On Monday, SEPTA announced its decision to close the Market-Frankford Line’s Somerset El Station in Kensington, a decision that will have deleterious impacts on the lives of families that work and reside in the surrounding Kensington and Fairhill neighborhoods.
SEPTA is closing public transit access because we don’t know how to deal with the behaviors that accompany addiction. Once again residents and businesses in Philadelphia are being forced to sacrifice. In one of the most tumultuous years that this city has experienced in several decades we are being asked to give up more freedom and more of residents’ dwindling resources. Opioid addiction is a public health crisis that has taken thousands of lives, fractured equally as many families. Now an unwillingness to effectively address homelessness, poverty, and addiction has taken our ability to move freely and safely in public space. We are losing public transit access because there is no effective treatment for fentanyl addiction, no ability for the police to move people using and camping on the sidewalks, and no place for them to move to.
As organizations that seek to connect and empower residents of these communities and help provide them equitable access to opportunity in the city, NKCDC, Impact Services, and HACE cannot adequately express our level of frustration with SEPTA’s decision to shut down this station without engaging neighborhood residents in the decision-making process.
To be clear, our organizations stand in solidarity with Transit Workers Local 234 Union, the safety and well-being of these workers is critical. But the effects that the decision to close this station will have on Kensington residents cannot be overlooked.
Working families in this community rely on the Somerset Street station as a point of access to transportation for employment, education, health care, food, and other essential amenities. Small business owners along the Kensington Ave corridor rely on the station to bring employees and customers to their doors. These residents and business owners were given only a week’s notice before the closing of the station with no reopening date.
There’s no question that the Somerset Street station is a dangerous place, unsafe for residents as it is unsafe for SEPTA workers, but the decision to close the station will do nothing to change that problem. Instead, it will leave some of the most vulnerable residents of our city isolated at even higher risk.
If we as a city are truly committed to working towards a more just and equitable future for all members of our community, we cannot shy away from the challenges we are confronted with in this moment. This is an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to our neighbors in Kensington — residents that have shown us their resilience time and again through years of hardship and unfair neglect— and make an investment in them. Right now we need:
1. A date for reopening the station.
2. Safe conditions for the SEPTA workers there that includes an environment free of syringes and human waste.
3. Safety in our public spaces, thoroughfares, and transit stations through active community policing.
4. Increased bus and shuttle service along Kensington Avenue.
5. Support for businesses impacted by the closure.
6. An advisory board, inclusive of representatives from Kensington, residents, civic associations, nonprofits, and businesses, at the table making decisions about long term solutions to create safe and equitable use of public space.
7. Guarantee of increased services available for the unsheltered and those suffering from addiction.
8. Workforce opportunities and supports for Philadelphians to transition out of the narcotics trade.
Together and with partners we are here to work on a strategy to address the root issues of poverty, homelessness, substance abuse disorder, and lack of neighborhood safety that have caused this station to be closed. We do not want to push the problem elsewhere—to make the Somerset stop better so that the Allegheny or Huntington stops get worse. We want to support those in need, whether they are in the street, or in a home.