One of the most notable characteristics of the Fox Chase section of Northeast Philadelphia is its train station, and the businesses that surround it. Because of the amount of people who use the train station, and the thriving neighborhood around it, many believe Fox Chase is a great example of transit-oriented development and has the potential to become an even greater example. However, there is disagreement as to how beneficial the station is for neighborhood businesses.
Some business owners along the bustling Oxford Avenue corridor beside the station are grateful for the train’s presence. The train station “definitely is a benefit,” said Sally Danciu, the owner of Sally’s Flowers, which is across the street from the station. “The ridership happens to be up at our train station, and it does bring us more customers into the area, customers that normally would not come here.” Danciu added that her store sees rail commuters picking up flowers either on their way to or coming home from work.
Lauren Killen at Fox Chase Deli and Catering, just a few doors down from Sally’s Flowers, agreed with Danciu’s assessment. Killen said she wakes up every morning to the sights and sounds of train commuters buying breakfast or just coffee from her deli.
Fox Chase homeowners also see the train station as being positive for development. Craig Turner, the zoning chairman for the Fox Chase Homeowners Association, is one such person. “I would think that the number of commuters coming into the area [the train station] both on foot and by car have to at least expose the local businesses to more potential customers,” said Turner.
Turner also said that the Fox Chase Station, as well as neighboring Ryers Station, helps facilitate development at the Fox Chase Cancer Center and Jeanes Hospital, both of which are not far from either train station. In doing so, he pointed out how important mass transit is for large employers.
However, not every business is convinced of the benefits of Fox Chase Station. Caroline Rieker-Mahoney of Rieker’s Meats does not see much of an impact on her establishment. “None of our employees rely on it [the train], and few of our customers use the train to shop at our store,” said Rieker-Mahoney. While she said the train station might be important for some customers, it does not have a large impact on most customers.
Rieker-Mahoney’s downplaying of the train station was corroborated by Joe Dollak, president of the Rockledge-Fox Chase Business Association and owner of The Carpet Shop. Dollak made sure to point out just how few people ride the train to get to his business. Dollak also seemed skeptical about the impact of the station on other local businesses.
While Fox Chase Station is more often thought of as an example of transit-oriented development, the next stop on the line, Ryers Station, also has potential for transit-oriented development. John Ervin, who lives near the station, sees some chance for business development. Ervin cited a medical building built around five years ago across Cottman Avenue from the station. Also, the Fox Chase Cancer Center is a few blocks west on Cottman Avenue.
The current and potential development around the Fox Chase Train Station is important because transit-oriented development is redefining towns all across the country, and around the Philadelphia-area, for the better. Transit-oriented development is defined as the fostering of compact walking communities that revolve around train stations, according to the American Public Transportation Association. According to Robert Cervero, a renowned researcher of city and regional planning at the University of California at Berkeley, the United States has 100 sizable examples of transit-oriented development.
Matthew Mitchell, a director at the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, is a staunch proponent of transit-oriented development. Mitchell said he recognizes that train stations can play a vital role for businesses. “Balanced rail and road access is welcoming for small and medium-sized businesses,” said Mitchell. He said he also believes train stations can benefit large businesses since their employees can commute by train and they do not need as many parking spaces.
As a seasoned rail rider, Mitchell is familiar with Fox Chase Station and the shops around it. He classified Fox Chase as one of the Philadelphia area’s original examples of transit-oriented development. He referred to the large park-and-ride lot that enables commuters from Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County to ride the train. According to Mitchell, these riders do not merely pass through Fox Chase to access the station. Commuters can “pick up food for dinner or dry-cleaning” after leaving the station, said Mitchell.
While many believe Fox Chase Station and the businesses around it are currently emblematic of transit-oriented development, some have high hopes for even more development. Turner of the Homeowners Association is one of those dreamers. “I would like to see condo buildings replace some of the dilapidated and unsightly industrial uses around the station,” said Turner. He admitted that he was unaware of any developers expressing interest in this idea. He also acknowledged that zoning hurdles would have to be overcome.
Turner said he thinks the train station can also have a negative impact on the neighborhood just as any large, unsupervised area might. He and other residents are especially concerned about graffiti, drugs and vandalism. In fact, graffiti adorns walls around the train station. Turner said he wishes that SEPTA Transit Police could provide better patrols of the station at night.
DVARP’s Mitchell has a message for neighborhood associations, like the Fox Chase Homeowners Association, and business associations, like the Rockledge-Fox Chase Business Association. He said he prescribes to the idea that the best thing people can do to foster transit-oriented development is to ride rail in the first place. This is an important piece of advice for a neighborhood like Fox Chase, which is wealthier and more auto-oriented than many other sections of the city.
The Zoning Code Commission recognizes the existing and potential transit-oriented development around the Fox Chase Station. It charted a list of 23 areas in the city that show promise as present or future examples of this sort of development. The area around Fox Chase Station made this list and was the only location in the western part of Northeast Philadelphia to do so.