It’s the age-old question that’s been asked for centuries: what’s the best way of getting to the South Philadelphia malls? Scientists generally agree that it’s most efficient to hop on a southbound Broad Street Line train armed with an app to figure out when the first crosstown bus is coming. Indeed, all but one of the buses that serve the malls are crosstown. All…but the 25.
It’ll be a while before we get to South Philly, though. The route begins up at Frankford and heads straight down Bridge Street, going by a variety of rowhouses and a few businesses. We passed Mount Sinai Cemetery, then after more apartments, we turned onto Torresdale Ave. This had some retail along it before it passed through a small park with a school in it. A ton of businesses surrounded the intersection with Orthodox Street, onto which we turned, passing under the Northeast Corridor.
We went under the imposing I-95 bridge, entering the Bridesburg neighborhood. It was industrial around the highway, but once we left its shadow, the street was back to houses and a few businesses. That continued when we turned onto Richmond Street, joining the 73. It very quickly stopped being a “real” neighborhood, though, as we soon went under the Betsy Ross Bridge, crossed Frankford Creek, and entered what I call the “South Florida” part of Philadelphia.
Luckily, South Florida ends pretty quickly and we’re back in Philly once we cross I-95 again. Unfortunately, we turned onto Castor Ave, taking us up to an area with a bunch of suburban businesses with parking lots. We took a left onto Aramingo Ave after that, which only continued the hellscape. It wasn’t until we crossed Westmoreland Street that we entered a real neighborhood again, where rowhouses lined the road.
We eventually went under some railroad tracks, and on the other side, we used Lehigh Ave to get onto Memphis Street. Compared to the wide Aramingo, Memphis Street was a typical tiny, one-way street with one travel lane and parking on both sides. It was practically all residential, with only the occasional business. The street came up alongside a cemetery, and we made a super-sharp turn onto Palmer Street, then another turn onto the thankfully normal-sized Frankford Ave.
We had been in Fishtown for a little while, but its hipsteryness didn’t shine through until Frankford Ave. Here, there was a ton of construction of new apartments with varying levels of character and lots of hipstery coffee shops and bike shops and what have you. We crossed Girard Ave and the 15 trolley, and on the other side of I-95, there were several nightclubs around the 15’s Frankford-Delaware Loop.
We turned onto the (really) wide Delaware Ave, passing all of its related paraphernalia: the Sugarhouse Casino, some random parking lots, the Greyhound yard, and a few huge apartment buildings. However, we did have to briefly make a deviation via Fairmount Ave, 2nd Street, and Spring Garden Street in order to serve the Spring Garden El station. The bit on 2nd Street was a fantastic stretch of “real, interesting neighborhood,” but it was dashed once we reached Spring Garden and its station entrance underneath the highway.
We came back out onto Delaware Ave, except it was now called Christopher Columbus Boulevard. There were only 9 people on the bus at this point, but it’s my favorite part of the route, because you’re basically just speeding down this giant road making no stops. I-95 acts as a barrier between the boulevard and the rest of the city, so there’s practically nothing along it. Sure, you’ve got a few attempts to make the area lively, like a Dave & Buster’s, some pierside restaurants, and (most importantly) Penn’s Landing, but really, there’s not a ton of places for bus passengers to go.
So we continued blasting down this wide road, occasionally passing something resembling a place where someone would want to go, until we reached the vast expanse of the South Philadelphia malls. Each bus down here does something slightly different, but the 25 serves everything, so we first deviated into Pier 70 with its Walmart. From there, we headed up onto Tasker Street, making a left turn in a giant field of industrial nothingness.
We returned to Columbus Boulevard, travelling further south. The SS United States was docked right next to the road so we got a great view of that, while on the other side was Columbus Commons with its IKEA and…whatever else is there, because come on, IKEA is the main attraction. Deep in an industrial wasteland, we turned onto Oregon Ave and then Weccacoe Ave, bringing us back up to Columbus Commons and our final stop behind the IKEA.
Route: 25 (Columbus Commons to Frankford Transportation Center)
Ridership: It’s middling, but not bad: 4,280 people per day. My trip got 57 people in total, although the route averages about 40. The most interesting aspect of the 25 is where that ridership is, though: the vast majority of those 57 riders were on the northern part of the route. Like I said, just 9 people went beyond Spring Garden Station! The atmosphere on the bus was jovial, with a lot of families taking their Saturdays to do some shopping, mostly at the plazas along Aramingo Ave.
Pros: I’m hesitant to say I like the routing (we’ll get to that), but the idea of the routing is good. The 25 carves out a decent and useful chunk of the city for itself. Also, the section south of Spring Garden on Columbus Boulevard is really fast and a ton of fun.
Cons: Schedule first: it’s every half hour most of the time, except at rush hour when it runs every 12-15 minutes. That’s not great, and while the route doesn’t have great ridership, it serves enough key shopping destinations that I could see more people using it if it was more frequent. That being said, most of the people are riding up north, and there’s a reason for that: Columbus Boulevard is basically a dead zone. I-95 blocks it from the rest of the city, making this essentially a Spring Garden Station to South Philadelphia express. While that’s not a bad thing, it seems like that connection isn’t super useful to a ton of people given the ridership, and the multitude of more reliable transit options to the South Philly malls only further hurts the 25. While there is certainly merit to running buses along that corridor, every half hour actually does seem about right for it – if the 25 got a frequency upgrade, it would probably only be needed north of Spring Garden.
Finally, I know Jarrett Walker already brought this up, but it’s worth repeating: the 25’s deviation to Richmond Street in Port Richmond makes no sense. It was originally because of freight traffic on Aramingo Ave, but that’s not the case anymore. Not only is the route duplicating the 73 with its jog, but it also misses out on some major shopping centers on Aramingo, including a Walmart! Then there’d really be no reason for people to stay on to South Philly…
Nearby and Noteworthy: Most of the route is pretty suburban. You’ve got your neat little cafes and shops in Fishtown, and that’s probably the most interesting section when it comes to places to visit, but besides that, most of the retail the 25 serves is abutted by huge parking lots.
Final Verdict: 4/10
I think the two-paragraph “Cons” section explains my grievances with the 25 pretty well. The route has value, but it has far too many things dragging it down and preventing it from being that useful. It kinda feels like two routes: the northern section that gets a decent amount of people, and the southern section that just speeds along with barely anyone on the bus (I’ve used the latter a decent amount of times and never seen more than a half-seated load). Maybe the best thing to do would be to increase frequency on the northern half, but only run every other bus on the southern portion? They already do that in the evening rush, so there is precedent for it.
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
Okay, time for an explanation! We’re in summer (finally), so hopefully no more hiatuses…except I’m going to Scotland on Monday, and I’ll be there until June 8th. Maybe I’ll be able to write some stuff to publish while I’m there, but there won’t be truly regular posts until I get back. Also, for the record, stay tuned for tomorrow: it’s a post about a truly unique, futuristic transit mode that you won’t want to miss.