University City is truly a neighborhood of opportunity. The confluence of some of the brightest minds in the country, this area offers amazing hospitals, brilliant colleges, and exciting new research happening every day. 34th Street is right smack in the middle of all this, opening up new horizons for anyone with two bucks to take the El here.
Oh, unless you’re in a wheelchair. Yeah, sorry, you’re not welcome here.
Yes, this (very well-used and important) station has no elevators to speak of. Every entrance is just a hole-in-the-ground staircase with a useless screen. Still, I like that there are stairs on all sides of the intersection, and they all lead to one mezzanine, meaning you can use any of them to go in either direction. The bus stops around here are just signs, serving the 30, 31, 49, and LUCY. It would be great to see a shelter at the stop on 34th south of Market, since it serves a ton of LUCY riders in the morning commute; also, the stop on Market east of 34th probably gets a decent amount of riders for the 31 to Mantua, although I’m less sure about this one. But better safe than sorry, right?
Woah…34th Street has a cool mural in the mezzanine? Okay, I gotta admit, I’m usually rushing through here whenever I use this station, and I guess I never paid very close attention to the far wall. Well! It’s awesome to see some art here! It certainly brightens up the otherwise cramped-feeling room. But it only gets more cramped when people park their bikes down here, as someone did when I took my photos (see below). There is a clear need for more bike racks; the mezzanine is probably too small for a Snyder solution (i.e. putting racks in there), so it’s up to the City of Philadelphia to install more at street level. There are only two bike racks up there! Although SEPTA actually points them out on its website, which I’m quite impressed by.
For a station that gets a lot of first-time university riders, three fare machines is not enough, and you’ll often see long lines waiting for them. Also: at least one of them is almost always broken. I don’t know what it is, but this station has some sort of magic power that only allows a maximum of 66% of its fare machines to be working at any given time. And as usual, SEPTA, there’s lots of room for more machines. Still, there are plenty of wastebaskets and recycling bins in useful places; the faded bus maps are outdated, though.
Okay, after satisfying its fetish of including as many exit-only turnstiles as possible, SEPTA managed to pack in a whopping…five fare gates. Oof, wouldn’t want to be here in the evening rush. They’re split into two sets; one of them just leads to two staircases to the platform, while the other one has the addition of a few benches where people can wait within eyesight of the cashier.
34th Street’s island platform is light on benches, and they’re all in the center of the station, because that’s obviously the best way to spread riders throughout the length of the train. People do scatter, though, often sitting on railings or the stairs to compensate for the lack of seating. And of course, the less time you spend looking at the disgusting tracks, the better.
Station: 34th Street (MFL)
Ridership: It’s the fourth-busiest station in West Philly, and the top two are 69th and 30th (both major transportation centers)! And the station has seen a lot of growth in recent years (at one point it was an “A” (“B”?) stop, meaning it only got half the service at rush hour, which is hard to believe now), making the high number even more impressive: 7,076 riders per day. And it’s a huge mix, from workers in the area, to students, to residents of nearby Powelton Village.
Pros: Talk about a great location. You’ve got Penn, you’ve got Powelton Village, you’ve got that other school, my arch nemesis forever and ever and ever, arrrghghghahgghgh – this station’s right in the center of it all. I also have to give props to that mural in the mezzanine that I apparently never notice. I’ll be looking out for it every time I use this stop now!
Cons: First and foremost, the station isn’t accessible. That’s a huge problem not only given the station’s ridership, but also the number of jobs around it. And it would be one thing if SEPTA was working on it, but…they’re not. There’s nothing about it in the 2020 Capital Budget. That makes it the busiest station besides the hot mess known as City Hall not to be slated for accessibility upgrades. And many stations with far lower ridership and importance are getting the go-ahead. Look, obviously SEPTA should be committing to 100% accessibility, and maybe there are engineering reasons why 34th Street can’t be upgraded easily, but it seems really odd that it wouldn’t be a priority!
Anyway…other things I hate about 34th Street: some inadequate bus stops, a really inefficient and low-capacity mezzanine, a dreary platform with not enough seating even though there’s plenty of space for more, and walls that ooze out sludge like a strange science-fiction monster.
Nearby and Noteworthy: The intersection of Market and 34th plays host to a 7-Eleven and a Wawa…across the street from each other. Come on, 7-Eleven, you know you’re fighting a losing battle here. Other than convenience stores, there are student-oriented restaurants up on Lancaster Ave, while down on Sansom Street is “family weekend row” – the really fancy restaurants that see by far the most patronage during family weekend. Finally, there’s my favorite place to go from here: the Hill College House dining hall. Mmmmm!
Final Verdict: 3/10
Gosh, I’ve been giving a lot of low scores recently. What can I say? This station just isn’t good! And it would be one thing if it had all the stuff that was bad about it, but it also had elevators. Then it would just be a generic SEPTA station. But when you realize that it’s in a really booming area and SEPTA has no plans to make it accessible…that’s when the score really drops.
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