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Plans for Jenkintown Station Garage Off the Table for Now, But SEPTA Open to Reviving It with Public Groundswell

Last week’s announcement by SEPTA that the bitterly contested multi-level parking garage project at Jenkintown station is on the backburner, despite the recent swelling of its capital budget from the state, sounds like good news for its Wyncote-based opponents. Or is it?

A KYW radio report on Friday said the 700-space Jenkintown garage is no longer a priority. The audio version included a comment by Deputy General Manager Jeffrey Knueppel saying that the agency was open to reviving the project if there was a vocal public response in its favor, a number of local listeners told Citizens’ Call. “SEPTA says its focus is making that station ADA-compliant with higher platforms, so parking is on the back burner for now,” according to the posted story. A philly.com report also has the garage off the table.

Asked for her response to news reports (McHugh was quoted in the short KYW piece) on what could be considered SEPTA’s early Christmas present, community activist Olga McHugh wasn’t buying it. A leader of the Cheltenham Chamber of Citizens, a group who put together a sophisticated campaign to block the proposal based on a critique of SEPTA regional rail service as well as arguments around traffic and other impacts more typical of neighborhood efforts to block projects deemed out of character with a local area, McHugh said this:

“The backburner does not mean it’s off the table. Backburner means they’re hoping to get other support to to get it back up again, noting that the KYW headline used the term “postponed.” McHugh contends that it is still a top priority for the county with its inclusion in the recently released county planning commission comprehensive plan (page 96) and remains in SEPTA’s 2014-25 capital budget, although vaguely worded as “parking improvements” for Jenkintown station in the section, “SEPTA’s Capital Program and Unfunded Capital Needs Fiscal Years 2018-2025.”

“What’s the news? SEPTA has been saying the same thing since 2011 to anyone who would listen,” said Board President/Ward 2 Commissioner Art Haywood, a big supporter of the county’s comprehensive plan, in an email to Citizens’ Call. “Otherwise, I think that the Jenkintown-Wyncote station is primarily a regional, not local rail station, but the location at local streets of Greenwood and Glenside (Avenues) make a regional use hard. He said he generally supported transit-oriented development (TOD), what he described as a combination of rail, housing and retail. I think that the next wave of growth for Cheltenham could be based on regional rail TOD,” noted Haywood.

One of the Chamber’s central opposing arguments is that a policy emphasizing parking garage hubs like the one for Jenkintown-Wyncote adds vehicle miles and carbon emissions by forcing commuters to drive farther to park to board trains than they would if more parking and more frequent service were available at local stations. “It puts more traffic on the road and leaves more greenhouse gases – when the whole world is trying to figure out how to cut greenhouse gases,” said McHugh.

Still, might it be a small interim victory for Wyncote neighbors? “Not even a tiny little bit. . . . This is no victory because it’s still on their funding lists . . . I know for sure the way they word things (referring to Knueppel’s comments on the opportunity for a public response).”

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  1. Jon Frey, PA-TEC

    The expansion of parking at the midpoint of the double track ex-Reading rail system—an area that already attracts significant ridership from outside a 3-mile radius of the Jenkintown/Wyncote Station—will encourage commuters to drive further. The net result will be less money collected by SEPTA as stations closer to the city are in lower fare zones. PA-TEC believes that our publicly funded transportation system should reduce driving and reliance on automobile dependency. Building a garage here would be a tremendous mistake, and SEPTA and DVRPC knows it, but they are choosing the easy way out in responding to the need to restore rail services cut in 1981 thru 1983 on the Quakertown, Reading and Fox Chase-Newtown lines.

    SEPTA’s May 2009 Parking Preferences Survey at Jenkintown station found riders from across the region utilizing Jenkintown station who would normally use a station closer to their home. Jenkintown parkers have come from the following communities: Fox Chase, Abington, Lower Moreland, Bryn Athyn, Upper Moreland/Willow Grove, Southampton, Warrington, Warwick, Warminster, Hatboro, Newtown, Richboro, Holland, Plumsteadville and Doylestown. The common variable amongst these communities is parking availability and service frequency.

    PA-TEC has identified the Newtown line as a viable corridor that adds a significant amount of new ridership capacity to the study area, which will address current transit capacity limitations, road congestion and environmental concerns. The reinstatement of service on this corridor will add new riders at a lower cost per passenger than SEPTA’s parking garage plans at Jenkintown and Glenside.

    Pennsylvania legislators must start working cooperatively to fund the reactivation of rail service on the many corridors that exist in the state. While restoration of Fox Chase-Newtown service would be a small victory, it would likely cost somewhere around $350 million, which is not a huge sum of money in the grand scheme of things (that’s how much it costs to run the state legislature EVERY year). With the right vision, Pennsylvania could become an easy state to travel in by rail. Scranton, Allentown, Bethlehem, Hershey and Pittsburgh were once all served by passenger rail. Today, Philadelphia is the only market that has a (truncated) network of passenger rail lines.

    For more information, visit http://www.PA-TEC.org.

  2. Thomas K. McHugh

    Between seven and eight of every ten drivers that park at J-W Station every workday by-pass their own home station. Many of these rail commuters pass multiple rail stations as they drive in from the outer suburbs. They often are driving parallel to their rail line as they fight rush hour traffic. Some come from as far as Doylestown and Plumsteadville. A significant number drive all the way down from (and home to) places like Hatboro. Both Doylestown and Hatboro have commuter rail stations!

    In contrast, two of every three daily commuter rail users that call J-W their home station don’t need to park because most of them walk to J-W Station. Imagine how convenient, and environmentally sustainable it would be if Cheltenham Township and Jenkintown residents that can’t make the walk to the J-W Station had a place to park after a very short drive from their home. THAT would be consistent with the new Cheltenham Township Sustainability Plan. THAT is the same thing that rail commuters from the outer suburbs want in their own communities, as they made very clear in the May 2009 SEPTA Rail Rider Survey. THAT is NOT what will happen if the County planners and SEPTA finally build the parking garage.

    Building a 700 car garage in a floodplain at a cost of over $100,000 per added parking space so that even more residents from the outer suburbs can enjoy a “perception of convenience” and fill those spots, will only leave Cheltenham Township and Jenkintown residents terribly disappointed and inconvenienced with no more places to park, more traffic and lower property values. After closing 64 commuter rail stations in 32 years SEPTA decided to concentrate on building larger Transit Centers. While the rest of the industrialized world and many American cities continue working to reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) to reduce energy waste and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by expanding highly efficient commuter rail systems (75% reduction in GHG emissions per passenger mile compared to single occupant vehicles and 66% reduction compared to busses,) our regional planners and leaders have inexplicably and drastically shrunk the commuter rail system and the service. The shortfall of the commuter rail service and needed parking up and down all of the rail lines falls on all of the citizens in the form of more traffic, more frustration, more automotive costs, more pollution and lower property values. As in the most efficient transit oriented countries, busses and other smaller modes of public and private transit facilitate commuters to reach the closest commuter rail station. SEPTA must do the same to decrease VMT and GHG emissions.

    Cheltenham Township Commissioner, Art Haywood, presently serving on the Steering Committee of the Montgomery County Comprehensive Plan 2040, needs to bring these facts to the attention of the MontCo planners and work to make two important corrections to the present draft of the plan. First; wording to reduce rush hour service at smaller rail stations must be deleted. Second; the listing of the J-W parking garage as a first priority transit project must be removed entirely.

    This is a regional issue. The regional commuter rail system operated by SEPTA needs to catch up with the needs of the 21st century. SEPTA needs to use all available funds to increase the frequency of service and parking as needed for local residents up and down every rail line. SEPTA needs to think in terms of walkable communities and an environmentally sustainable, energy efficient future for our region. In short, the regional planners must increase rail passenger miles, not just rail ridership.

  3. Gail Post

    SEPTA has initiated a master marketing campaign. While seemingly claiming to have halted progress toward building a massive parking garage at the Jenkintown Station, they are merely waiting to gain support from county officials (who still want the garage), and riders from the outer suburbs. While SEPTA’s own 2009 survey found that the majority of riders from the outer suburbs WANTED more parking and more frequent stops at their local stations (rather than having to drive to Jenkintown), many have been lulled into complacency by SEPTA, and assume they will never have that option.

    Some may claim that opposition to the garage is NIMBY issue. Well, of course, most local residents in a small, historic district would not want an enormous garage, along with the influx of hundreds of cars, crime and the deterioration in property values. HOWEVER, this problem is much more than a NIMBY concern. Building this garage on a known flood plain would create further flooding downstream in Elkins Park. It would result in an increase in cars in our township, placing a burden on township services (e.g., police, road maintenance). It would likely result in LESS frequent stops at stations further up the line, resulting in more cars on the road and more greenhouse gas in the environment. It would also likely result in fewer stops at stations in our township: Melrose Park, Elkins Park, Lawndale, and Cheltenham, as riders would be expected to even more frequently make the reverse commute to park at the Jenkintown station. Even more ominous is the likelihood of more station closures, as SEPTA has done so frequently in recent years.

    Unfortunately, some local officials think that a garage at Jenkintown is the solution to overcrowded parking for their Cheltenham, Jenkintown and Abington constituents, What is shortsighted in this view, however, is that so much of the parking is monopolized by drivers from OUTSIDE of the area (per SEPTA’s own 2009 survey). The most sensible and environmentally responsible solution to this problem (and the one that is best for the outer suburbs and our local community) is for SEPTA to increase stops and parking at stations throughout the line.