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VIDEO: MSNBC showcases Wash Cycle Laundry, one of Philly's top startups

MSNBC's Your Business highlights the story of Wash Cycle Laundry, one of Philadelphia's most innovative -- and greenest -- startups. 

Check out the video here.

Bye Bye Tokens: Philly's transit system blasts into the future

Septa's long-anticipated high-tech update is on the way -- and Philly is jumping straight to the top of the queue. 

A public transit system that still uses metal tokens and paper transfers - yes, in the 21st century - appears finally to be moving into the era of debit cards and pay-by-cellphone technology.

Philadelphia riders can now see evidence of SEPTA Key, the long-awaited smart card system for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. Dozens of computerized kiosks, turnstiles and fare boxes have popped up in stations and on vehicles, and testing begins this month.

"We see this project as taking us in the fare payment industry from last place to first place," said Kevin O'Brien, SEPTA senior program manager.

Original source: The Associated Press via The Philadelphia Inquirer
Read the complete story here.

Celebrating a 'Charlie Brown Christmas' -- and dedraggled tree -- in Reading

Reading hung a single red ornament on its bedraggled Christmas tree in homage to the classic Peanuts tale.  

A scraggly Christmas tree in downtown Reading, Pennsylvania, was adorned on Sunday with a single red bulb, in a ceremony reminiscent of events in the animated holiday classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas." 

The decoration marked the latest turn in a lemons-to-lemonade tale involving the tree, derided as ugly by some who plotted its demise but seen by others as a reflection of the hardscrabble, U.S. rust belt city itself. 

"It's not about the size and shape of the tree, but about the heart of it," said local entertainer Dave Kline, 59, speaking at the ceremony, postponed from Saturday due to bad weather.

Original source: Reuters
Read the complete story here.

Newsworks shines a light on the state's bridges

A three-part series looks at Pennsylvania's bridges and what can be done to save them. It's part of Newsworks' Keystone Crossroads project. 

Pennsylvania has more than 30,000 bridges. Some span rivers, like the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, and others are much smaller, crossing rural creeks and highways. More than 6,000 of these bridges are structurally deficient. (We put together an interactive map of the state's structurally deficient bridges.)

You might think that means the bridges are on the verge of collapse. Engineers say that's not the case.

"Structurally deficient bridges are not unsafe," says Ehsan Minaie, project manager at the engineering firm Intelligent Infrastructure Systems. "It's just a technical term that engineers use to categorize specific bridges and highlight them for monitoring, for repair, and sometimes for replacement."

Original series: Newsworks
Read the complete series here.

Philadelphia's casino soap opera takes another twist

Philadelphia's latest gambling license was awarded to a South Philadelphia project. It's the latest in a wave of casino projects coming to the East Coast.

A $425 million project with a casino and a boutique hotel rising in the stadium district of Philadelphia is the latest entrant into the tumultuous world of East Coast gambling.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board awarded a license on Tuesday to a joint venture of Cordish Companies and Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment to build the Philadelphia area’s fourth gambling hall and the 13th casino in the state.

The decision came as New York is edging closer to approving up to four Las Vegas-style casinos at locations outside of New York City. Massachusetts recently approved two billion-dollar casinos, one at either end of the state. And in Connecticut, some lawmakers are talking about expanding the state’s casino industry to protect its market share.

The frenzy of casino building is taking place in what is widely regarded as the most competitive market in the country despite flat or falling gambling revenues in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Brisk enrollment on the first day of signups for Healthy PA, an affordable new health care option

Healthy PA, the state's alternative to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, saw lots of action on the first day of signups.

The first day of enrollment comes more than 18 months after Mr. Corbett announced his proposal to seek federal approval for a Medicaid expansion alternative that would use federal dollars to pay for private health coverage.

The target population was those making too much for Medicaid and not enough to qualify for tax credits on the federal health insurance exchange...

Under new income guidelines, single adults, for instance, earning up to about $16,000 and a family of three making about $27,000 qualify. Coverage begins Jan. 1. There is no deadline to enroll.

"Hardworking Pennsylvanians have been waiting far too long for this day," said Ms. Kraus, who was part of a team helping to enroll individuals Monday at a library in Carlisle, west of Harrisburg.

There is a chance the program could transition to a more straight-forward Medicaid expansion under the new administration.

On Jan. 20, Gov.-elect Tom Wolf takes office, and he has vowed to scrap the Corbett plan - which critics say places limits on coverage for the most vulnerable - and shift immediately to full Medicaid expansion.

Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said individuals would not lose coverage even though the transition will be cumbersome.

Original source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Read the complete story here.

Check out these Pittsburgh-centric holiday gifts

Check out these quirky Steel City-themed holiday gifts.

This gift comes with a warning: “Don’t eat the pillow.” Commonwealth Press on the South Side offers the official Pierogie Pillow, which measures 12 by 24 inches and is handmade from 100 percent poly anti-pill fleece and  hypoallergenic  stuffing. $20 from http://compressmerch.com/...

War Admiral Press, formerly of Pittsburgh, offers digitally printed cardboard coasters with historical maps of the Golden Triangle that say “Pittsburgh Misses You.” $12 for a pack of 10, available at the  Mattress Factory  gift shop on the North Side, Wild Card in  Lawrenceville  and Penhollows home furnishings in  Shadyside.

Original source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Read the complete list here.

The Pope is coming to Philadelphia; could draw a million people to a public Mass

Pope Francis has announced a 2015 U.S. trip with Philadelphia as the flagship stop.

Pope Francis confirmed on Monday that he will make his first papal visit to the United States in September to attend an international meeting in Philadelphia on the theme of family, as part of an American journey that is also expected to include a stop in New York...

Francis’ visit to Philadelphia is expected to draw as many as a million people to a Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the heart of the city.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

UberX gets OK in most of state -- not Philadelphia

The ride-sharing service Uber X won an experimental license to operate throughout much of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, not so much.

The state's Public Utility Commission said the taxi industry needed innovation, but it called Uber X's two-year license a "last chance" for the company — which once defied an agency cease-and-desist order — to cooperate.

"Innovation alone is no excuse for ignoring the law, any more than a new and innovative way to rob banks should be encouraged and condoned," said PUC board member John H. Cawley, who reluctantly voted yes.

The 4-1 vote will allow the smartphone app-based service to provide cars in the Pittsburgh area and across much of the state, but not in Philadelphia, where the city's oft-feared parking authority regulates taxis.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority has been sparring with Uber X drivers, impounding cars and issuing $1,000 fines. The agency considers them unlicensed cabbies because they do not have taxi medallions, which can run as much as a half-million dollars.

Original source: The Associated Press (via WRAL.com)
Read the complete story here.

Western PA universities attract more foreign students

College and universities in Western Pennsylvania are attracting more international students.

At 24, Vinay Palakkode, a native of Kerla, India, is living out his parents' dreams as a graduate student studying engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

“They tried very hard to send me here,” said Palakkode, a research assistant in the school's nationally renowned robotics program, as he sipped his morning coffee in CMU's Skibo Café.

Students like Palakkode put CMU on the list of the 25 U.S. universities with the largest number of international students.

Although CMU ranks 25th — it has 5,501 international students in a student body of 13,258 — international enrollment accounts for 41 percent of its students. By that measure, the school Andrew Carnegie founded to train the children of mill workers may be among the most international in the nation...

Although CMU's international enrollment stands out, universities large and small across Western Pennsylvania are attracting more foreign students.

Among the schools reporting international growth were Seton Hill University in Greensburg, where international enrollment grew from 45 two years ago to 57 this fall; Indiana University of Pennsylvania, from 765 to 892 in the same period, and the University of Pittsburgh, from 2,781 to 3,537.

Joe DeCrosta, director of international programs at Duquesne University, where 853 international students studied last year, said the influx of foreign students bodes well for a region that has experienced limited immigration.

Original source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Read the complete story here.

Big drama over UberX in Philadelphia

The launch of UberX, the company's more casual cousin, in Philadelphia has been full of drama -- and there's no end in site.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

In its PUC filing, Uber said it "has no intention to launch service in the Counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania without authority from the Commission."

That night, Uber announced the launch of UberX service in Philadelphia, citing the insurance issue and saying it wanted to "ensure you have the convenient and affordable transportation options you deserve."

Asked about the apparent conflict, Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said in an e-mail:

"What we have in Philadelphia is a real transportation emergency. When a number of taxis still don't have adequate insurance, going from one unrated company to another, Philadelphians deserve the safe and reliable options they're demanding."

From the Daily Pennsylvanian:

During the two days after UberX’s Oct. 24 launch, PPA Officials stopped six UberX drivers and impounded their cars.

“Our policy is to do everything we can to shut them down,” Fenerty said. He explained that when UberX drivers are caught, they will be fined $1,000 and have their cars impounded. Uber will also be fined $1,000 for “aiding and abetting an illegal taxi service,” as well as an additional $750 for operating an illegal dispatch system.

But Uber is fighting back. As of Oct. 15, more than 43,000 individuals signed a petition that asked for the state to legalize UberX, but legislators say that it is not going to be approved until 2015. Uber has spent almost $100,000 on lobbying efforts to get this bill, known as HB 2468 , passed in the house.

“Philadelphians have made it abundantly clear that they demand more transportation options in the city. UberX gives residents and visitors the safe, reliable and affordable ride they deserve,” an Uber representative said via email.

Steelers Nation invades Jets territory

Jets fans might feel outnumbered this weekend at MetLife Stadium.

The Dallas Cowboys might be America’s Team, but when it comes to a national following, few teams rival the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jets fans can probably expect an even bigger-than-usual turnout this weekend when the Steelers visit MetLife Stadium. Not only is the game a short flight from Pittsburgh, making it easier for Steelers fans to attend — not to mention the team’s fans living in the New York area — but the Steelers’ star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, could set an N.F.L. record for touchdown passes thrown in a three-game span, an extra incentive for fans to make the trip...

About 70 percent of fans who say the Steelers are their favorite team do not live in Pennsylvania, according to Rich Luker, who runs Luker on Trends, a sports polling company. Success, he said, breeds loyalty.

“As soon as you’ve won three Super Bowls, then you have a national following,” Luker said, adding that the 70 percent figure was not surprising given that the Steelers had won a record six championships.

That following includes two busloads of fans who will congregate Sunday at the Irish Exit, a bar on Second Avenue in Manhattan, and ride to the stadium together.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

A legendary Lancaster foot bridge comes down -- but will be reused

A 92-year-old pedestrian bridge that once shuttled workers across the train tracks -- and now transports students -- will come down. But that's not the end of the story.

Now that the Norfolk Southern rail yard has been relocated as part of the $75 million Northwest Gateway reclamation project, there soon will be no need to walk over anything.

So, the “rail yard bridge,” a landmark off of Harrisburg Avenue for many Lancastrians for 92 years, is coming down.
But it will go back up.

If weather cooperates, all three sections of the 280-foot-long bridge will be removed by the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority in the spring.

But that removal will just be the beginning of the bridge’s journey. The waste authority has hired a consultant to help restore the bridge.

It will then be put back into use, possibly on the final northern section of the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail in Conoy Township or to carry trail users across Little Conestoga Creek on the authority’s own Farmingdale Trail in East Hempfield Township.

“While we’re still in the investigation phase, LCSWMA intends to preserve and honor the history of the bridge by returning it to the community it served for decades,” said Katie Sandoe, authority spokeswoman.

Original source: Reuters (via LancasterOnline.com)
Read the complete story here.

The Atlantic shines a light on 'Pennsylvania's beer economy'

The Atlantic takes a look at the state's booming beer industry, with a particular focus on the Lehigh Valley.

What’s the beer-producing capital of Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley? The city of Easton has the Weyerbacher Brewing Company with its line-up of fine beers and its impressive output of 30,000 barrels a year. Bethlehem has its cherished Brew Works. But on volume alone, the crown has to go to Allentown, which is, conveniently, the “Queen City” of the Lehigh Valley... 

Beer lovers in the Lehigh Valley owe a debt of gratitude to Peg and Dick Fegley, who decided in the 1990s to invest in their sons' craft-brewing interest. At a time when Bethlehem had been hit hard by the collapse of the Bethlehem steel works, the Fegleys in 1998 took over the abandoned Orr's department store at the corner of Main and Broad streets and established the Bethlehem Brew Works in that location. Locals credit the Fegleys' bold and risky move with marking the beginning of downtown Bethlehem's post-industrial turnaround.

Original source: The Atlantic
Read the complete story here.

Paul Strand retrospective at Philadelphia Museum of Art earns praise

A retrospective of the work of modernist photographer Paul Strand wows at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Drawing on the Philadelphia museum’s sizable Paul Strand Collection (most of it acquired since 2010), the show of some 250 prints takes in the full sweep of his career and some three-quarters of the 20th century. It includes film excerpts and a generous sampling of his photo books, projects that feed back into the early photographs and reveal longstanding interests in duration and narrative.

Bringing modernism down to earth, Strand branched out from Manhattan’s parks and skyscrapers to Maine forests, Mexican churches and small villages in Italy and New England. The immense but well-paced show makes room for mentors and influences beyond Stieglitz, among them the fin de siècle Parisian photographer Eugène Atget, the Italian neo-realist screenwriter Cesare Zavattini and the American social documentarian Lewis Hine (one of Strand’s teachers at the Ethical Culture School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan).

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here
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