I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going to go after getting dropped off from the 23 in Chestnut Hill, but lucky for me, there was a 97 leaving right when I arrived! I didn’t think I’d be going to Norristown that day, but the 97 turned out to be a strange suburban route that was super fun to ride.
Having travelled a huge length of Germantown Ave on the 23, it was time to complete the rest of the road here on the 97. It became abundantly clear that the “downtown” section of Chestnut Hill ends right at the bus loop, because proceeding west from there, it instantly got leafy and suburban. We passed the Chestnut Hill Hospital, but for the most part, we were going by very large houses surrounded by even larger yards. Welcome to Chestnut Hill!
We went by the Woodmere Art Museum, which is housed in a giant mansion. It became woods for a little while as Germantown Ave crossed over Wissahickon Creek and soon turned into Germantown Pike, signalling our entrance into the community of Lafayette Hill (part of Whitemarsh Township). Aside from a restaurant, an apartment complex, and Chestnut Hill College at the intersection with Northwestern Ave, all we could see were trees, with houses hidden behind narrow driveways. Oh, and there was a golf course.
We came into a “downtown” of sorts with some retail, including a little shopping plaza. There was a stretch of woods, houses, and apartment developments, then we entered another downtown similar to the last one. Here we turned onto Joshua Road, going by more houses and another golf course.
By the time Joshua Road ended, it was starting to get a little more industrial, with office parks popping up in the woods. We turned onto Cedar Grove Lane for a block, then we made a right onto Hector Street. It was still very corporate, but we were right next to the Spring Mill Regional Rail station, so some TOD apartments had been built here. We were now in Conshohocken, and though it went back to being residential, those residences were now dense urban row houses. It was a quick change.
Hector Street split into a one-way pair with neighboring Elm Street, but we stayed on Hector as the apartments got even closer together than they were before. After the street made a sharp curve, we turned onto Harry Street, then Stoddard Street. This brought us right alongside the Manayunk/Norristown Line Regional Rail tracks, as well as Conshohocken Station.
From the station we looped around onto Fayette Street via some quick turns. This uphill road was the main street of Conshohocken, so it was lined with a ton of different businesses. It got more suburban-feeling the further we went, though, and it turned into Butler Pike once we left Conshohocken. It was a hodgepodge of stuff now, from houses to auto shops to a cemetery.
There were a few big shopping plazas at the intersection with Ridge Pike, which we turned onto. This was pure suburban garbage, with a ton of random businesses, all with huge parking lots. Even better, it was time for a deviation! Turning onto the appealingly-named Chemical Road, we made our way up to the Metroplex Center, which is just a regular ol’ shopping center that’s a lot less amazing than it sounds.
After the deviation on the mall’s main road, we made quick turns onto Gallagher Road, 7 Stars Lane, and Alan Wood Road; on that last one, we passed the SEPTA Frontier Division depot! We turned back onto Ridge Pike, which had now morphed to be almost entirely car dealerships. Crossing I-276, the road then became Main Street as we entered Norristown.
There was industrial scenery for a while, but at some point, it almost instantly turned into dense row houses. Just as businesses were starting to come in, we turned onto Arch Street, then Airy Street. Among the various apartments, we also went by the Norristown Police Department and Post Office, as well as the huge Montgomery County Courthouse. It was at the courthouse that we turned onto Swede Street, and this took us straight down to our final stop at the Norristown Transportation Center.
Route: 97 (Chestnut Hill – Norristown Transportation Center)
Ridership: Although the route only gets an average of 790 passengers per weekday, that averages out to be about 22 per trip, which isn’t terrible. Believe it or not, my Saturday trip got exactly 22 passengers, so it seems like it stays reasonably stable on weekends.
Pros: Conshohocken isn’t an easy town to serve on an southeast-northwest route since it’s kind of out of the way, but the 97 takes a decent stab at it. It’s true that serving Conshy basically requires a giant deviation, but it’s definitely worth it – it’s a dense place. Indeed, the 95 and the 97 combine to provide service in all directions from Conshy, with the 95 going southwest to northeast. But what is the 97’s schedule like? It’s what you would expect: every hour, seven days a week. I think that’s reasonable for the environments the route travels through, plus it has a good span of service, from around 5 AM to midnight on weekdays.
Cons: Believe me, I will be complaining a lot about twisty SEPTA suburban routes. In the case of the 97, the Metroplex Center deviation is a little annoying, but I think it is warranted. Another minor problem of the route is that it has a bunch of short-turns that make things more confusing. Aside from the main destinations, the 97 can also begin or end at the Victory Division depot, Conshohocken Station, and Barren Hill, and they all happen at different times on different days (although only near the beginning and end of service). Even though they mostly make sense, it is making the service more complex.
Nearby and Noteworthy: I would say Conshy, but it’s a heck of a lot easier and faster to get there using Regional Rail. I guess if you’d rather make the trek up to Chestnut Hill on the 23 and transfer to this to get there, be my guest.
Final Verdict: 7/10
SEPTA has a lot of terrible suburban routes, but I don’t think this is one of them. It’s twisty for sure, but the deviations serve important places, so I get why they’re there. This may not be the most direct route if you happen to be going from Chestnut Hill to Norristown, but that’s not really the kind of trip the 97 is for.
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