East Falls resident speaks out against reckless driving along one-way Calumet Bridge

It looked really nice for about a month.

Foregoing a vacation, Jim and Sue Park opted to spend last summer at home.  A simple gesture, they chose to devote their resources to a home improvement that would also benefit their community – a sidewalk.

Over the years, the linden trees that shade the north side of their home caused the existing pavement to become uneven, posing a hazard to pedestrians – some of whom are students at nearby St. Bridget School.

While Philadelphia Code decrees that sidewalk repair is the responsibility of the homeowner – with no direct mandate for design – the Parks exceeded the letter of the law and chose environmentally-friendly permeable pavers, which allows runoff water to seep into the ground.

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They spent $8,000 on the sidewalk, and received accolades from neighbors and community groups alike.

And then, one afternoon in mid-September, BAM! – it was struck by a city garbage truck.

And then, early one morning in November, ERRRRR! – it was struck by an Inquirer delivery truck.

A long-standing issue hits home

Sue Park lives at the foot of the Calumet Bridge in East Falls, and has witnessed innumerable close calls at this crossing.

It’s a veritable tradition among Fallsers – and the occasional errant driver – to repurpose the unidirectional Calumet Bridge as a de facto two-way street, but two events from last year are spurring Sue Park to speak a little louder and wield a bigger stick about these traffic transgressions.

Shortly before 4 p.m. on Sept. 14, an unknown operator of an unidentified Streets Dept. sanitation vehicle, after traveling the wrong way on the bridge, failed to execute a left turn onto Skidoo Street and collided with Park’s home.

In so doing, the driver damaged Park’s downspouts, wrought-iron railings, and sidewalk, according to police reports and Park’s account.

The same report indicates that, following the collision, the hit became a run when the driver and passenger of the trash truck departed from the scene of the accident – going the wrong direction on one-way Calumet Street.

Shortly after 4 a.m. on Nov. 22, a delivery vehicle for the Inquirer, after traveling the wrong way on the bridge, attempted a left turn onto Skidoo Street and was unable to negotiate the steep slope of the intersection, according to a written summation provided by Park.

The vehicle became stuck, necessitating a tow. In the process of attempting a reversal, oil and grease from the truck was spilled on to the Park’s new sidewalk.

Police responded to the incident, but the driver of the delivery vehicle was not ticketed, and he exited the scene going the wrong direction on Calumet St, according to Park’s written account and photographic evidence.

A claim has been filed with the city for the $3,750 in damage resulting from the trash truck collision. The city’s Risk Management Division has officially acknowledged receipt of Park’s claim.

An email from Park detailing the Inquirer incident was sent to the newspaper on Nov. 23.

Illegal crossings

The episodes involving the two trucks aren’t isolated occurrences – on a daily basis, dozens of vehicles cross the bridge illegally.

On a recent Friday morning at rush hour, numerous vehicles were witnessed by Newsworks staff going over the bridge in the wrong direction, several of them bearing stickers suggesting enrollment at St. Bridget School.

The Calumet Bridge crosses the tracks of the SEPTA Norristown Line at the intersections of Calumet and Skidoo streets on the south, and Calumet and Cresson streets on the north end.

Looking southbound from Cresson Street, two signs indicate “Do Not Enter.”

Calumet Street is unidirectional in its northerly direction until Cresson Street, where it becomes two-way. Calumet Street is roughly parallel to Midvale Avenue, and connects Ridge Avenue to residences atop the hill via the Calumet Bridge.

Crossing the bridge illegally, the recognized procedure is to make an immediate left turn onto eastbound Skidoo Street, named for the entreaties of nuns for children to “skidoo” – or “skedaddle” – from the grounds of St. Bridget School following the school day.

The bridge – which first appeared on Philadelphia maps in 1895, according to historical records – is the sole point of southbound entry into a pocket of East Falls bounded to the west by the Schuylkill Falls development and by Midvale Avenue to the east.

According to Ellen Sheehan, President of the East Falls Historical Society, the Calumet Street Bridge was two-way for much of its life.

Although unsure of the exact time frame, Sheehan suggests that the bridge probably became unidirectional in the 1950s, when several East Falls streets became one-way to accommodate parked vehicles along both sides of the street.

Enforcement efforts

Park laments what she perceives as inattention by police to enforcement of posted traffic signs.

She stated that, after reporting the episode involving the garbage truck, police vehicles were occasionally seen in the vicinity of the bridge, but since then, official attention has subsided.

Park is beginning to make the rounds of community meetings in order to revive public and police attention to the bridge, which, to her eye, has gone unpatrolled since Christmas.

This corresponds with a change in command in the 39th Police District, tasked with policing East Falls.

Captain Verdell Johnson, Commanding Officer of the 39th District, said that he had not been informed of this issue either by officers or by the community, but said he would increase patrols of the bridge.

Captain Stephen Glenn, former Commanding Officer of the 39th District, explained the police response at the time, stating that officers were ordered to surveil the bridge two or three times per shift for 15-minute periods.

However, given the involvement of a city vehicle in a hit-and-run incident, Captain Glenn took a personal interest in the case and wrote up the report himself for submission.

In fact, he himself spent some time at the bridge effecting traffic stops to wayward motorists.

“I didn’t carry a ticket book,” he said, “but I did stop vehicles and inform them that we were going to be issuing tickets.”

It turns out that most of those stopped should have known better.

Asked to characterize those interdicted by 39th District officers, Glenn recalled that the “tickets we issued were largely to local residents.”

Ray Lucci, Chair of East Falls Community Council’s Traffic Committee, wasn’t taken aback by Captain Glenn’s observation.

“It doesn’t surprise me that local folks are not exempt from obeying posted traffic signs,” Lucci said in response.

While his group has not studied the situation on the Calumet Bridge specifically, he said that the Traffic Committee will be meeting within the coming week to examine various traffic concerns, propose an agenda going forward and, ultimately, deliver their findings to 4th District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.

Investigating the claims

In the meantime, Park awaits the settlement of her claim by the city’s Risk Management Division (RMD).

Barry Scott, Deputy Finance Director for the RMD, said that his department is in the process of investigating and adjusting her claim.

Explaining his department’s procedures, Scott said that after receipt of a claim against the city, the RMD provides the claimant with written acknowledgement and goes to the relevant city department for supporting documents.

Scott noted that, at present, there is nothing on file from the Streets Dept. documenting Park’s loss, and offered that this could be a reason for what may appear to be a standstill in the processing of the claim.

The Streets Department did not respond to Newsworks’ inquiry.

On Friday, Jan. 27, in response to Newsworks’ probe, two representatives from the Inquirer visited Park and offered to pay for the cleaning of her sidewalk, according to Park.

In addition, she stated, the representatives indicated that they would use the incident in future driver training sessions.

Speaking for the Inquirer, Mark Block, Vice President of External Relations for Philadelphia Media Network, said in an email that no internal accident report had been filed as there was no damage observed or ticket issued.

As per Park’s complaint, Block said PMN has no record of receiving a letter from anyone regarding the incident described.

“We certainly would have investigated and responded,” he noted.

St. Bridget School did not respond to Newsworks’ inquiry.

A resident’s call to action

Going forward, Park is circulating a petition among neighbors to garner closer attention to the bridge from city agencies.

She would like to see an increased police presence, but noted that in order for it to be effective, police should write tickets – not offer warnings.

She would also like to investigate the potential of the bridge abutments being lowered, to facilitate pedestrian visibility.

Lastly, she offered that if residents must cross the bridge illegally – at least slow down.

But for Park, who has lived on Calumet Street since 1976, last year’s bridge incidents are just the latest installments in her observations of the urban experience.

“Ah, Calumet,” she sighed, “what a trip.”

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