west and runnymede

If at first you screw up…

Around 2008 or so, Jenkintown Borough embarked on a round of construction to make its sidewalk corners compliant with ADA regulations.

We remember when the corners at West and Walnut and several in the commercial district were rebuilt. And then, the Borough did them again. We wish we had inquired earlier why the Borough found it necessary to spend even more tax dollars to redo the work. Perhaps someone forgot to read the actual regulations?

Looks like it’s deja vu all over again here at West and Runnymede. Could someone from the Borough let us know why they didn’t do this right the first time? Why the do-over?

Also, it looks like when the Borough repaved Runnymede, they forgot to include the traffic light sensors at the intersection with Walnut. Yesterday, they repaved about thirty feet of road on both sides of that intersection. Oops.

Goals for Jenkintown’s pedestrian infrastructure

Anyone who thinks that this blog is devoted to the mere rantings of a disgruntled resident is wrong. This blog represents only the first step in getting this policy changed, because I believe that not only can we change it with minimal impact to our already-high property taxes, but that we must change it for the sake of our property values and for public safety.

We recognize that the current system is not only arbitrary, onerous, and inefficient, but that it produces unsatisfactory results. In light of that, plus the inevitable hardships current policy imposes upon people still struggling to recover from the worst recession in a generation, we believe that the Borough must find a better way.

Our goals:

  1. To prove to the Borough residents and to Borough Council that a better and more efficient way to improve our pedestrian infrastructure exists.
  2. That we can pay for this better way with a minimal impact to our existing property tax burdens, and to strike the current ordinance that puts the full burden and liability upon abutting property owners.
  3. To prove the inefficiency of the current system by comparing the money spent by individual homeowners for patchwork repairs to our sidewalks using a variety of “favored” and fly-by-night contractors, with a single, lowest-bidding contractor system for work on a wholesale, block-by-block basis.
  4. To prove that a single-contractor system would not only cost less, but that it would also produce sidewalks and curbs built to a higher aesthetic and engineering standard.
  5. To explore all possible funding sources, including the state’s new Multi-Modal fund, not just property taxes.
  6. To lobby our representatives in Harrisburg to help fund the spread of more walkable communities.
  7. To reimburse residents for all work already done this year and/or to provide relief to proven hardship cases. People should not live under the threat of court action, fines, and jail just because they cannot afford to comply.

As always, I welcome your comments and concerns. If you largely agree with what you read here, please forward to your Councilor with your comments.

The Heavy Jenkintown Tax Burden: Cost vs. Value

Jenkintown High School

Most people who live in Jenkintown will tell you they love living here, but they won’t tell you that taxes are reasonable. Most I’ve spoken with will express a sentiment along the lines of “they’re already too high”, especially when we start talking about paying for sidewalks.

The question then becomes, do we get good value for our money? The heavy Jenkintown tax burden might not pay for sidewalks, but it does fund one of the highest rated school systems in Pennsylvania. We have a right to be proud of that achievement, but a quick look at the raw numbers might have you wonder if the cost of that ranking exceeds the value it returns.

Pleased to meet you, Jenkintown

Louise and I have lived together in Jenkintown since late 2002, marrying a year later. The year before, Louise’s mom had passed away, and while she stood to inherit the house, she considered selling it and buying elsewhere. We didn’t much like the house at the time, mainly because of its tiny kitchen and lack of porch. After an exhaustive and frustrating search for a better house in a location as good as Jenkintown, I finally said to Louise, “You can always improve the house, but you can’t always improve the location.” So, here we are.

My interest in pedestrian infrastructure stems from my personal and professional background. In 1990, I started publishing Roadside Magazine, that found an audience of people who loved traveling America’s back roads and Main Streets. The magazine initially focused on the charms of the great American diner, but the travels that took me there inspired a deeper appreciation for the towns in which we found them. Before long, we announced our “Recipe for an American Renaissance” and its ingredients: “Eat in diners. Ride Trains. Shop on Main Street. Put a porch on your house. Live in a walkable community.

Our house fullfills four of the five ingredients of the Recipe (still no porch), but I welcomed the opportunity to live in a town and area so rich in aesthetics, history, and culture, and I looked forward to getting involved in the community.

This blog represents my attempt to help make Jenkintown as great a community as possible. Thanks to my travels around this country visiting hundreds of other communities, learning how they have thrived or declined, I find myself in a unique position to compare our progress against similar neighborhoods and older inner-ring suburbs. No place is perfect, and they all have their quirks, but when they do things right, it shows in their downtowns, their parks, their schools, and certainly their streetscapes.

Forgive me, but I contend that our streetcapes are becoming a greater mess, and this latest project is not improving matters. Yes, the fresh asphalt certainly provides a smooth, uniform surface that makes driving our streets a sheer pleasure, but in a walkable community, I care more about the pedestrian experience. The policy that guides our Borough has rendered our sidewalks a patchwork mess of often substandard construction that will decay much faster than a uniform, wholesale approach to pedestrian infrastructure would provide.

Beyond that, despite the assurances by the Borough that pedestrian safety underlies this program, the end results will continue to hurt people, both physically and in no small way, financially.

I contend that a community asset should be a community responsibility. We don’t charge tuition to our schools, we share the cost of maintaining the streets, and we don’t levy an entrance fee to our playgrounds. Why are sidewalks (and curbs) excluded from this single-payer system?

We need to find a better way, one easier for everyone, not just the wealthier households. Sidewalks are, and should remain, a public right of way. I contend that we are spending individually far more than we would as a community for a better streetscape and we are getting far less for that money. The money so far spent just on the patchwork fixes on Runnymede paid to a single, lowest-bidding contractor would probably rebuild the sidewalks for the whole street.

Louise and I merely want this discussion to finally take place. Council thinks you have no real issues with this policy, but my discussions with other residents show otherwise. I know that my prose often suffers from an ascerbic and sarcastic tone, but I come from a hardscrabble background, raised by a single mom with no patience for nonsense. She had to battle her way to a comfortable lifestyle that only came late in life. I inherited her attitude if little else. Meet with me, and you’ll find I’m not just a crank. If I were, there’s no way I’d be lucky enough to marry a woman like Louise.

Maybe we can improve the location, and I’m happy to do my part in what should be a shared effort. A better planned, more equitable, approach will certainly bring this community greater benefits than what we have now. I’m betting my house on it.