Philadelphians push for Roosevelt Boulevard subway project revival

A map of the potential Roosevelt Boulevard Subway. (@BlvdSubway/Twitter)

A map of the potential Roosevelt Boulevard Subway. (@BlvdSubway/Twitter)

Community members were ready to talk early Saturday morning about the Roosevelt Boulevard subway: a proposed project that would connect far Northeast Philadelphia to Center City, and beyond.

The idea isn’t new. A Roosevelt Boulevard line was first proposed in 1913, and had false starts throughout the century. But based on the packed event for residents to discuss the possibility of the subway line, there’s renewed energy for bringing it to life.

A preliminary map shows that the line would start at a northern BSL stop, then travel northeast along Roosevelt Boulevard, until right before the Bucks County border. (@BlvdSubway/Twitter)

State Rep. Jared Solomon, a proponent of the project, hosted the 9 a.m. public town hall. Over 100 people attended in person at the PATH community center at Cottman and Castor Avenues (and more virtually), mostly in support of the new line.

“If you build this subway … this would help a wide variety of people … and expand more opportunities within the city of Philadelphia,” said one resident.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Supporters cited positive environmental impacts, economic development along the line, access to more jobs, and easier connection to the rest of Philadelphia.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

And visually, the majority of attendees were in favor of the line. Along the back wall of the room, four posters hung for people to mark their vote on public transit ideas for North Philadelphia: subway, elevated rail, more bus routes, or no changes. Most voted for the subway, and second was elevated rail, according to Solomon’s office.

There to respond to community members’ questions, was Daniel Pearson, editorial writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer; Jay Arzu, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design; Will Tung, a transportation advocate at 5th Square; and Christopher Puchalsky, director of policy and strategic initiatives in the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability.

The town hall panelists included Daniel Pearson, of the Philadelphia Inquirer; Jay Arzu, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania; Will Tung, a transportation advocate at 5th Square; and Christopher Puchalsky, policy director at the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability. (Courtesy of Jared Solomon’s office)

Jennifer Lehman, of Summerdale, works at a nonprofit as a social worker in the School District of Philadelphia. She, among others, requested a new feasibility study for the line.

“What would a line do for education equity? Are there more students that could access high quality schools if transportation is better? Because right now students in my neighborhood in Summerdale are making two transfers, if not more,” Lehman said.

Others were concerned about the possibility of the line hiking rent, and displacing current Northeast residents.

One Northeast Philadelphia resident asked how community members would formally be involved in the planning process.

Arzu said there would be a community advisory board and a sustained commitment to engage community members.

“This wouldn’t be a slap on the wrist where they just come in, ‘Okay we spoke to five people we’re out of here.’” Arzu said. “No, we want to continue to work with people like yourself, and policy makers, to come to a consensus and move forward from there.”

Arzu said next steps would include applying for grants and looking for the right people to conduct the feasibility study. From a 2003 study, the projected cost of the Northeast subway would be between $2.5 to $3.5 billion and could be built within 10 years.

There isn’t a final map for the project. But according to previously-created maps, it would start at a northern BSL stop, then travel northeast along Roosevelt Boulevard, until right before the Bucks County border.

SEPTA representatives were not present for Saturday’s town hall — which some town hall commenters took issue with.

In an email to WHYY News, a SEPTA spokesperson said the agency has been in contact with Rep. Solomon.

“[SEPTA is] interested in hearing what ideas are discussed,” the statement said. “A Roosevelt Subway project is not in SEPTA’s current long-term capital budget, but we are always open to having discussions about ways to improve service.”

A number of community members recalled supporting the rail line when it was proposed years ago, and shared insights on previous fights for more public transportation in Philadelphia.

Many said they hope this surge of momentum will finally bring the project to the finish line.

Solomon said it’s going to take community consensus building to get there.

“It’s political will, and unity, to get this done.”

“It’s political will, and unity, to get this done,” State Rep. Jared Solomon told a crowd of over 100 at Saturday’s town hall at the PATH community center in Northeast Philadelphia. (Courtesy of Jared Solomon’s office)

Subscribe to PlanPhilly

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal