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Lights! Elevators! Signs! SEPTA’s 15th Street Station gets $28 million makeover

Ray King's artwork illuminates the platform of the revamped 15th Street Station. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Ray King's artwork illuminates the platform of the revamped 15th Street Station. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

SEPTA’s outgoing general manager, Jeff Knueppel, was pumped about elevators as he speechified Monday about the newly reconstructed 15th Street Station.

“The path into 15th Street was sometimes unclear because it lacked a distinctive street-level presence and elevators for ADA access to the fare line and platform,” Knueppel said. “Well, now, we have elevators on both sides of 15th Street. This side, that side. You don’t even have to cross the street to get into the station if you’re in a wheelchair.”

Knueppel was celebrating the installation of two glass-walled elevators at the busiest stop on the Market-Frankford Line. The new lifts are part of a $28 million renovation that also brings SEPTA Key-configured fare lines, remade subway platforms, fresh lighting, and new signage. SEPTA even brought in world-renowned local artist Ray King for an installation featuring glowing vintage maps.

Philadelphia artist Ray King stands among the glowing maps he created for the 15th Street Station. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

It now boasts that 26 of the 28 Market-Frankford Line stops comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. At 15th Street, such improvements mean an easier time for riders with wheelchairs, strollers or other mobility challenges looking to connect to the Broad Street Line, five trolley routes, 13 Regional Rail lines, or nearby bus routes.

“When things are made better for those of us who have disabilities, it makes things better for everybody,” said Denice Brown of North Philadelphia, a member of SEPTA’s advisory committee for accessible transportation who is also legally blind.

SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel announces the completion of a major reconstruction project at 15th Street Station, making the station fully accessible for people with disabilities. He is joined by members of SEPTA’s Advisory Committee for Accessible Transportation (from left) Frederick Duncan, Thaddeus Robinson, and Denice Brown. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The 15th Street project sets the stage for similar upgrades planned for City Hall Station, where the east-west Market-Frankford Line intersects with the north-south Broad Street Line and more than 68,000 people pass through, arriving and departing. The City Hall and 15th Street complex see more than 130,000 people a day.

As those upgrades come, commuters can look forward to real-time train arrival screens that count down the minutes until the next subway arrives.  SEPTA is planning to test the first version of those displays by 2020.

Repairs to 15th Street were long overdue, said Knueppel. During the ceremony, the general manager offered an anecdote about when he, a “young structural engineer at the start of his SEPTA career” worried about how to repair the tiles at the station. He thought “as important as this station was, it shouldn’t look this way,” Knueppel reminisced.

“It took a while,” he said. “But this station was on my SEPTA bucket list, and now I am really happy to see it become a first-class station stop with so many customers using it.”

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