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11th and Reed Streets in South Philadelphia.

11th and Reed Streets in South Philadelphia.

After years of cyclists getting dusted up or legitimately injured on unused trolley tracks around Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition’s Katie Monroe broke her jaw (in three places) at 11th and Reed Streets in December 2013, when her tire was caught in the tracks and she flipped over the handlebars.

She, and many here at the Bicycle Coalition, decided enough was enough. The tracks are from the inactive Route 23 trolley, which was suspended in 1992 and extend from South Philly to Chestnut Hill.  No matter what your opinion about trolley tracks, inactive and unmaintained tracks are a hazard to all road users.

We began meeting with SEPTA and the Streets Department in February 2014 to find a way to avoid these needless incidents going forward, with a particular concern on intersections where bike share stations were going to be located in the future. We prioritized the intersections closest to bike share stations and asked that the tracks at those intersections be removed or paved over. The leadership of MOTU, Streets and SEPTA agreed.

We also met with the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, who concurred that the inactive tracks and their degraded condition posed a hazard to bicyclists, pedestrians and motor vehicles — and should be remedied. Because any future restoration of trolley service would require full replacement of the trolley tracks, paving over or removing the old tracks at intersections doesn’t mean service cannot eventually be restored. At some point.

Our talks with Streets and SEPTA led to a plan to cover or remove the trolley tracks at 24 intersections along the route.  SEPTA and the Streets Department apportioned out which intersections they would each deal with. SEPTA removed tracks at five intersections during the fall of 2014. Streets repaved fourteen intersections during spring 2015.

Now, SEPTA says they’ll remove the tracks at 11th and Reed in the fall. So, at least 20 out of the 24 intersections will be dealt with by the end of 2015.  The tracks at 10th, 11th, and 12th and Oregon tracks will be tackled with when bike share stations cover that area.

Periodically, I rode the route to check all the intersections that Streets said they’d be covering, and used a handy checklist to see which streets had been covered, and which hadn’t.

Here’s that list (with an added note, to denote a recent success):

listIt was observed in early May, and later reported by Philadelphia Magazine, that many of those intersections had already been paved over—but not Ground Zero.

We can now officially announce that the trolley tracks at 11th and Reed will be permanently removed this fall by SEPTA. Pulled out of the ground, and hopefully recycled. That’s where the celebratory “Hey now” comes from. In case you were wondering.

There’s a Ride Indego bike share station around the corner from that particular intersection, and we’d all really hate to see a new rider involved in such an easily-avoidable crash.

We applaud SEPTA and the Streets Department for working with us and making the decision to extract or pave over the unused tracks and make 11th and 12th Streets from Snyder to Cecil B. Moore safer for all road users.  We are breathing a sigh of relief that this important safety improvement was taken, but — trust us here — no one is more excited than Katie Monroe.

Randy LoBasso

Author

Randy LoBasso is the policy manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

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