It seems like every other ISEPTAPHILLY post pertains to some event or SEPTA Perk happening near Girard Station. That makes sense – this neighborhood, Fishtown, represents ground zero for Philadelphia’s rapid gentrification, making it a real “hot” place to be, for better or for worse. Let’s see if its rapid transit station matches the hype.
But we begin our journey not in the rafters of the El, but on the street to wait for the 15 trolley. This is one of its “center island carstops,” which only make things more inconvenient for passengers: not only do cars still drive in the middle anyway, negating any speed improvements, but now people have to cross the street, too! And while a streetside stop could conceivably have room for a shelter, these center island ones almost never have the space. Yup, it’s just two bare platforms for the 15 at Girard, without even a bench. The 5 bus stops here, too.
It’s pretty dingy around the station entrance. I mean, you combine the overbearing nature of the El with station architecture that doesn’t look like it’s in the best shape, and it ends up feeling kinda dingy and disgusting. The station has both street and SEPTA-provided bike racks in its vicinity, although (of course) SEPTA’s website proclaims the station to have none.
Despite the fact that there are two staircases from the platform to the street, only one of them actually goes to an entrance, and that’s the one on the inbound side. The other side does get a sign saying “No Entrance; Enter Across Street”, but you could still climb up the stairs if you wanted. You would get blocked by exit-only turnstiles on the outbound platform, though. There must not have been enough room to put them down at street level.
The station has only one elevator that runs down to the street, and it doubles as the elevator from the mezzanine to the footbridge. Also, the button light doesn’t work. I waited here for a while before just taking the stairs, assuming the elevator was broken down (since the button wasn’t lit up), but I guess it must’ve been taking care of a trip up on the footbridge; I saw it running later. This arrangement does lead to a really annoying journey for those who are disabled who are either going outbound from here or arriving on an outbound train: they have to take the inbound elevator to the mezzanine, pay their fare, take the same elevator to the footbridge, cross it, and take the outbound elevator back down. While I can sort of overlook it at the low-ridership 63rd, I’m a lot less forgiving when it’s a huge station like Girard that sees a good amount of outbound traffic anyway.
The mezzanine here is small and cramped, in no small part due to the fact that we’re elevated and space is at a premium. Still, for a station that probably sees a lot of one-time riders (such as those heading to nearby concerts and bars), two fare machines for the whole thing is tiny, and I’m sure there’d be room for at least one more. One thing you could do to make more space is eliminate the second cashier booth: I’m sure it’s barely used, if ever. That would make room for more faregates or another machine. As for the main cashier booth, SEPTA claims on the website it’s only open from 6 AM to 4 PM, Monday through Friday. Well…it was occupied when I was here on a Saturday, so something’s up!
Girard’s platform is standard fare for the El, which makes it a reasonably nice place to wait. It has a number of benches, wastebaskets, and recycling bins, although more seating would be welcome – it’s not uncommon to see people using railings as makeshift seats. The entire platform is sheltered, so you don’t have to worry about getting exposed to the elements, although just missing a train can be brutal in the cold winter.
The station has two footbridges, and they’re practically identical; the only difference is that one of them has elevators. But I find it odd that it even has two bridges to begin with. One of them is right near the entrance, while the other (inaccessible) one is shafted further down the platform. Which one do you think most people will use? Unless you’re arriving on an outbound train and you’re in the last, I dunno, one and a half cars, the second footbridge is basically there for decoration. More paths are better than none, but I would rather see fare machines on the outbound side than a second bridge to it.
Station: Girard (MFL)
Ridership: Third-busiest on the Frankford section of the El! In other words, 5,154 riders per day, which is…less than most of the stations in West Philly. Yeah, the Frankford side of things tends to get less ridership at each individual station. But the point is that Girard gets a lot of people, and a good amount of off-peak travel too.
Pros: I’m always partial to elevated stations, and waiting on the platform above the road is always pleasant. The station is the centerpiece of a booming area, and luckily many of the new restaurants and bars have sprouted up within walking distance. A decent amount of bike parking lets riders come from places further afield.
Cons: The elevator situation makes getting here a royal pain for those who can’t use stairs, and that general layout is frustrating, especially for a station that gets demand from both directions. The mezzanine is a victim of the lack of space above the road, although even then, it’s not being used to its utmost potential. The trolley station down on the street is just horrible and if I was only reviewing that, it would hands-down get a 1.
Nearby and Noteworthy: So much! I don’t even like Fishtown as much as the zeitgeist says I should, but there’s no denying that you could go to a different establishment here every day for a month (or longer!) and get a totally different experience. My family always goes to Joe’s Steaks whenever we’re here, since they make cheesesteaks that don’t make you feel like you’ve thrown your body off a cliff afterward (plus they’re really good). The Fillmore offers both a nightclub and a concert hall in the same building, while it’s places like Barcade that make me wish I was of drinking age (why does the comeback of the arcade have to take place almost exclusively in bars??).
Final Verdict: 4/10
Alas, the gateway to what some call Philly’s hottest neighborhood is, well, kind of a bad station. I love that it’s elevated, and I look at that aspect of it fondly, but then you remember how intrusive that is down at street level. I’m glad that the station is accessible, but from broken elevator buttons to a really long journey for outbound passengers, it’s borderline unusable in a lot of cases. And that trolley station. Ugh, I hate that thing. Why build all this inconvenient infrastructure if you’re not going to have dedicated lanes?
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