Kensington residents share concerns about Somerset Station closure with SEPTA

A notice informs the public of the closure of the Somerset Street El stop

A notice informs the public of the closure of the Somerset Street El stop in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood on March 18, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Bill McKinney stood in front of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation headquarters, situated on the corner of Ruth and Somerset streets in Kensington, where he works as executive director.

His eyes fixated down the block eastward as three loud pops cracked through the air.

“The police are busting in this house right now,” McKinney said. “That’s how serious this is.”

A group of police officers had raided an auto garage on the block. The raid illustrated the constant trauma experienced by residents of the distressed community, where drugs, violence, homelessness, and deep poverty are unshakeable facts of life. And with their planned closure of nearby Somerset Station on Sunday, McKinney said, SEPTA stands to exacerbate the dire circumstances.

“We already have those obstacles,” said McKinney, who lives near the station. “Everyone out here already is dealing with all that type of stuff… And now you’re going to add another problem to these people’s lives. They don’t need it.”

 

The dysfunction at Somerset Station reflects problems visible across the SEPTA system — and the city. The closure speaks to a surging crisis of drugs, violence, and homelessness that has burdened residents of Kensington for years and is now unavoidable for the transit agency depended on by the community.

Bill McKinney is head of the New Kensington CDC. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

On Thursday, City councilmembers Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Mark Squilla organized a virtual meeting between SEPTA, city officials, and community members, who posted questions in the chat section.

During the meeting, Kate O’Connor, SEPTA’s chief engineering officer of bridges and buildings, said the closure is for necessary repairs to elevators damaged by urine and needles. The work is expected to last a month, maybe longer. The closure will allow workers to access the elevator shaft without the risk of coming into contact with urine from the upper levels of the station.

In the meantime, residents can take the Route 3 bus, which runs along Kensington Avenue, to access adjacent stations along the Market-Frankford Line. SEPTA police chief Thomas Nestel said an officer will be stationed at the stop, day and night.

“We do not take closing a station lightly,” said SEPTA general manager Leslie Richards.. “That is the last thing we ever want to do, but we feel that taking this action now is the best that we can do for our customers, our employees, as well as the broader community.”

On residents’ behalf, the councilmembers expressed concern that the authority closed the station without a solid plan to address the conditions there when it returns.

“We know we need a different type of approach here,” said Richards. “We need one with metrics and we can work with the communities and see improvements and we need your input.”

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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