Mt. Airy traffic-calming advocate to lead civic group

by Tom Beck
Posted 12/28/23

You might know Anne Dicker as chair of West Mt. Airy Neighbors’ Traffic Calming Committee. Come Jan. 9, she’s slated to add another title.

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Mt. Airy traffic-calming advocate to lead civic group


You might know Anne Dicker as the chair of West Mt. Airy Neighbors’ Traffic Calming Committee. And while she’s sticking with that title, come Jan. 9 she’s slated to add another one to her LinkedIn profile. That’s when she’s expected to win the vote among WMAN membership – since she’s the only one running – to take over for Stephen Kendall as WMAN’s new president. It’s a three-year term. 

Dicker, who grew up in Ohio and eventually made her way to Mt. Airy in 2009, has been a staple in the community since moving to Philadelphia in 1999. While living in Queen Village from 1999 to 2009, Dicker ran unsuccessfully for State Representative and State Senate, started a grassroots progressive group called Philly for Change, and also started another grassroots group called Casino-Free Philly, which at the time railed against a casino proposed for Queen Village, which, with Dicker’s help, never came to fruition. 

Part of her campaigns’ lack of success, she said, was because she was cast as a “Mt. Airy Liberal” by many in her neighborhood. So she decided to move to Mt. Airy. The Local got Dicker on the phone to chat about her expected presidency, the success of WMAN’s Traffic Calming Committee and what she loves about her neighborhood. Below is the full interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

What made you want to run for president of WMAN?

I have a vision where Mt. Airy and all of the Northwest are safe for everybody to walk and ride their bicycles, and where walking in our neighborhood will be tree-filled and filled with birdsong. I have a vision of Mt. Airy that includes keeping our lovely historic buildings, but at the same time welcoming new people to our neighborhood with new buildings. 

In any case, I think that my ability as a community organizer is really to take people who want to do something, organize them, and show them how to be organizers themselves to get things done. This is not something that's taught in school, but it's something you can learn to do, and I think I'm good at teaching other people how to do it. 

How do you reflect back on Steve Kendall’s term as WMAN president?

I think that Stephen has really turned our organization around. Prior to him serving as president, we weren't doing a whole lot. But during his tenure, he had this vision that WMAN was an organization that could do meaningful work in our community, and he recruited many new board members who shared that vision. Basically, I want to continue with the vision that he's had. 

We also formed this really good partnership. We were working very closely through his initiatives. Just last summer he was able to get the EcoLab off the ground, [in which we started rehabilitating and beautifying a vacant space on the property of SEPTA’s Carpenter Lane regional rail station]. He saw where we were going with historic preservation and traffic calming, and he decided that it was a good time to step down.

For those who may not know, can you tell us about WMAN and what makes it an important organization?

WMAN was founded in 1959. It's one of the oldest civic organizations in the country. We were founded in the middle of a very transitional time when there was a lot of redlining and a lot of neighborhood upheaval. We worked very deliberately to ensure Mt. Airy was an integrated neighborhood in a time of deep segregation in our country.

WMAN has always worked on neighborhood issues. We have always been focused on keeping Mt. Airy a vibrant healthy, neighborly community, and I'm actually going over the archives right now. There are archives on Temple University about our history, which I need to read because I haven't yet. 

What do you love about Mt. Airy?

I made a choice, not just to live in Philadelphia but specifically to come to Mt. Airy because I knew that it was a great place to raise children. 

The second reason I've grown to love Mt. Airy is that pretty much everybody you meet on the street is your potential best friend. I've never been in a place where so many random strangers have become almost instant close friends. We moved here just before my daughter was born and almost all of our close relationships are within our neighborhood. I know that throughout the city that's not always the case.

I think it's a very unique place within the city. It's very special not just in terms of the neighborhood but of course the physical environment. We're right next to the Wissahickon, we have all these great historical homes. It has an amazing history. Oh and of course, we all seem to love voting like crazy. 

The 22nd ward is always top three in the city in terms of the highest turnout wards.

My particular division was always in the top 10 of the city.

How did WMAN’s Traffic Calming Committee come about?

Our traffic calming committee is modeled off the traffic calming committee in Fishtown. There's also one in South of South Neighbors Association, [which is in Graduate Hospital]. I learned what we needed to do from those traffic calming committees. I had reached out to the president of the Fishtown Neighbors, Jon Geeting, a year and a half ago and he helped me figure out what we needed to do.

Tell me about the success of that committee. I’m sure it had a lot of pull in getting the new traffic calming measures installed on Lincoln Drive?

[Laughs] Yes, absolutely. I summoned up the memories of being a political organizer in Queen Village to model our campaign to advocate for traffic calming here. We started the traffic calming campaign after we had an initial meeting. I guess it was March, a year and a half ago when everybody wanted something to be done on Lincoln Drive, and we were all still lingering in the effects of the pandemic and how bad driving had gotten. Everybody at the meeting – I think there must've been 60 people on that Zoom call – said it's bad everywhere in Mt. Airy, but Lincoln Drive is the very worst. 

So we decided to work on that problem first and that's how we got our first 1,000 signatures on the petition to get a traffic study on Lincoln Drive. Once we got those thousand signatures, we sent a formal letter to PennDOT and Councilmember Cindy Bass. The city, to our surprise, responded within a week and a half. That's how we got the ball rolling.

That's crazy because the narrative is that nothing ever gets done in the city, and if it does it takes forever. But that seems not to have been the case this time?

Well, I think it was the synergy of two things happening at once. I had attended the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia's Vision Zero meeting just a few weeks prior to all this happening, so I realized that the rules were changing for arterial roads. Since the person presenting it also happened to work for PennDOT, I gave him a call and asked if the new rules would apply to Lincoln Drive and he said yes, let's take a look. It was a confluence of organizing, getting on people's radars and knowing that if there was the will to get something done, the new rules would allow us to actually get something done. It's a lot of research, but it's also political will and good old-fashioned community work. 

What are some other WMAN-related goings-on that you think readers should know about?

Definitely, the fact that we are working on a Mt. Airy greening plan. This is something we hope to roll out in the next year. It's part of our EcoLab environmental strategy. 

As you know, we remediated a disused rail yard by the Carpenter Lane regional rail station and transformed it into a community EcoLab where we have a community garden and orchard. We want to expand that throughout Mt. Airy and basically make the neighborhood more beautiful but also more environmentally resilient. 

We know that places that are devoid of tree cover are 20 degrees hotter than places that have a full tree canopy. Although it seems like Mt. Airy is a pretty treed area, we actually have suffered loss of canopy and there are also what are heat islands where there are no trees in certain blocks. We want to make sure Mt. Airy is covered in trees and there are no heat islands. 

20 degrees is a huge sway.

Yeah, it's the difference between wanting to walk outside and feeling like you need to duck into the air conditioning. It's the difference between enjoying the outdoors, which is so wonderful in Mt. Airy, or being stuck inside. 

OK, for my last question: just tell us about you. What are your hobbies? What do you do for a living?

[Laughs] Well most of my spare time is spent with my husband and my daughter. My daughter goes to AIM Academy. It's a school for children with reading-based learning differences like dyslexia, which she has. Actually, that’s the entire reason I have a little bit of extra time, because prior to her going to AIM two years ago, I spent all of my time tutoring her and teaching her how to read. That was all-consuming. Now that she goes to AIM, I have a little bit more free time. 

Let's see, hobbies. I really like to rollerblade, bike, walk around the Wissahickon and just enjoy the neighborhood. I also enjoy walking on our traffic-calmed streets and not getting run over!