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Goal! DVRPC examines how a Chester train station can best serve soccer fans and office workers

Don’t let Chester, Delaware County’s suburban location fool you; it’s a patchwork of neighborhoods afflicted by crime and poverty. Just in the past couple of weeks, Chester saw six people shot and a man commit suicide after a traffic stop by ingesting cocaine. With those woes in mind, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) recently undertook a study analyzing how a train station can connect fans of the Philadelphia Union soccer team that plays there, office workers, and perhaps even future Chester residents.

The DVRPC study, called the “Chester Riverfront and Community Rail Access Study,” researched how Chester’s currently struggling Highland Avenue Station can better serve residents, visitors, and workers. Presently, “Highland Avenue is one with (a) very low number of boardings (84 boardings per day in 2009) and might be considered a candidate for closure under other circumstances,” says Dr. Joseph Hacker, manager in DVRPC’s Office of Transit, Bicycle, and Pedestrian Planning.

Yet, the Union’s soccer stadium, PPL Park, stands in the way of closure, as does the recently built office complex Wharf at Rivertown. Due in large part to these destinations, DVRPC looked into rebuilding a station at Highland, or moving the station to one of two nearby locations, Townsend/Engle Streets or Flower Street.

Hacker thinks a rebuilt or relocated Highland Ave. train station could be a catalyst for some new housing development, which is something not often heard of in Chester. Specifically, Hacker points to Rivertown as an area that could be ripe for new housing. “It is my understanding that SEPTA would be eager to partner on a new station if there was a coterminous development supporting a new investment,” said DVRPC’s manager. “A $27 million investment (the cost to build a new station) is not warranted by the weekly soccer ridership.”

According to DVRPC, distance and accessibility to PPL Park and the Wharf at Rivertown are two of the greatest factors that went into the study. Accessibility is defined as “the legibility and the safety of the path between the station and the respective destination,” in the words of Hacker.

In fact, DVRPC’s current Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) addresses the Chester study. Both the Flower and Townsend/Engle St. sites have improved pedestrian crossings over a freight line leading to the PPL Park and Rivertown programmed into the TIP. As for the Highland Ave. site, there is a TIP item concerning signage and streetscaping there, to make for a better walking environment.

While Chester continues to be plagued by high crime and low incomes, a train station might lay down the track for the resuscitation of the suburban city. While a rebuilt or relocated Highland Ave. Station would be a good thing for Union fans and office workers, it could be a marvelous thing for residents. 

Source: Dr. Joseph Hacker, DVRPC
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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