Penn architect gives insight on redeveloping 30th Street rail lines

A planned redevelopment project for the area surrounding 30th Street Station could dramatically transform the neighborhood, bringing additional commercial space and improved vehicle and pedestrian access to Center City.

The leaders of the project—Amtrak, Drexel University, and Brandywine Realty Trust—are currently in the process of considering master plan proposals.

Organizations affected by the project, including Penn, the City of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and SEPTA, are also involved in the discussions.

The area covering JFK Boulevard to Spring Garden Street, and the Schuylkill River to 32nd Street is currently part of the route for Amtrak and SEPTA Regional Rail trains, as well as a train service yard.

Harris Steinberg, executive director of PennPraxis, the applied research arm of PennDesign, calls the area “96 acres of prime real estate hiding in plain sight.”

In 2011, graduate students in Steinberg’s planning course studied ways to transform the rail yards into a new, urban pedestrian and transit friendly development. The report produced by the class, “A Vision for Schuylkill Rail Yard,” suggested highway and rail line infrastructure changes to improve access from University City to the city’s cultural institutions on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

“You can put in pedestrian bridges [and] some traffic bridges to Race Street to get to the Parkway,” says Steinberg.

Steinberg explains there are many similar developments that can serve as models for this project, including HafenCity in Hamburg, Germany, and New York City’s Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project, which offers residential and business space.

“In some cases, we don’t have to look further than our own city,” says Steinberg. “Penn Center and Suburban Station and The Gallery over Market East are built over train lines.”

Steinberg acknowledges that redeveloping the area will present engineering and financial challenges.

“It’s not cheap, it’s not easy, and it’s not going to be quick,” says Steinberg. “But if we want to position Philadelphia competitively for the next century, these are the kinds of projects that need to be taken seriously in order to think about how to modernize and amenitize the city to attract people and capital to Philadelphia.”

30th Street Station