By staying conspicuously absent from the controversy over the closure of the Somerset El station, the mayor has avoided involvement in an issue that affects the whole city, according to Philadelphia's leading architecture critic.
Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Inga Saffron argues that Mayor Jim Kenney's absence from public discussion about the recent closure of a SEPTA station is a "failure of leadership" from the city's highest elected official.
Last Tuesday, a crowd of residents marched to protest the closure of the Somerset El station. "Even though more than a week had passed since PlanPhilly broke the news of SEPTA’s plans, the mayor had yet to utter a word publicly about the loss of a busy station on the region’s most-used transit line — in a neighborhood that is home to the health aides, restaurant workers, and janitors who have helped Philadelphia get through the pandemic." Residents claim that the decision to close the station was sudden and "unilateral," with no set timeline for when the project will be completed.
The closure, Saffron writes, is an issue for the entire city. "Losing even a single station on the Market-Frankford Line weakens the entire network, which gets 80% of its ridership from Philadelphia." The "fluid timeline" is also concerning, as "temporary transit closures have a way of becoming permanent."
"It’s worth noting that SEPTA recently reopened its Chestnut Hill West Regional Rail Line, which was closed early in the pandemic, in response to pressure from the affluent northwest of the city. That entire line had an average weekday ridership of 543 in March, according to a SEPTA spokesman. Meanwhile, 800 people a day were using the Somerset Station in the same period, down from a pre-pandemic total of 1,900." The city's mayor, argues Saffron, should get involved to ensure that none of the city's neighborhoods get left behind. "In these dark and difficult times, we need a mayor to be an advocate for the whole city, someone who will console us and offer us hope."
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