Horwitz and her family decided to be cautious and wait, as they were traveling with a stroller. When the countdown ended, the "Don't Walk" signal flashed and the gates closed. A train remained parked with its lights on, about 100 yards away. So far, so good.
About five minutes later, the gates opened, the family's cue to cross. But as they pushed the stroller across the tracks, the train suddenly started to move. The signal once again (correctly) announced a train was approaching, but the gates never closed.
So the gates invited them to cross at exactly the wrong time.
Horwitz and her family made it across the tracks just fine, but she worried: What if someone was less cautious or a train had been approaching more quickly?
Horwitz tried calling 3-1-1 to report the problem, but an agent said she didn't know what the Schuylkill River Trail was.
MIXED SIGNALS: The Streets Department is in charge of the gates, so we called them. They told us nothing was wrong.
The gates never malfunctioned, spokeswoman June Cantor said. The department had turned them off before a recent storm to protect the circuitry from a flood, and they'd since been turned back on. But this answer didn't square with Horwitz's experience, or with the claims of another person who works near the gate (who didn't want to be identified) and who said the gates were still malfunctioning.
Help Desk checked out the gates last week and ran into a crew of Streets Department employees and city contractors. No one in the crew would speak with us, but it was clear they were working on the gates. The control box was wide open.
We called the Streets Department again to tell them we saw a crew at the gates and to ask again if the gates had been malfunctioning. As of last night, we had not heard back. Regardless, the gates are now fixed.
In the future, we think, if the gates malfunction, someone should put up a sign to notify pedestrians and bicyclists.
Of course, it would help if 3-1-1 agents didn't turn calls away. City Assistant Managing Director Sheryl Johnson couldn't find a record of Horwitz's call, but said an agent should never reject a call because he doesn't know an answer. In cases like that, Johnson said, agents should ask a supervisor for help.
If you ever have an experience like Horwitz's in which an agent basically says, "I don't know," make note of the time of your call and the name of the agent, and call back and ask to speak with a supervisor to complain.
Someone should be willing to listen when you're trying to report a gate that's telling pedestrians to cross into the path of an oncoming train.
Juliana Reyes reports for It's Our Money, a joint project of the Daily News and WHYY funded by the William Penn Foundation.
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