What Could Have Been: Proposed Rapid Transit Lines for Philadelphia

Image via Philadelphia Studies

Image via Philadelphia Studies (Psssst! Click the image for a closer look!)

GAHH, if only! As a staunch public transit rider who takes both a bus and the El to get from Northeast Philly to Center City (takes anywhere from 45 mins to an hour and a half, depending…well, more on that later), something like the above-pictured rapid transit system would be deeply appreciated by occasionally resentful, but always loyal, commuters like myself.

And no. Much like our Jaw Dropper of the Week home, this is not some silly April Fools’ joke. Rather, it’s a blast from the past found on Michael Krasulski’s Philadelphia Studies blog:

Back in 2002, while on medical leave, I attempted to abstract and post online the annual reports of the Philadelphia Department of City Transit. […] A fellow on the Main Line, whose name I have long forgotten, made this for my website. The map is, mostly, based on the original 1913 plan. He added the airport connection “just because.”

In other words, the map you’re looking at is a modern day illustration of the rapid transit lines proposed by Philadelphia Transit Commissioner A. Merritt Taylor between 1913 and 1915 (except for the airport line, of course). Philebrity notes that when Taylor was drawing up these routes the Market-Frankford Line was still “in its infancy” and the Broad Street Line would not be built for another ten years or so.

Still, as Jim Saksa points out in a tweet, this was all formulated at a time when “we still had streetcars everywhere.” SEPTA went on to acquire these after taking over the system in 1968, but only seven surface lines continued into the early 1970s, “along with the five Subway-Surface Lines that still serve West Philadelphia,” according to Jake Blumgart in this 2012 Inquirer article. Here’s what Blumgart says helped preserve those lines still running in West Philly:

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The Futuristic New SEPTA Trolleys Will Look Like …

Munich's Siemens Avenio Streetcar Photo Credit: Siemens AG

Munich’s Siemens Avenio Streetcar. Photo by Siemens AG

Two weeks ago, Citified reported that SEPTA has begun the early procurement phase of a massive, once-in-a-generation overhaul of the aging trolley fleet. Over the next few years, SEPTA plans to unload serious capital (at least $200 million) into new, 80-foot-long, low-floor vehicles that will replace the 1980s Kawasaki models that are predominantly in use. But what the new SEPTA trolleys — or perhaps we’ll finally start calling them streetcars — will actually look like, remains unknown. Byron Comati, SEPTA’s director of strategic planning and analysis, said that the agency is in the midst of getting an expression of interest from companies around the globe:

To see what the manufacturers, the car builders can do. What’s out there? Responding to our expression of interest means that whether you’re from a German company, a Dutch company, an American Company, a Chinese company, a Korean company — what’ve you got?

SEPTA has some options. Around the globe, manufacturers have been designing low-floor models that could fit the SEPTA’s trolley specs and be customized for Philly streets. Here’s a look at what’s out there. Read more »

Sleek, Modern Trolleys Coming to Philly

"United Streetcar 10T3 prototype for Portland" by Steve Morgan - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:United_Streetcar_10T3_prototype_for_Portland.jpg#/media/File:United_Streetcar_10T3_prototype_for_Portland.jpg

Modern, articulating trolleys, like this one in Portland, Oregon, are coming to Philadelphia. | Photo by Steve Morgan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Philadelphia has the largest trolley system in the nationa title it’s held since the 1970s. But the old-school tanks climbing up and down city streets look like relics from our parents’ (or grandparents’) generation. Trolleys along Baltimore Avenue in the Southwest are early-80s Kawasaki models; on Girard Avenue, the trolleys are actually reconditioned from the ‘40s.

In a few years, though, that’s going to change in a big way.

In an interview with Citified, SEPTA’s director of strategic planning and analysis, Byron Comati, said that a massive trolley fleet renovation is on the horizon. “Once the Key system is done, the next biggie that has complications will be trolley modernization,” Comati said. “It’s a transformational project. You do this once in a generation.” Read more »

POLL: Would You Use Franklin Square Station If It Reopened?

Image via Google Street View

Image via Google Street View

On Monday the Inquirer’s Paul Nussbaum reported that it would cost about $18.5 million for PATCO to reopen Franklin Square Station, a stop on PATCO’s High Speed Line that was last put to use in 1979. In the wake of the Franklin Square’s somewhat recent stretch of success as a social space, do you think it should reopen? Let us know what you think in the below poll.

The projected amount for the station’s renewal comes from a study commissioned by the Delaware River Port Authority. According to Nussbaum, the potential cost is “50 percent more than transit officials expected. Additionally, the report makes no recommendations about opening it to the pubic again and estimates that ridership, which it appraises would might consist of up to 1,300 people, would mostly be “current riders who now use the Eighth and Market Streets station.”

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SEPTA Ridership Was Down in 2014—Are Millennials to Blame?

shutterstock_98638544

Shutterstock.com

After record-breaking ridership on SEPTA in 2013, fewer Philadelphians took public transit last year, according to a new report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). The system maintained its status as the 6th-most travelled metro system, but transit trips were down about 7 million in total, or, about 2 percent on the year. Nationwide, passengers on public transportation increased by 1 percent in 2014 (barely outpacing U.S. population growth), contributing to 10.8 billion rides, the highest total mark in 58 years. Read more »

SEPTA Key: Will Students Ride For “Free”?

Septa regional rail train

SEPTA Key—the transit agency’s next-gen fare payment system—is still in its pilot stage, two years after the transition away from tokens and cash was supposed to begin. Now, all SEPTA is saying is that it’s rollout is “expected” in 2015. Let’s hope we have electronic fares before the Pope.

But the long delays haven’t deterred speculation about the program. Over at Sic Transit Philadelphia, there’s a thought-provoking post about the looming changeover from tokens to plastic cards (or in self-explanatory jargon, the “New Payment Technology”). And the story brings good news. Michael Noda reports that SEPTA officials are open to granting more reduced fares within the new system, including to groups like university students, who might be able to ride on the cheap using their student IDs. Read more »

MAP: This Is What Philly Would Look Like With Full 24-Hour SEPTA Service

Owl Service Map

We gave SEPTA some suggestions for all-night bus routes. They showed us what that might look like.

If you read my first commentary on all-night SEPTA subway service — in which I asked if SEPTA might better spend its money providing 24-hour bus service to all corners of the city — you may be surprised to hear that I was quite pleased when the agency decided to make its experiment with all-night rapid transit on weekends permanent.

And it’s not just because it means I can now take a train rather than a bus home on those occasional weekend nights that I stay out way late. Rather, it’s because it shows the agency responded to its riders. A bunch of them recommended this change, SEPTA tried it, and the riders responded enthusiastically.

And the agency is providing this service, which is carrying anywhere from 66 to 100 percent more riders than took the Nite Owl buses, for a mere $34,000 more per weekend than it spent on the buses.

That’s $1.768 million for a year’s worth of overnight subway-elevated service on the weekends.

But.

There’s still this nagging feeling in the back of my head that this $1.8 million or so would still be better spent providing overnight service to parts of the city that don’t have any — or are too far from the nearest — 24-hour bus line.

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Commuter Alert: Market-Frankford Line Interrupted for Medical Emergency

[UPDATE] The Daily News reports that the struck worker is in stable condition.

“A veteran SEPTA electrical worker is recovering tonight after a close call on the subway tracks in Center City, according to officials.

The worker, 52, is being held overnight at Hahnemann University Hospital, where he was taken in critical condition earlier today after getting clipped by a Market-Frankford El train, according to a law-enforcement source.”

[UPDATE] CBS3 reports: “Train service has resumed on the westbound portion of the Market-Frankford Line after a SEPTA employee was struck by a train. …  SEPTA officials say the male employee was hit by a train traveling eastbound near 22nd and Market Streets.”

According to SEPTA, service has resumed with trains single-tracking on the westbound side, and passengers traveling between 15th and 30th Street should board from the westbound platform.

Expect residual delays.

[ORIGINAL] SEPTA reports that the Market-Frankford Line is currently shut down due to police activity around a medical emergency, and that shuttle buses are being provided for east- and west-bound travel between 5th and 40th streets.

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SEPTA 50: A Prehistory of our Much Beloved/Maligned Transit Agency



This year marks SEPTA’s golden anniversary, and this month, the agency will formally celebrate a half-century of keeping Philly moving. It’s done a pretty good job of it, too — but it’s done so in a characteristically Philadelphia fashion, which is to say, with barely enough to get by.

I’ve said in this space that we have an amazing mass transit system here. What may be even more amazing, however, is that we have one at all.

Last year, the American Public Transportation Association honored SEPTA as the Outstanding Large Transit System of 2012. When I tell people SEPTA deserved that award, I usually get puzzled looks at best and “There, there” pats on the head at worst. Some of these people, however, understand when I explain that the agency won the award for keeping this sprawling network running using only duct tape and baling wire.

The good news is that with a steady, guaranteed funding stream in hand, SEPTA can finally put away the duct tape and baling wire and break out the hammers, saws and shovels in order to restore the system to good physical health. But SEPTA was actually following ancient Philly practice with the patchwork jobs.

SEPTA, you see, was created to keep metropolitan Philadelphia’s transit systems from completely falling to pieces. Established to bring the subways, commuter railroads, and bus systems back up to snuff, it spent much of the first half of its life scrambling to make sure they ran at all.

Even before its creation, SEPTA’s predecessors were doing the same thing: scrambling to make sure the buses and trains ran while not quite keeping up with the physical plant needs. It’s a Philly tradition that stretches all the way back to…

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VIDEOS: 10 Cool Old British Newsreels of Philadelphia

independence-hall-pathe-940x540

From 1910 until 1970, the U.K.-based Pathé News produced newsreels and documentaries on events all over the world. Recently, a collection of 85,000 videos was uploaded to YouTube.

This kind of information dump is glorious for history dorks and journalists — and I just happen to be both. There are dozens of videos about Philadelphia! I trawled through the collection to find some notable videos, and I highly suggest you search for yourself as well.

For example, here is a report on a women’s football game played in 1932 between the “Buxom Chicago Bears and Blushing California Roses” at the Baker Bowl, the Phillies stadium. You can even spot the outfield “THE PHILLIES USE LIFEBUOY” sign. It is incredible. “Now we know where the bargain counter hands train for the sales!” It is also awful.

As the description notes, the stands are empty during gameplay. This newsreel used journalistic tricks!

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