The Pope in Philly

The Key, the Concourse, all of the paving: The post-Pope Francis city improvements

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We held off on a lot of stuff for Hurricane Francis to come and go. So now, with the lockdown over, the city is staring down its next large event — the 2016 Democratic National Convention (a much smaller lift than hosting the Pope and the World Meeting of Families).

City agencies like the Streets Department along with SEPTA are moving back to their usual schedules now that they’ve hosted and planned for the Pope. Here are five things in the city that are moving forward right away, now that Pope Francis isn’t clogging things up:

1. SEPTA Key, coming soon to a terminal near you

SEPTA had a lot to do to prepare for Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia, and as you probably know, it didn’t all go perfectly. Now that that’s over, SEPTA has a new leader after GM Joe Casey retires this week and one-time deputy Jeffrey Knueppel will take the reins of the city’s transit agency. Knueppel said planning for the Pope’s visit didn’t set much off track for SEPTA in terms of finish dates of construction and improvement projects, but many are kicking into high gear now.

One of those projects is SEPTA Key, the transit authority’s digital payment system that has been in the works since 2007 and was expected to be installed sometime this year. SEPTA is still hoping to make good on the promise to get SEPTA Key up and running this calendar year, and Knueppel said they’re in the “final stages” of pilot testing.

Once that’s finished, Knueppel said there were will be a period of some inconvenience as SEPTA moves all the terminals in the city over to the new, orange SEPTA Key payment terminals (you’ve probably seen that about half the terminals have already made the switch and caused some backlogs before getting on the train or trolley).

“We’ve started putting our employees onto it, we’re going to be adding more friendly users as the year goes on,” he said. “I’m hopeful we will come out of pilot testing soon.”

2. Paving!

Streets Dept. spokeswoman June Cantor said that while the agency was little set back by the few days it couldn’t work on improvements, the citywide street paving program took a week off while the Department was preparing for the Pontiff. Work on that re-started Wednesday, and was scheduled to take from April through November of this year.

The city’s re-surfacing program, funded by the capital budget, looked to improve conditions on the streets largely for walkers and bikers, and also aimed to make curbs in the city more ADA accessible. Here’s a full list of the streets being re-surfaced all year. This week, work begins and continues on streets like S. 15th St., E. Moyamensing Ave., S. 10th St. and S. 12th St.

3. Changes to the underground concourse network

SEPTA recently acquired ownership over the underground concourse network below the city which, if you’ve ever walked through there, you know is probably in need of some updating. Knueppel said the “long-awaited project” in Center City is beginning up soon and bids for the improvement projects will take place in about a month or two.

He said once a bid is chosen, the project — which was broken up into segments — will begin. The first segment that will be improved upon is in the South Penn Square area.

4. Renewing 40th Street station

Accessibility is a problem at 40th Street station along the Market Frankford Line in the University City area, and Knueppel said work is beginning on ways to make it easier for SEPTA users to get in and out of the station. Installing elevators in the station is the main concern, and other, smaller improvements are expected to made. That project goes to the SEPTA board for approval this month.

5. First responders will be able to talk underground

Also going to the SEPTA board this month is a project that would enable radio calls between first responders to work underground. Currently, the infrastructure isn’t in place for that to occur. Knueppel said the deal is being finalized now, and could mean the work done by SEPTA police could greatly change in coming years as communication gets better.

Bonus: What’s not happening

City officials and SEPTA made the decision that improvements to 15th Street Station on the Market-Frankford line — which were at one point supposed to start in the spring — actually won’t begin until after the DNC. Knueppel said the DNC had more of an effect on those improvements than did the Papal visit.

Want some more? Explore other The Pope in Philly stories.

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