Why vote for Jenkintown’s write-ins?

Because Jenkintown deserves discussion, civility, and disclosure from our Borough government.

The three write-in candidates for office here in Jenkintown have issued their talking points explaining their positions. These fully explain why Walkable Jenkintown fully supports this write-in effort, if for no other reason than to remind the entrenched council that too many Jenkintonians can’t count on a fair hearing or even basic respect from our Council. We are dismissed, shut out, and even bullied for daring to question the party line.

Jenkintown Borough Council has cast 112 votes in a row without a single nay. That should give anyone some concern about the tolerance for debate on that board and in the general community. Twelve people on the board and no one disagrees? Ever?

Why vote for the write-ins, Peggy Downs for Mayor, Ryan Cella for Council, Ward 4, and Ted Histand, for Ward 3?

1.Time for new leadership and fresh voices…

  • To be in service to the community, rather than to party politics
  • Changing the culture to encourage community involvement
  • Acting as a voice of the residents and business operators

2.Time for our government to enforce our codes and laws in a fair, consistent, and timely fashion…

  • In order to maintain and preserve the character of our community, our public safety, our property values and our historic and diverse housing stock

3. Time for our policy decisions and budgeting to be fully transparent.

  • Detailed Agendas in advance
  • live stream of EVERY meeting
  • Detailed minutes and accessibility to recordings of every council session
  • Proposed Budgets posted online BEFORE they are approved

4. Time to Follow the priorities of our newly developed 2035 Comprehensive Plan…

  • Which clearly sets forth revitalization of our Town Center as the top priority for our limited investment resources (supported by survey data)

Download a PDF of these talking points and feel free to spread them around.

ADA requires four feet of space to allow for wheelchair access. This ongoing problem violates that requirement and the Borough is doing nothing to stop it.
ADA requires four feet of space to allow for wheelchair access. This ongoing problem violates that requirement and the Borough is doing nothing to stop it.

Bring Walnut Street parking into compliance before a lawsuit does

Jenkintown’s selective enforcement of its own laws risks expensive litigation.

As most people who live in Jenkintown know, the sidewalk along the 300 and 400 block on the south side of Walnut Street exists primarily as a parking spot for the residents who live along that road. Of course, this is not actually the case. Jenkintown regulations, as they do in most cities and towns, prohibit cars from parking on a sidewalk. Jenkintown, however, chooses to selectively enforce this ordinance — as they have with others — because they simply don’t know what do do without causing a firestorm of protest from those offenders.

What those residents don’t seem to understand and what Jenkintown has chosen to ignore is that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires 100% compliance in all public buildings and spaces. Public sidewalks must be four feet wide, and those along Walnut do meet that requirement. Exceptions might include areas with existing and long-standing obstructions such as telephone poles, but they do not include illegally parked vehicles. The ADA does not consider the inconvenience of the able-bodied.

As someone who has counseled private businesses about the necessity for compliance, I know not only something about the law, but also the risks of ignoring it. In 1999, the City of Worcester, Massachusetts faced a lawsuit for its failure to provide 100% compliance during renovations of its historic train station. The ADA accessible platforms did not extend the full length of the train. The suit halted construction on the $60 million project and delayed its opening by several months.

As a consultant for the restaurant industry, I’ve met with people seeking to restore historic structures and put them back into service. They would often bristle at the notion of expanding doorways to accommodate wheelchairs or to build obtrusive ramps which would harm the historic nature of the structure. My advice was always the same: Do not even think about trying to get a waiver. It only takes one guy in a wheelchair to show up at your permit hearing to stop your project cold and invite litigation.

The power of the ADA is not something to be trifled with, and indeed, the Borough spends significant money on building accessible sidewalk ramps. That’s the law. They have no choice.

The ADA doesn’t care about your sideview mirror

However, the situation on Walnut Street is not only a safety hazard for able-bodied pedestrians, it is impassible for the disabled. Eventually, the Borough could find itself embroiled in litigation that will demand enforcement of the law with significant fines by the state for its ongoing failure to comply with the ADA. That is simple reality.

Residents have complained online that they don’t want to pay for $400 mirrors; that this is a town from the “horse and buggy days,” and worse, that anyone who dares suggest the Borough actually enforce its own ordinances must be “an idiot.”

Don’t shoot the messenger, Jenkintonians. I sympathize with residents and understand their frustrations. I too have lived in areas with horrible parking, but I never dared to flout the law or claim a right to do so.

If you want to safely park your car somewhere, may I respectfully suggest purchasing a house with a driveway or access to a parking lot. The sidewalk does not belong to you. It is, as we have always maintained, a public resource reserved for the pedestrian.

A Final Word about Rick Bunker

“Think about it. We have a president who is so easily played by a cable news host. What does that say to our allies?” — Mika Brzezinski

I heard that this morning as I sat down to write this. Replace “a president” with “Rick Bunker”, and “cable news host” with “blogger” you have some idea of Mr. Bunker’s thin skin,$general demeanor, and disregard for his position and his community.

Our beef with Rick Bunker began when he made the following remark about our suggestion to find a better way to maintain our sidewalks:

“This is the we’ve always done it, and it’s the way the rest of the state does it. I see no reason to support this change. No one is complaining about the way we’re doing this.”

Even when presented with overwhelming evidence of this ordinance’s waste and the hardship it imposes, all Mr. Bunker wanted to do was shut down the conversation. I knew nothing of Rick Bunker at that point (except that he owned a gun), but I knew then that I had found Jenkintown’s bette noir.

Forgive me, but when I hear a politician so emphatic in his opposition to a simple request to discuss a matter of importance, I wonder about possible corruption. For what reason would someone in a position to help be so blatantly obstructionist and hard hearted? 

We began this effort not only because we thought a wholesale method of sidewalk remediation made better sense from a financial and engineering standpoint, but admittedly because it was going to profoundly hurt our own financial situation. We went to the Borough and asked them to help us, and Rick Bunker said to suck it up.

So, we dug in and went to work. Employing the Right to Know law, we researched what the community paid for all the recent sidewalk work. Mr. Bunker called our efforts a waste of taxpayer money, except that several taxpayers wanted to know who paid what? Unlike the Borough, we could tell them. This was information that should have been readily available since the Borough asked for it on two of the four permits it used. After all, you did pay a filing fee. 

Then the Borough entirely eliminated the contractor’s estimate line item right about the time we raised this issue. Why?

Final finding? You got fleeced, our sidewalks are a mess, and Rick Bunker doesn’t care. For my efforts, he branded me a “mentally unhinged loser”.

Mr. Bunker began his attacks in earnest last summer after we began to research and report not just sidewalks, but the Borough’s governance as well.

To be fair, Mr. Bunker originally posted an unsolicited, voluminous, and rather thoughtful response on my personal Facebook page where he explains why the current ordinance makes perfect sense to him. However, no part of it addressed the unnecessary expense of the policy to homeowners or the poor results for the community. Instead he speciously justified it claiming, among other reasons, that people might want their sidewalks to look distinctive.

He also made unsupportable claims that homeowners owned the sidewalk. He might also say that homeowners own to the middle of the street (and maybe we do), but yet the Borough paves that. Trouble is, no one seems to know for sure, and least of all Rick Bunker.

Last December, I wrote about my experience interviewing for a council seat, and on January 2 of this year at 1:43 in the morning, Rick Bunker left this message on my website:

After that inexplicable, and possibly drunken post, I decided to just move on. I was done with Rick Bunker and would not engage with him. Hopefully, he would get the message and do the same. Not a chance.

We posted our article about “found money”, and Mr. Bunker left a lengthy response in the comments on the web page. I decided to withhold response. Honestly, I didn’t care what he thought. Mr. Bunker’s hypocrisy seems to know no bounds. My personal experience with the Council VP forcefully illustrates that pretense. One would think this self-proclaimed “lefty liberal” would concern himself with the plight of the little guy and with government transparency. Mr. Bunker doesn’t appear to care about either.

Finally, Mr. Bunker wrote within the Facebook page comments for that story:

Against my better judgement, I had respectfully challenged Mr. Bunker on his assertion that spending the $11,000 recycling grant “correlates” to more recycling. Mind you, we gladly recycle, but as taxpayers, we merely presented a reasonable question to a public official. Rick Bunker’s response was to call me a “mental defective”.

I have since politely asked Mr. Bunker to refrain from posting anything on our page. I don’t wish to stoop as low as our Mayor Ed Foley has with me and actually ban him. Instead, I leave it up to Mr. Bunker to see if he can maintain a modicum of civility and restraint and just leave us alone. Instead he has threatened to continue with his attacks.

Rick Bunker is unfit for public service, and I’ve spoken privately with others on the Council feel the same way. I do think that he’s an extremely intelligent person. Unlike our current president, he speaks and writes with great eloquence, but like Donald Trump, he does not suffer dissent with any civility. He displays a thin skin and a penchant for viciously attacking his opponents on social media — even at early morning hours. Yes, I’ve referred to him as a pompous bloviator, but Mr. Bunker himself agreed that the appellation suited him.

I do ask that at the very least, Council remove Mr. Bunker from his position of Vice President. He’s simply making Jenkintown look awful, and I would hope that the good people in Ward 3 would vote for his replacement.

Otherwise, Rick, Walkable Jenkintown is done with you. Hopefully, the rest of Jenkintown to follow.

This is the area where SEPTA plans to build ADA-compliant platforms.

Is SEPTA leaving the station?

SEPTA’s proposed ADA-compliant platforms diminishes the future of the train station

The last time that SEPTA announced a major development at the Jenkintown-Wyncote station back in 2009, it raised quite the outcry in the neighborhood. At the time, SEPTA proposed building a new garage for the area, and mostly Cheltenham residents mobilized to stop the project in its tracks. I attended one hearing agnostic on the matter, and that night I came away unconvinced by the arguments of either side.

One the one hand, I mostly favor any effort to put more people on more trains. On the other, I don’t particularly care for single use-parking structures. Cheltenham residents seemed to take on the NIMBY position, but it would be built in my “back yard” as well. As I saw it, we live in a densely developed area. We chose to live very close to SEPTA’s busiest station outside of Center City, and for many reasons, we want it to stay that way.

Eventually, I spoke with a resident who put the issue into what I believed then — and believe now — is the proper perspective: When the real cost of an all-day-parking space near a train station stands at probably more than six dollars, a two-dollar-a-day parking garage only adds to SEPTA’s perennial financial woes.

That and the fact that SEPTA presented no plans to make the station even more of a transportation hub supporting more bus routes, or that it would better service the outlying suburbs where most of those cars originate. I then fell in line with the opposition.

SEPTA rendering of the proposed ADA compliant platforms and elevator towers.
SEPTA rendering of the proposed ADA compliant platforms and elevator towers.

At last week’s Business Zoning, and Redevelopment meeting, SEPTA’s latest development effort came to light. In order to fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, SEPTA must (literally) upgrade the platforms for wheelchair access. In order to do that, it proposes to build new platforms south of Curry Bridge, and in the process, remove at least 30 parking spaces from that lot.

Further, it will construct two elevator towers and a bridge over the tracks and catenaries that will, according to the Cheltenham Chamber of Citizens, rise 18 feet above the bridge.

Worst of all, SEPTA will move all ticketing operations into a new structure on the new platforms, effectively abandoning the original train station. This project has a budget of more than $23 million.

Rick Bunker earns his broken clock award

I almost hate to say it, but in the latest committee and council meetings, Rick Bunker takes the correct stance on this issue. SEPTA’s proposal will likely lead to further disuse and the historic station’s slow but inevitable decline. SEPTA has also sent mixed signals about what it wants in that station. To one group, they claim to want a new restaurant. To another, they will say they have no plans.

The Trumbauer-designed station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and just last year, SEPTA repaired the roof with funds awarded in part because of that status. Its spacious interior would easily allow for more than just a restaurant. Certainly someone wanting to serve coffee and pastries could make a go there — at the very least.

Our community and government needs to respond to forcefully. We recognize the importance of ADA compliance, but SEPTA must find a better way to accommodate the disabled without abandoning one of its crown jewels. The station serves as its symbol and the catalyst for our very existence as a town. The fact that we have such a landmark here helps to sell Jenkintown and Cheltenham as great places to live (as long as you can afford the taxes).

To learn more about this issue, visit the OneCheltenham.com. They have images showing the project and other details.

Jenkintown Borough Council Meeting, June 26, 2017

In June’s meeting Council discusses ice cream trucks, appoints two new part-time police officers (welcome!), and listens to a presentation from Marley Bice about the Jenkintown 2035 Plan. Sadly, the presentation slides make for poor viewing, and the report provided by Ms. Bice has not appeared on the web just yet. Suffice to say, it does a fine job singing the praises and potentials of Jenkintown, even if it does fail to suggest that parking must be restored to Old York Road.

Your feedback is welcome.