Friends of the Rail Park has been advocating for the creation of a linear park along the City Branch and Reading Viaduct for more than three years. We’ve taken tours of folks from throughout the region and the country to this marvelous wild place – through the subterranean spaces under Pennsylvania Avenue, to the natural meadows behind the Community College of Philadelphia, and to the soaring landscape of the Viaduct. We have met with enormous enthusiasm for reconsidering forgotten opportunities through placemaking and the idea of creating a continuous and connective three-mile linear park. Officials from many city agencies, including staff from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission [PCPC] have been among those on tours, in attendance at our events, and engaged during our City Branch conceptual design process through the Community Design Collaborative, and many have been eager in their support of the project.
So it was a shock to us when the idea of a Rail Park had been left out of the PCPC 2035 Central District Plan draft released in mid-March. In its place was an endorsement of a Bus Rapid Transit [BRT] route exclusively occupying the City Branch. We were alarmed to see the omission not only because we believe the park use of the former railway could coexist with a BRT line if that idea successfully materializes one day, but because exclusion from the City’s comprehensive plan would mean that several potential funding and partnership opportunities we would pursue to move the vision forward would likely not be available to us if the concept were to be considered in conflict with the district plan.
When Friends of the Rail Park’s conceptual designs for a half-mile stretch of the City Branch were released in April, we shared them with multiple individuals at PCPC requesting their consideration and that of the larger vision for inclusion in the district plan, but received no indication that they would be. Late in the afternoon on May 15, 2013, the Planning Commission announced that the public comment period on the draft Central District Plan would close that same day. Leah Murphy, of the FOTRP board, issued an urgent call to action and we conducted an email blitz to our community of supporters – seeking letters endorsing the project and requesting its inclusion in the City’s vision for the future. In less than 24 hours, the PCPC inboxes were swamped with letters from civic organizations, cultural leaders, non-profit organizations, concerned citizens, and fellow advocates.
Our outreach campaign, moving nearly 100 supporters to be vocal advocates of the project in less than two days, resulted in PCPC’s decision to include the Rail Park as an alternative or coexisting use of the City Branch.
We are grateful for the extraordinary outpouring of support – loud and clear – that helped the PCPC recognize that the Rail Park—as a continuous three-mile linear park—is a project with enormous public support. Without your voices—our collective voice—this would not have happened. People are always asking us “what can I do to help?” The most important and powerful thing you can do is also the easiest—if you want to see this project succeed, show your support by telling your friends and colleagues; liking, posting, sharing, tweeting, instagramming [#therailpark], and commenting; helping us spread the word about events and important issues; joining us in cultivating a community of Friends of the Rail Park.