A subway for Northeast Philadelphia? The Roosevelt Boulevard line could move forward

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Donna Fitzpatrick first heard about it when she was a teenager. The mythical idea would resurface in conversations with his neighbors in Somerton. It would be promoted by local activists, or studied by the city. It always seemed too good to be true:

The Roosevelt Boulevard subway line.

“In the Northeast, it’s like an almost urban legend,” said Fitzpatrick, now 30 and living in Fishtown. “Like, ‘Oh yeah, the Boulevard subway.’ Some people were talking about it optimistically, some people were saying, ‘Can you believe they thought that?’

Growing up queer in an Irish Catholic family, Fitzpatrick dreamed of having an easy way to spend more time in the Gayborhood, at places like the Attic Youth Center. The metro line would have offered a one-seat round trip.

A major corridor connecting downtown to northeast Philadelphia, Roosevelt Boulevard has long been one of Philadelphia’s most dangerous roads. From 2011 to 2015, more than four dozen people died there in traffic accidents. Making the trip downtown accessible by public transit could be a boon for many of the 400,000 people who live in this part of town, neighborhood leaders say.

“Having this rail line would be really positive, eliminating the cars and making the commute to work a lot quicker,” Jack O’Hara, president of the Greater Bustleton Civic League, told Billy Penn. “I think that would be a smart idea.”

The Roosevelt Boulevard rail line was first envisioned in the early 20th century. The proposal became serious enough for a metro station to be built. Although it was much discussed, the rest of the project never materialized.


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But the idea is not yet dead. Changes have taken place on the boulevard in recent years. The express bus service was established there in 2017. Then, red light speed cameras were installed two years ago and actually succeeded in reducing violations.

And now the infamous Metro has entered the popular conversation again, endorsed by transit advocates and adopted by State Representative Jared Solomon, whose district includes part of the northeast section of the city.

“Any big, big change on the boulevard would mean a big investment,” Solomon said. “And that’s what makes this conversation so exciting. The job creation numbers, positive environmental impact and long-term growth opportunities are out of this world.

Is it time, finally, for a northeast Philadelphia rail line? SEPTA does not commit to this. But with an influx of federal infrastructure funds, some say the Roosevelt Boulevard subway could finally come to life.

Wait, a subway line along Roosevelt Boulevard?

Yes, it’s a real idea that we didn’t invent.

The original land was an extension of the Broad Street line, starting at the northernmost Fern Rock station and running diagonally up Roosevelt Boulevard. It’s kind of like the Broad Ridge Spur in Chinatown. The objective: to better connect the North-East to the city centre.

How many times has this happened?

The Northeast Philly Transit Line was first proposed in 1913 by then Transportation Commissioner A. Merritt Taylor. At the time, the downtown population was booming—and there was a need to distribute people more evenly among Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.

The Market-Frankford line was actively under construction. In addition to the Roosevelt Boulevard line, Taylor launched several additional subway lines that never saw the light of day: one that ran to northwest Philly and another that ran from Darby to Philly to Camden.

The Roosevelt Boulevard line was the most persistent. It was seriously considered again in the 1920s, 1940s, 1960s and in 2003.

DVRPC – Delaware Valley Regional

I heard there was a ghost station?

Yes, in the 60s they even built a subway station along the road. It was at Roosevelt Boulevard and Adams Avenue – and paid for by Sears, since the housewares chain had a resort nearby.

“We have the luxury of looking back,” said O’Hara, of the Greater Bustleton Civic League. “There are a lot of workers in this region who have to go to town. It’s like, yeah, why wouldn’t you think of something more accommodating? »

Why wasn’t it finished?

You asked an age-old Philly question! Why are things not happening?

In this case, despite being proposed several times, the Roosevelt Boulevard subway line never got beyond the study phase. It seems that there was simply no political will to make it happen.

So why now?

Federal funding is a big reason. The current moment is seen as an opportune time for new infrastructure and transit projects, as Pennsylvania has billions of dollars in federal funding on the table. This is thanks to the infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in November 2021.

Northeast Philly State Rep. Solomon jumped at the chance. He is planning a community town hall at the end of August to see if people are still interested.

“Everyone at the federal, state, and local level is thinking about infrastructure, which makes it a good environment to have the conversation,” Solomon told Billy Penn. “It gives us the opportunity to rethink, rethink and redefine who we are and what we want to be.”

Where would the metro be?

Since the line never made it past the study phase, we don’t have a super-accurate map for the project.

But basically it would start at the Fern Rock Transportation Center and then curve northeast along Roosevelt Boulevard until just before it hits Bucks County.

In 2016, the Kenney administration began reviewing plans to make the boulevard safer
City of Philadelphia

How much would that cost?

The latest available estimates come from a 2003 study. In early 2000s dollars, the project would have cost between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion and could be built within 10 years.

Who will pay for this?

It’s undecided! Of course, the hope of local leaders is that the money would come from this federal infrastructure funding. Most federal grants require cities and states to pay about half the cost when expanding rail service.

What does SEPTA think of all this?

The Philly Area Transit Authority seems… curious. But leadership does not commit to anything.

“SEPTA is interested in hearing what ideas come out of the meeting later this month,” agency spokesman Andrew Busch said. “We are always open to discussions about ways to improve the service.”

So… will it happen or not?

Hard to say. This is yet another idea, which has not been officially endorsed by any local or state official. It could just be another resurgence of an urban legend.

Fitzpatrick, who grew up in Bustleton, is hopeful.

“This time I feel different, in a good way,” she said. “I try to stay optimistic.

And after?

We’ll have a better idea of ​​what Northeast Philly’s neighbors think of the idea at Solomon’s Representative Town Hall later this month. When asked what he hoped to see at the reunion, Solomon replied “an open and honest conversation”.

O’Hara and Fitzpatrick said they plan to attend. Even though Fitzpatrick now lives in Fishtown, she’s still invested in the Northeast. Her father lives in Torresdale and she has a few aunts at Fox Chase. She wants an easier way to go see them.

“I didn’t think I would see it in my lifetime,” Fitzpatrick said. “To see him really gain ground is super exciting.”

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