Manayunk-Roxborough: Residents Confront Perennial Problems With Parking And Traffic

On any given morning in Manayunk, traffic snakes up Green Lane, sometimes reaching 10 or more blocks from Main Street up to Manayunk Avenue and beyond. Commuters may spend a half hour or more waiting to get out of the neighborhood onto City Line Avenue or I-76 to head to work.

“People often cite that the Green Lane Bridge [pictured above] as an example of how long it takes to get out of Manayunk,” said Josh Cohen, Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.’s chief of staff and Roxborough district office liaison.

In the afternoon, the neighborhood is gridlocked again, this time as residents return to their homes. Street after street, cars are packed bumper to bumper, and drivers are seen riding up and down the hill looking for a spot to park, often to no avail.

The traffic headaches are part and parcel of living in a neighborhood that seems to see no end to a decade of rampant development.

For many, traffic is the most visible consequence of decades worth of overdevelopment. The narrow streets and aging city infrastructure fail to accommodate the growing volume of people driving through the neighborhood everyday.

“I think where we are now, the really big problem with [development] is it is geting to be overdevelopment,” said Irene Madrak, executive director of North Light Community Center, just off Main Street at 175 Green Lane. “Every place is being infilled and the infrastructure, the city, you know, is always really behind on that.”

Issues with traffic and parking are perennial concerns for Manayunk residents, though, and conflicts over development have been recurring for decades. In the 1970s, just as Manayunk was beginning to experience its first demographic shift, the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin published a series of articles which captured the dispute between long-time residents and newcomers from outside.

Click this link to see a visual comparison between Manayunk today and the Manayunk of the past.

Steep hills and the Schuylkill River pose a challenge to potential developers. The solution to these challenges has often been  to develop new commercial and residential buildings on grounds where property already existed. This strategy, though, often increases density, which means more cars and more people in the same amount of space.

Cohen recently toured Manayunk with the Philadelphia Parking Authority to try and maximize off-street parking.

“Parking has always been a big issue, and there is not a single day that goes by where I do not hear about parking,” Cohen said. “Sometimes, it takes someone 45 minutes and they wonder how a new development project would affect that.”

Manayunk, once considered a working-class manufacturing and millworker community, has become a hotbed for redevelopment. Homes were typically passed down from grandparents to children for many generations. According to the 2016 American Community Survey, Manayunk had approximately 42 percent of the homes in the neighborhood listed as owner-occupied, down from 51 percent in 2000.

Kevin Smith, president of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council and long-time resident, explained that over an extended period of time, young people started moving to the suburbs, and an increasing number of properties were put up for sale in the neighborhood.

“There is a large rental population here, and that is something that has developed over the last 20 to 30 years,” Smith said. “Society has changed, people move around more, kids don’t stay in the neighborhood they grew up in.”

The Manayunk Neighborhood Council is a non-profit civic association that is dedicated to unifying and educating residents of the neighborhood, as development continues to change the culture and socioeconomic makeup of Manayunk.

“Owner-occupied housing was 80 percent before the 1990s,” said Smith.

Smith claims that developers were able to capitalize on the availability of cheap properties on the market in Manayunk, which served as the catalyst for the massive redevelopment efforts in the area.

“People want to build here, and they are tucking houses into every nook and cranny, some of them make sense, some of them don’t,” said Smith.

“In the 20 years that I have lived in this neighborhood, I have seen a lot of changes,” said Cohen. “We have seen older buildings that may not have been well-maintained being bought and demolished, and having newer, more modern structures [pictured below] in its place.”

Cohen explained that there are concerns that the neighborhood is being overdeveloped, which has added to the zoning and parking issues and alienated some long term residents.

“There are a lot of long-time residents who are used to a certain way of living and they do not like the increased amount of traffic that a development might bring,” said Cohen. Residents often say that as new developments replace older buildings, the architectural character of the neighborhood changes, often not for the better.

“In some sense, it’s good that we don’t have such stale housing inventory,” said Cohen. “In other senses, one of the reasons why people are attracted to both Roxborough and Manayunk is the historic architecture, and we have seen a lot of that go away in recent years.”

Development issues and tension reached a boiling point when St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church closed in late 2015.

Shortly after learning that the property was for sale, the Manayunk Neighborhood Council learned there was already a development plan in place for the construction of 110 residential apartment units without any community parking, according to the Manayunk Neighborhood Council website.

The proposed development plan would take away parking for local residents and the North Light Community Center, which would have further exacerbated parking and traffic congestion issues in the area. North Light Community Center and St. Mary’s parking lot are pictured below.

“One of our biggest victories, as a civic association, was playing a big part in getting Councilman Jones to withdraw a bill that would have allowed a 100 unit apartment complex to be built on the grounds of St. Mary’s,” said Smith.

The MNC teamed up with the North Light Community Center to oppose the developer’s original plan to build the apartment complex, which councilman Jones Jr. initially supported.

“Though we have a social action history, we had really stepped out of zoning as an organization unless we would be directly affected as a neighbor,“ said Madrak.

Madrak said that North Light wanted to be involved with the MNC’s effort to fight the development because the St. Mary’s property is adjacent to their center, and the parking issues would threaten the survival of the North Light Community Center.

“We actively worked hand in glove with Manayunk Neighborhood Council; Kevin and I strategized regularly together, and we put a team together and came up with some central themes to address at our meetings,” said Madrak. “A lot of the comments that came back were that people knew something was going to be built; people had problems with the density, the lack of attention to infrastructure in the community when so much is being built, and the traffic issue, which is something that is really land tied.”

The concerns over lack of space in the neighborhood were apparent.

“When you look at the density of this neighborhood, it was a huge hit when that St. Mary’s lot was closed because it pushed 60 to 70 people out on the street,” said Smith. “You saw it, fights between people, people parking on corners, it was visible that it created measurable stress in the neighborhood,” Smith added.

“We sat down with representatives from the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, representatives from the North Light Community Center, the developer, and planning commission,” Cohen said. “We asked everyone what they could live with where the developer could still make a dollar and the neighbors could have some parking that won’t be too dense,” said Cohen.

A compromise was made that would allow 21 houses, 35 apartments, 16 parking spaces for North Light Community Center and some parking for the community to be made with the St. Mary’s property.

“It took several meetings, but we came to an agreement and in this case, I think we found a happy medium,” said Cohen.

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  1. Was this article written last year or paid for by Curtis Jones? There was a “success” in limiting development of st Mary’s 3 years ago. Why not ask Cohen about what they are planning to do about all of the problems and overdevelopment you outlined in this article? This only spoke to the plight of many neighborhoods in Philadelphia without holding anyone accountable.

  2. The traffic in the fall is most definitely more horrific when the students are back. Today it took 20 minutes for me to get from Silverwood street to the 76 West on ramp via Green Lane. The department of streets made it even worse this year when they repaved Green Lane and Leverington and took away about 20 more parking spots. The rental housing community should be restricted to 2 cars per house. Some of these college students have 4-6 cars per house taking up multiple parking spots on the street. They should also have to register their cars with the city to the house while they live at the address so that it’s regulated. It also would be great if they built a few parking garages around town for the transient traffic and influx of weekend visitors. It would also make money for this town, so win, win? Why is it that we’re still dealing with this problem in 2019 when there are so many feasible solutions to this? As someone who has lived on Silverwood Street at Green Lane for 4 years, I’m sick and tired of dealing with this.

  3. Parking …now the parking authority is around all the time. Curtis Jones should be ashamed that he let so much new development.

  4. It’s a tough balance. Housing supply is needed though to keep up with all the demand. I’m a proponent of public transit and I’ve personally been taking the 27 & 9 buses more often, and sometimes the train.

  5. This article seems to come to an abrupt end, and shows just how little results we’ve seen in this neighborhood. The area is continuing to be overdeveloped, the parking situation worsens weekly, and the traffic is the most aggravating of all. There are essentially only 2 ways out of the area in the morning: Green Lane or Ridge/City Avenue. What we need is for Curtis Jones and Mr. Cohen to take these commutes daily for 1 month and then see how they feel about the over-development of this area. It takes me 45 minutes to get from the eastern edge of Roxborough to University City in the morning, with the bulk of my backup being on Ridge Avenue, followed by Kelly Drive. Also on my ride I pass TWO large apartment developments (the old Rita’s and the old Hi-Spot Lanes), not to mention the new apartment structure on Mitchell St. across from the dog park (this one was only originally proposing 10 parking spaces). The multi-unit dwelling development has to STOP and we need better infrastructure and public transit options for the area.

  6. Just wait until “The Locks” housing development opens up – another 60 units, going to add another bunch of cars during rush hour; that intersection will be a disaster. Good luck everyone.

  7. The city planners and politicians, investors/developers are destroying the quality of life in Roxborough and Manayunk. The charm that made the community great is being leveraged for high density, low quality housing in the name of progress. By the time the tax abatement expires on these properties, they will be in such poor condition that when the taxes have to be paid on over valued/under maintained properties, the selloff by the investors will even further depreciate the community. Who will want to live here and maintain a home here. If this is progress, I believe the future will be actually regress, for our once safe and desirable place to raise a family will turn into just another blighted over populated, under serviced area of the city. Look at the sinking Roxborough avenue as an example of city concern. Welcome to the new age of high density and low quality of life. Do the corrupt politicians in the city even care, they are getting theirs now!

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