Kensington resident and executive director of New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC)
1. How does the closure of Somerset Station affect you and people in the neighborhood? What challenges may you face in accessing transportation now?
It impacts me directly because that is my primary station for the past 20 years. Going downtown, whether it’s for medical reasons, to go to the doctor, to get fresh food, or to go see friends, that’s my primary form of transportation.
It impacts me in the community directly because of my job. Our building’s location is, I don’t know, 150 feet from the train station. And over at New Kensington, we do everything from offering free tax preparation, free housing counseling against evictions and foreclosures, and small business support. We have community health workers who work out of there. I mean, it’s a long list of what we do at New Kensington, and [because of the closure,] people are going to have very limited access to come in to see us. And it’s also a hardship for our employees who are not able to walk over there. I can walk to the office in five minutes, but other folks can’t.
There are those layers, and then I think about residents in general. There are folks who, from their physical conditions, may not be able to get to another train station, literally. There are people in wheelchairs and walkers who are unable to get to another spot the same way. Same as me, that train is their primary way to get food, to get to medical care, to get to see friends, and to get to their jobs. So, it’s a significant impact on folks.
2. What are the conditions like at Somerset Station and on the Market-Frankford Line? How do they affect you?
These are real conditions here. There is urine and human waste throughout the station regularly. There are needles lying around; you’re stepping through blood. I mean, these are bad conditions. This is why we also are standing in solidarity with the workers. It’s unsafe for them. It’s unsafe for residents.
In addition to people sleeping and taking shelter at the station, there are also folks using intravenous drugs. And it’s a challenge. I think it is a scary place for a lot of folks. I can imagine — I don’t have children — but for a lot of folks who bring children through, it is challenging. And if you just go to some of the crime maps, because people are congregating at these spaces, there’s a lot of crime that’s occurring there.
3. What kinds of solutions could be implemented to create safe and reliable transportation in Kensington?[SEPTA is] going to do their best to clean things up; to get the mechanical things operating correctly. They’re going to do what they can to make those things safe. But the issue is obviously much larger. And if the core issues aren’t addressed, we’ll be right back where we are right now in no time.
So, the emphasis needs to begin to shift from not just the reopening but the addressing of the larger issues, like lack of housing, like the opioid epidemic, like poverty, like violence, like the economic development strategies that are going on right now. All those pieces led to the closing of the station. The station closing is a symptom of a disease.
4. Should there be a community-led advisory board, made up of stakeholders like the City, SEPTA, Kensington residents, civic associations, nonprofits, and businesses, that comes up with a plan for reopening the Somerset Station and provides long term solutions to the problems that led to its closure?
Yes. The only thing I would add is the power to affect change.
It has to be different. If you think of a participation ladder, pretty low on a participation ladder is informing people. And [SEPTA] didn’t even do that basic piece of informing. Our goal is not just people being informed but getting them to the middle stages. Start getting into ideas around consultation and sharing some power, and then you get to a point of community control.
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Editors: Zari Tarazona, Claire Wolters, Siani Colón / Designer: Henry Savage
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