Dangerous curves: On Oxford Avenue, the absence of sidewalks put pedestrians at risk

Jean Gavin holds a signed petition demanding the construction of sidewalks on the 7700 block of Oxford Avenue in the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia.

JEAN GAVIN talked about one of the most frightening examples of the hazards of walking on Oxford Avenue near Hartel: the time she saw "a pregnant woman pushing a carriage and holding a small child by the hand."

The woman and children were traveling in the street on this block of Oxford in Fox Chase because there are no sidewalks there, Gavin said.

Since May, Gavin, a community activist, has collected 1,362 signatures on a petition she plans to present to City Councilman Brian O'Neill next week.

The petition asks that sidewalks be put in this block of Oxford, which curves around a bend near railroad tracks.

"It's a very dangerous problem," Gavin, 81, said.

"People are walking it all the time. They walk up to Five Points [a busy shopping district where Oxford and Rising Sun Avenues meet Cottman Avenue], or they walk in the other direction to the Wawa."

As she collected signatures,Gavin said, some people told her that they preferred walking along the railroad tracks to Oxford.

"They said it's safer to walk the tracks than walk that one block," she said.

Gavin, a Vermont native and retired teacher, has lived in Fox Chase for 25 years.

For four months, she has driven to a different section of Fox Chase and Burholme, parked her car, and walked a two-block stretch, ringing doorbells between 6 and 7:30 p.m.

While the petition is directed at O'Neill, he has already signed it.

O'Neill isn't the only public figure to sign: Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross and State Rep. Kevin Boyle, a Democrat representing the 172nd District, also have.

Gavin highlighted in orange the signatures of the public officials.

O'Neill, No. 195, signed on May 11. Ross, No. 446, signed June 8. And Boyle, No. 925, signed Aug. 2.

Boyle has a district office on Hasbrook Avenue, with the back facing the sidewalk-free section of Oxford.

"I've had constituents complain about it in the past, and I've signed her petition," Boyle said Friday. "I have a sign for my office on Oxford, but, in part due to the roadway and concern for pedestrians, our entrance is on Hasbrook."

Boyle had high praise for Gavin. "Jean Gavin is a very committed community activist," he said. "This is not the first neighborhood issue she's fought for."

A few years ago, Gavin was part of Save Burholme Park, a group that filed a court challenge to a city plan to give away a huge chunk of public parkland so that Fox Chase Cancer Center could expand. The citizens won.

She also started a petition to get the Rhawn Street Bridge repaired. She had walked across it one day and through holes in the bridge, "saw the [CSX] trains go by underneath it." The bridge was repaired.

"The Fox Chase Homeowners Association has been involved in this issue - and numerous others in the neighborhood - for quite some time now, and we feel we have had our voices heard," association president George Bezanis wrote in an email.

He noted that sidewalks for the block are included as a goal in the city's Philadelphia2035 Plan.

When told of Bezanis' response, Gavin said: "I'll be 100 years old when it's 2035. We need those sidewalks now!"

In an email Friday, O'Neill said: "These sidewalks are Conrail's responsibility. SEPTA has agreed to try to help with this issue, but it is a long-term project."

A SEPTA spokeswoman said the agency does not own property on the block. And Eugene J. Blaum, a PennDot spokesman, wrote in an email: "Sidewalks are a municipal responsibility even if the street is a state road."

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215-854-5987 @ValerieRussDN