The latest tempest to thunder into our fair borough comes on the back of a chihuahua, that despite our laws against it, sports a drive-through window.

Taco Bell tolls for Jenkintown’s fiscal mismanagement

Is Council about to sell us out to cover for an impending financial crisis?

We seem to have a Borough Council that relishes controversy — or is perhaps clueless about how they cause it. The latest tempest to thunder into our fair borough comes on the back of a chihuahua, that despite our laws against it, sports a drive-through window.

My experience has taken me down dozens and dozens of main streets across this country. I’ve sat down and spoken with many from those communities and discussed the challenges that they’ve faced. Towns go into decline and stay there because of gutless or ignorant leadership eager to make any deal, no matter how Faustian.

When I lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, the city had just completed a magnificent $60 million restoration of its Union Station. Eager to spark more development around it, the city almost offered up a lot across the square to Days Inn for one dollar! This signaled to the business community and to the community at large how little City Hall actually valued the city it governed.

Jenkintown today finds itself at a similar crossroads. Old York Road, which traditionally served as our borough’s commercial heart and soul, has become blighted thanks both to PennDOT’s intransigence and the Borough’s inability to challenge it.

We’ve run out of band-aids.

I’ve lived here now for 15 years, and I’ve long heard all the heartfelt and colorful stories about how vibrant Jenkintown used to be. Like many traditional towns that could not adapt to the automobile age, it lost its way. It has since applied many band-aid fixes with mixed results at best.

People like to point to our Town Square and all the new restaurants, but the restaurants are here because of our demographics and improving economy, not because of any Borough policy. The Town Square, though not without its charms, is really a poor excuse for a public space. Frankly, it’s a back-alley consolation prize given to Jenkintown by the county and really provides little to no tangible benefit to the community or the businesses around it, as evidenced by how our school taxes keep going up to compensate for the declining assessments.

Doylestown, Hatboro, Manayunk, Chestnut Hill, Media, and West Chester have no such town square, and yet you would never mistake their economy with Jenkintown’s. What they do have are pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares — streets that they can actually close off when necessary and have a parade. Thanks to Jenkintown’s failure to convey to PennDOT or our governor that Route 611 is killing this town, we must funnel our festivals and parades onto side streets. In 1974, Jenkintown staged its centennial parade on Old York Road.

No standards. Lax enforcement. And soon, no plan.

So, yes, let’s bring a Taco Bell here and grant them a variance for their drive-through window. Then we can finally state the obvious and just declare that we’ve given up. We have no standards, and we need the cash. Sorry for the time you wasted helping us develop the Jenkintown 2035 plan.

The Borough needs the money to pay for a parking lot that doesn’t pay for itself, for leaves they have to pick up from private property, for a theater and library and other community programs that are not fully supported by the residents who use them, for the maintenance of six police vehicles, and for a pocket park that looks more and more like a holding yard for borough trucks and less like a bird sanctuary with every month.

Why should the Borough care about its own building codes and zoning? It has for years ignored ADA laws by willfully allowing cars to park on Walnut Street sidewalks, by failing to cite crumbling properties for health code violations, by ignoring pedestrian safety on disintegrating slate and brick sidewalks, and by gathering revenue from illegal stop signs placed throughout the borough.

When you remember that Council granted George Locke a 23% pay raise without a performance review, it recalls George W. Bush commending his FEMA director after Katrina destroyed New Orleans.

For the record, I have no issue with any business setting up shop providing that they adhere to our established rules. However, this Taco Bell idea smacks of desperation, especially when Michael Golden puts lipstick on this pig by saying “At least we’ll get a traffic light out of it.”

And that there strikes to the heart of exactly the problem with this proposal. Old York Road makes it impossible to develop foot-traffic and the types of businesses that would cater to it. Instead, we get more sprawl, with Taco Bell planting that flag. Before long, we will become another traffic-choked Willow Grove instead of another New Hope, or any town with a business district we can point to with pride.

We can and should do better, but we won’t if we continue to be led by the same tone-deaf Council and the machine that puts it there.

Minneapolis suburb takes action to be more like Jenkintown

We already have (and promote) a walkable community. However, the traffic volumes on Old York Road stand to erode our downtown’s last vestiges of charm. Because no one wants to walk on Old York, no business that relies upon foot traffic will establish themselves there. It will all become about setbacks and allowances for parking.

At a late November city council meeting, local officials voted 4-1 to impose a six-month “emergency” moratorium on car-related retail throughout Columbia Heights. The breather would give planners a chance to study potential zoning changes that offer more control over the situation—with the hope of turning at least the main part of town into a place that’s much more friendly to pedestrians.

Source: A Minneapolis Suburb Bans Car Businesses to Spark Walkability

Jenkintown Congestion = Jenkintown Revival

For automobile flooding (congestion), the only way to deal with it and still have a successful economy is to address it at the source. We need to absorb those trips locally before they become a flood. Instead of building lanes, we need to be building corner stores. We need local economic ecosystems that create jobs, opportunity and destinations for people as an alternative to those they can only get to by driving.

Source: Dealing with Congestion — Strong Towns

This quote comes from an excellent essay by Charles Marohn at, and a recommended read before attending the Jenkintown 2035 “visioning” workshop. Keep it in mind as you consider what to do about Interstate 611 as its traffic tears through our downtown.

Marohn makes many valid points on the nature of traffic congestion and how to deal with it, and adding lanes, as he writes, is like buying bigger pants when you put on weight. Stop solving the symptom and start curing the disease.

Goals for Jenkintown’s pedestrian infrastructure

Anyone who thinks that this blog is devoted to the mere rantings of a disgruntled resident is wrong. This blog represents only the first step in getting this policy changed, because I believe that not only can we change it with minimal impact to our already-high property taxes, but that we must change it for the sake of our property values and for public safety.

We recognize that the current system is not only arbitrary, onerous, and inefficient, but that it produces unsatisfactory results. In light of that, plus the inevitable hardships current policy imposes upon people still struggling to recover from the worst recession in a generation, we believe that the Borough must find a better way.

Our goals:

  1. To prove to the Borough residents and to Borough Council that a better and more efficient way to improve our pedestrian infrastructure exists.
  2. That we can pay for this better way with a minimal impact to our existing property tax burdens, and to strike the current ordinance that puts the full burden and liability upon abutting property owners.
  3. To prove the inefficiency of the current system by comparing the money spent by individual homeowners for patchwork repairs to our sidewalks using a variety of “favored” and fly-by-night contractors, with a single, lowest-bidding contractor system for work on a wholesale, block-by-block basis.
  4. To prove that a single-contractor system would not only cost less, but that it would also produce sidewalks and curbs built to a higher aesthetic and engineering standard.
  5. To explore all possible funding sources, including the state’s new Multi-Modal fund, not just property taxes.
  6. To lobby our representatives in Harrisburg to help fund the spread of more walkable communities.
  7. To reimburse residents for all work already done this year and/or to provide relief to proven hardship cases. People should not live under the threat of court action, fines, and jail just because they cannot afford to comply.

As always, I welcome your comments and concerns. If you largely agree with what you read here, please forward to your Councilor with your comments.

The Heavy Jenkintown Tax Burden: Cost vs. Value

Jenkintown High School

Most people who live in Jenkintown will tell you they love living here, but they won’t tell you that taxes are reasonable. Most I’ve spoken with will express a sentiment along the lines of “they’re already too high”, especially when we start talking about paying for sidewalks.

The question then becomes, do we get good value for our money? The heavy Jenkintown tax burden might not pay for sidewalks, but it does fund one of the highest rated school systems in Pennsylvania. We have a right to be proud of that achievement, but a quick look at the raw numbers might have you wonder if the cost of that ranking exceeds the value it returns.