Jack W. Boorse, 78, formerly of Chestnut Hill, chief traffic engineer for the City of Philadelphia from 1983 to 1988, died May 9 of congestive heart failure at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse.
At the time of his death, Mr. Boorse was principal professional associate for transport engineering at Parsons Brinkerhoff, a global engineering consulting firm. His specialty was traffic-engineering design for light rail transit (LRT).
For many years, he was active with the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Traffic and Transit Committee, participating in many decisions affecting transit, parking, and the flow of vehicular traffic through Chestnut Hill.
Mr. Boorse had a lifelong love of streetcars and applied the knowledge he gained from his hobby to his work, consistently advocating electric street rail as a safe, efficient, economic and environmentally friendly alternative to the automobile, even when such views were less popular during the car boom of the 1960s and 70s.
“He was one of not many traffic engineers at that time who were knowledgeable and strongly supportive of transit, not only of automobile traffic,” said Vukan R. Vuchic, emeritus professor of transportation at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1988, just as many U.S. cities were beginning to construct light rail systems in response to economic and environmental realities, Mr. Boorse retired from government service and began a second career as an engineering consultant at Parsons Brinckerhoff. He found himself perfectly poised to play a key role in developing these new systems: He was perhaps the country’s only transit system designer who had once been chief traffic engineer for a major American City.
“Jack’s towering stature (well over 6 feet tall) was dwarfed by both his expertise and passion for light rail transit design and traffic engineering operations and in combining the two seamlessly,” said Lawrence G. Lovejoy, chair of the Transportation Research Board’s Committee on Rail Transit Infrastructure.
Mr. Boorse participated in the design of LRT systems in numerous U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Phoenix, Norfolk, Seattle, Houston, Minneapolis, Charlotte, and New Orleans. He also made design contributions to systems that have been planned for San Diego, Atlanta, Cleveland, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Memphis, Honolulu, Louisville, and Orlando.
In addition to being a licensed engineer in three states, Mr. Boorse was a nationally recognized figure within the transportation community who participated in many professional associations. He was chairman of the Transportation Research Board’s Subcommittee on Light Rail Circulator Systems, and in 1976, was among those who helped develop the LRT concept at the first annual Light Rail Transit Conference in Philadelphia.
Through numerous professional papers and presentations delivered around the country, He shaped the currently held definition of light rail, which he eloquently described in his book “This is Light Rail Transit” (Transportation Research Board, 2000). He also was the author of “Philadelphia In Motion” (Bryn Mawr Press, 1976) and “Rapid Transit in Canada,” (Almo Press, 1968).
He is survived by his wife Gail P. “Penny” Boorse, of Center City, and a son, Michael J. Boorse, of Chestnut Hill.