Dauphin in North Philly.
After being combined with another line in the early 1900s, more track was added and the 23 soon became the “Germantown, 10th and 11th Streets Line.”
Now ask yourself: When was the last time you regularly saw a trolley on Germantown Ave., or 11th Street? If the answer was 1992, then congratulations! You have quite a memory (and are old-ish.)
Today, trolleys are still a staple of Baltimore Ave. in West Philly; Lancaster Ave.; and Girard Ave, from 63rd Street to Richmond and Westmoreland in Port Richmond.
Almost every cyclist PW spoke for the August story with had terrible experiences with train tracks, but none were life-threatening.
One cyclist I spoke with, a former Temple student named Bryan Donovan, says he’s never been hit by cars. He’s never gotten into a spat with a pedestrian and has been mostly successful staying on his wheels on the road.
“I’ve never been hit by a car. If I crashed it’s been my own fault,” he said.
I asked if by “my own fault,” he meant he’d been caught in tracks. “That was it,” he laughed. “It was on 12th street by Spring Garden. I usually try to cross it at as deep an angle that you can. But I hit the rail.”
The station the 11th and 12th Street trolleys ran to was just demolished last year, though the tracks are still considered in use, as it happens. And real pavement over trolley tracks: It gets worn down over time. So this is a temporary, half-solution. But hey, it’s something.
Note: This story has been updated to include the word ‘regularly’ and correct a typo.
Another note: As noted above, the Streets Dept. now says the lines will NOT BE PAVED OVER. That is detailed here.]
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