SEPTA speaks on Lans­dale park­ing garage plans

North Penn Life - - OPINION - By Dan Sokil dsokil@jour­nalregis­ter.com

In the two weeks since new plans were pre­sented for re­de­vel­op­ing Lans­dale’s Madi­son Park­ing Lot, there’s been plenty of dis­cus­sion in pub­lic meet­ings and on­line about a skate park planned for the project, the new re­tail space and apart­ments it could bring, and the po­ten­tial im­pact on down­town.

On March 2T, the bor­ough’s park­ing author­ity voted to adopt plans that could bring apart­ments, re­tail space, a park­ing garage and a skate park to the cur­rent site of the Madi­son Lot, at no ex­pense to the bor­ough or its tax­pay­ers.

One of the other as­pects of the project re­vealed two weeks ago would help con­nect the Madi­son Lot to the east side of town, and help al­le­vi­ate some of the park­ing prob­lems in the cur­rent lot: a planned park­ing garage to be built on SEPTA’s cur­rent above- ground lots be­hind the Lans­dale train sta­tion, and a pedes­trian over­pass bridge con­nect­ing the two — both of which SEPTA of­fi­cials say will make a big dif­fer­ence.

“Out of our 153 sta­tions, Lans­dale is ninth in rid­er­ship with roughly 2,500 trips a day, so it’s one of those very high rid­er­ship sta­tions that we have to pay at­ten­tion to,” said Jeff Knuep­pel, SEPTA deputy gen­eral man­ager.

Five of those nine busiest sta­tions are lo­cated in Cen­ter City Philadel­phia, which makes Lans­dale the fourth- busiest sta­tion out­side of that down­town — “it’s a very, very im­por­tant sta­tion, and we wanted to be part of the over­all strat­egy to im­prove the area,” he said.

As de­vel­oper Equus Cap­i­tal Part­ners — known at the time as BPG Prop­er­ties — be­gan de­vel­op­ing its Madi­son plans last year, Knuep­pel said, Lans­dale of­fi­cials reached out to the trans­porta­tion author­ity to try to ad­dress the den­sity the project would bring into Lans­dale’s down­town.

SEPTA plan­ners “got real se­ri­ous very fast” and devel­oped the idea of a pedes­trian bridge con­nect­ing to a SEPTA ga- rage due to the po­ten­tial syn­ergy be­tween the in­creased down­town devel­op­ment on the Madi­son site and in­creased rail rid­er­ship from res­i­dents who would live on that lot.

“There have been some con­cerns within the com­mu­nity that their devel­op­ment doesn’t have enough park­ing, so it’s a per­fect match, be­cause when the new devel­op­ment needs the most park­ing is when our peo­ple are clear­ing out,” Knuep­pel said.

“Around 4 / 4: 30 p. m. on week­days, we start to lose peo­ple out of our park­ing lots, so we’re start­ing to va­cate the park­ing garage when the af­ter- hours kind of venues, like restau­rants, a movie the­ater has been pro­posed, re­tail as well as res­i­den­tial there, start to pick up and need more spa­ces. Now we’re in po­si­tion to pro­vide that,” he said.

SEPTA stud­ies have iden­ti­fied a need for park­ing to ac­com­mo­date roughly 100 com­muters who park in the Madi­son Lot now, and the bor­ough’s re­cent in­crease in park­ing prices in its down­town core ar­eas “would be very up­set­ting to them, so we had to look out for those 100 com­muters, and look at where we should po­si­tion our­selves for the fu­ture as well.”

Park­ing de­mand and traf­fic stud­ies are al­ready un­der way, so there is no firm num­ber of spa­ces that would be in­cluded in that new SEPTA garage, but SEPTA hopes to pro­vide at least enough spa­ces for those 100 com­muters who park in the Madi­son Lot, plus those whose spa­ces would be built over to in­stall the new garage — ten­ta­tive tar­gets are for a net in­crease of 200 or 300 spa­ces more than those cur­rently avail­able, plus 100 to take those SEPTA com­muters out of the Madi­son Lot.

“We want to make sure what we do is ap­pro­pri­ately sized, will be uti­lized and will be ef­fi­cient. There’s still home­work to do, but we threw out a con­cept and the re­ac­tion has been very, very, very pos­i­tive,” Knuep­pel said.

With all of that said, there’s one other el­e­ment that can’t be ig­nored: Early pro­jected costs for the garage are on the or­der of $ 15 mil­lion, and for the pedes­trian bridge, $ 2.5 mil­lion, based on other sim­i­lar projects through­out the agency’s rail net­work — and a large part of the project will be to se­cure that fund­ing.

“Our fi­nan­cial pic­ture is very, very dif­fi­cult right now. We have a back­log of state- of- good- re­pair projects, just nor­mal re­place­ment of our as­sets, that’s al­most $ 5 mil­lion, and we’re very much hurt­ing for cap­i­tal money,” he said.

A re­cent grant award of $ 2.5 mil­lion from Gov. Tom Cor­bett’s of­fice in Re­de­vel­op­ment Cap­i­tal As­sis­tance Pro­gram funds “is a good start, but peo­ple have to con­tinue to look for fund­ing,” Knuep­pel said.

Once the garage is com­plete, the re­sult should be ben­e­fi­cial to all in­volved: The SEPTA garage could fea­ture tiered rate struc­tures so that SEPTA com­muters could use cards to pay long- term rates, and the 120- foot- long pedes­trian bridge would bring el­e­va­tors and easy ac­ces­si­bil­ity from garage to down­town and vice- versa.

“That will be a piece of cake. I will per­son­ally su­per­vise that since I use the sta­tion, and since that’s the end of elec­tri­fi­ca­tion [ on the SEPTA line] we have a lot of op­tions” for in­stalling the bridge with min­i­mal dis­rup­tion to rail ser­vice, Knuep­pel said.

For an idea of what the fiNLsKEG SrRGuFW FRuOG ORRN like, he sug­gested, ride a few stops down the line: Am­bler Bor­ough is far­ther along in tran­sit-ori­ented devel­op­ment projects that bring the same mix of res­i­den­tial and re­tail space near rail lines.

“That has worked so well for Am­bler. That town has res­ur­rected it­self now at night: There’s nightlife, there’s a the­ater and it’s work­ing out great for Am­bler — and Lans­dale is mov­ing in the same di­rec­tion,” he said.

“Tran­sit- ori­ented devel­op­ment is the wave of the fu­ture. It’s very ef­fi­cient, very green and it brings a new tax base to th­ese com­mu­ni­ties. It’s go­ing to really, really change down­town Lans­dale, and so many peo­ple will see the ben­e­fits,” Knuep­pel said.

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