Goodbye, Lechmere

Over seven years ago, I opened up my Lechmere review by saying that it was a station on its last legs. Seven years later, those legs have finally crumbled: yesterday was the 98-year-old terminal’s last hurrah, with the station now in the process of getting demolished and relocated across the street for the Green Line extension. Despite the ongoing pandemic, a good number of people (adorned with masks, of course) still came out to ride the last train, and I was one of them! Let’s take a look back at this former piece of history.

The crumbing busway with a special guest!

Okay, first of all: I gave the original Lechmere a 6? A 6??? In my head I thought it was a 4, which even then is too much, but apparently nope, 13-year old me thought it deserved a 6 because it was an outdoor Green Line station with faregates. “At Lechmere, though, there are fare gates, making much less waiting time.” Great sentence construction. “The Lechmere busway, on the other hand, has no qualities.” No qualities? None at all? So it’s just…a void lacking any characteristics? And ultimately it got a 6 because “with the MBTA’s budget problems and the West Medford extension just around the corner, a big renovation isn’t necessary.” That’s like saying my waste is eventually gonna get flushed down the toilet anyway, so maybe it’s not so bad – really, though, it’s still a piece of poop that deserves less than a 6/10! Gosh, these old posts…they sure are fun to look back on, huh?

Anyone gonna miss these stark orange lights?

A bunch of people were converged in the busway talking and taking photos, including some fans of the blog (great to meet you, if you’re reading!). The MBTA’s remaining RTS bus, 0309, was there to celebrate the occasion, too. Nathan and I did a walkthrough of the busway, talking about how awful it was: it was always such a pain to run to the buses that boarded in the outside area, while the inside was just so decrepit and unpleasant!

Waiting area, or place where you get your mugshot taken?

One of the big praises of Lechmere is with its design, and I certainly agree that the Boston Elevated Railway was great at designing transfer stations. Unfortunately, the MBTA has had a habit of unraveling those transfers, and this one was no exception: it was supposed to be set up with two busways, such that buses could pick up where trains drop off, and drop off where trains pick up; instead, everything was changed to board and alight at the busway on the outbound platform. I thought that transferring here was always a hassle.

You’ve gotta try real hard to not walk on the yellow line here.

After all, who could forget that classic Lechmere experience of being on a train screeching down the viaduct, watching your bus pulling away and knowing you’ll have to wait another 20 minutes (or longer!) for the next one? And the companion experience of coming in on a bus, seeing that there’s a train waiting on the other side, and joining the crowd in running through the dingy underpass only to hear the wheels screeching and knowing it was too late? There were no countdown clocks here, either, so you just had to stand there hoping the next train was soon.

The other busway, already with signs of construction.

Speaking of that dingy underpass, that’s where the group headed next as the departure of the last train got closer. The busway on the other side isn’t used as much of anything any more – it’s just a road running alongside the station with a few parking spaces. There is that mysterious “Trolley Snacks & More” convenience store, though, which I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen open! Also, if the new sign is to be believed, this is where the shuttle bus to North Station will be boarding (I guess it’s started today, so maybe someone can confirm if they’ve seen it?).

The faregates that middle school Miles had a crush on.

Okay, I guess having faregates at an outdoor Green Line station is kinda unique, and it’s certainly great to have them there. As far as ease of access, you’re right in front of the train once you pay! The whole station is on such a narrow strip of land that there’s no room for excess space – those gates lead right onto the platform.

Again: very hard to not be on the yellow line here!

While the inbound platform is slightly wider than the outbound, this is also the place where people actually, you know, wait. The E is so unreliable that you would constantly get a crowd here, and it could be harrowing standing there on this tiny strip of space with nowhere to go. As the train came in, I would always suck in my stomach…just in case.

Two trains sitting in the yard.

Also, it took me until the last day to realize this, but Lechmere is like the Ruggles busway of trains. You know that manic energy in the Ruggles busway? How buses will come out of nowhere honking their horns and blasting open the doors in random places? While you can’t totally replicate that with trains, it’s such a classic Lechmere moment for a train on the second track over to suddenly pull up with the doors open ringing its bell! There was always this feeling of not knowing exactly what was going on, and whenever a train boarded from that second track, the crowd would swarm on it. As much as I rag on this station, you can’t deny that it was a unique one!

Oof…six feet is clearly not a consideration here…

The crowd of transit enthusiasts and MBTA employees (plus one regular rider who was probably bemused by all the commotion!) were all ready to get onto the very last inbound train, which departed at 12:30 AM. Screeching up the twisty line to the viaduct for the last time, most of us rode all the way to Heath Street. As things progressed, the train got more rambunctious and, for some people, more drunk.

I look like a doctor from the Black Plague.

At Heath Street, the train went out of service, but we were all allowed to stay on for the non-revenue trip back to Lechmere! Expressing through every station on the line was bizarre – I mean, how many riders can say they’ve gone through Copley or North Station without stopping? Returning over the viaduct, this would be the last ever outbound train to traverse the stretch of track that descends to Lechmere.

My best attempt at a shot of the station coming down the viaduct. You can see the new elevated line on the right too!

While expressing through all those stations was fun, I could have never anticipated that we’d get to go around the Lechmere loop! I mean, this is non-revenue trackage, how awesome is that?? And as we screeched around it, annoying the residents of the apartments nearby for the last time, I realized that as much as I can’t stand this station, I’m also gonna miss it a teeny tiny bit. It’s not often you see a streetcar yard shoved up in the middle of an urban neighborhood, after all!

The dark Lechmere yard, as seen from the loop.

Now it was time to take the remaining trains out of the yard. Everyone snapped pictures as each of the vehicles pulled out from their spots and headed onto the viaduct for the last time. And with the final train, 3802, trundling out of the station, Lechmere Yard was, for the first time in probably quite a while, completely empty. Yeah, I definitely gave this station a lot of flak, and to be honest, it deserved it…but there’s also no denying that it was a special place. I’m happy it got a good sendoff. Until we meet again in a different form, Lechmere…it’s been nice knowing you.

A Black Plague doctor selfie in front of the last train.
I’m clearly not the only one photobombing this thing!
Taking a pause so the switch ahead can be flipped.
Just a memory now…
Last view of the yard. It’s been real, Lechmere. It’s been real.

64 (50th-Parkside to Pier 70)

Some routes make a ton of sense as crosstowns. Take the 15: it runs straight across Girard and operates frequently all day every day to really maximize its usefulness. SEPTA has lots of routes like that. But then…there’s the odd, odd case of the 64. Ostensibly it’s trying to be both an east-west crosstown in South Philly and a north-south crosstown in West Philly, but it kinda fails at both? Bizarre deviations and an infrequent schedule are on the menu tonight. Let’s take a look.

What’s that piece of paper on the ground?

You know what they say: all South Philly crosstown routes lead to the malls area (they = me, just now). The 64 is no exception, starting at Pier 70 at the northern end of the complex. As we left the Walmart that’s right there, we turned onto Tasker Street alongside a grassy wasteland, then used Columbus Boulevard to get to Reed Street. We took this a block before heading onto Front Street, a road with dense rowhouses on one side and the uber-depressing I-95 viaduct on the other side.

“Meet me at the bench beneath the eight-lane highway.”

Most of the land underneath the highway was used for parking, but just before we turned onto Washington Ave, there was…A SKATING RINK! UNDER THE HIGHWAY! Bring a date to this incredibly romantic location! And speaking of romantic locations, Washington Ave, the main east-west road for the 64, is way too wide and has some ugly housing along it that definitely wasn’t built at the same time as most of the area’s rowhouses. At least a few parks appeared on its south side.

Yeah, see, that church is lovely, but that housing is pretty charmless.

While normal rowhouses did eventually show up on the north side of the street, the south side remained a bit of a toss-up, featuring anything from a daycare housed in a brand-new building to a shopping plaza with way too much parking for such an urban area (although it was dominated by various Asian restaurants, which was neat). At 9th Street we saw the awnings of the Italian Market, but even there, the road still has this industrial vibe that it can never really shake. There were attempts to change that as we continued: new apartment buildings contrasted sharply with garages and warehouses.

A huge abandoned lot right next to Broad Street? Sure, why not?

That clash continued as we crossed Broad Street, where sadly, the Broad Street Line does not stop. I’m pretty sure (but correct me if I’m wrong) that the 64 used to deviate to Ellsworth-Federal Station a block south – honestly, it’s close enough that a deviation isn’t really necessary in my eyes, especially given the crazy routings we’ll see later. Washington Ave remained industrial west of Broad, but there were traditional rowhouses on the side streets and some businesses between the industry and parking lots. Another park made for a nice break, too.

More abandoned land…

Any efforts to make the street look okay were ceased as we got further west. The road went underneath the CSX rail viaduct and then ended, so we took a left turn onto Grays Ferry Ave. This street was mostly industrial as well, but there was a shopping plaza right where we…turned onto 29th Street? Yeah, so here’s where the 64 does an out-of-nowhere deviation into Grays Ferry, and I really have no idea why it exists.

Tight turn here…

So to save people a 4-minute walk, we get to do this ridiculous jog involving tiny, residential streets. Sure, it’s a dense rowhouse neighborhood, but this important crosstown route should not be deviating to save people two blocks of walking (one block in the other direction!). I mean, first we got stuck when we tried to make the sharp turn onto 33rd Street, involving some maneuvering to make it around. Then when making the left turn back onto Grays Ferry Ave, there was so much traffic that we spent a period of time just sitting sideways across the road waiting for an opening, blocking traffic going the other way! See why I don’t like this thing??

Some rowhouses in Kingsessing.

Once on Grays Ferry Ave, we sped past the little Forgotten Bottom neighborhood before crossing the Schuylkill into West Philadelphia. We turned onto Paschall Ave, a leafy road with run-down rowhouses and some abandoned land, for a few blocks and took a right onto 49th Street, a street adorned with trolley tracks that took us past SEPTA’s Woodland facility. A few rowhouses later, we crossed the Media/Elwyn Line and its station named after our street.

Great timing to capture some trolley derrière!

There was a stark change in the neighborhood when we crossed the tracks: there were tons more trees now, and the houses (which were mostly duplexes rather than rows) were in much better shape. Once we hit the hipster haven of Baltimore Ave, though, we had to make an annoying maneuver where we took that for one block just to pop over to 48th Street instead of 49th. I guess that’s the only reasonable way to get over to what becomes the much more major street north of Baltimore, though.

Swinging off of Baltimore Ave.

The leafy, charming duplex houses were still around on 48th Street up until we crossed Pine – now there were apartment buildings, plus some businesses at the intersection with Spruce. We soon reached Chestnut Street, and here we annoyingly had to take a right. ALSO: this intersection is home to the CENTRAL CITY TOYOTA, which is the WORST name for a car dealership! FIRST of all, it’s CENTER CITY. *CENTER* CITY. Get it right! PLUS, we’re not even IN Center City – it’s about 20 blocks east! SUCH a bad name, people!

The Central – er, Center – City skyline in view on Chestnut Street.

We were only on Chestnut Street for a little bit – once we turned onto the rowhouse-lined Farragut Street, the purpose of the deviation became clear: we were serving 46th Street Station. But…wait, why does this station get special treatment and not Ellsworth-Federal? I mean, this distance is slightly farther, but not by much! But okay, I can handle a deviation to a train station…but then we have to deviate back to 48th a few blocks later?? Make up your mind!

Whoa, they just turned this road into a dead-end!

A lot of the housing around here was built later than some of the more traditional rowhouses that came up too. There were also some abandoned tracts of land, a high school, and a random auto shop that gave me Washington Ave flashbacks and probably had no place being here in this residential neighborhood. And then because this route makes no sense, we suddenly turned onto Westminster Ave to head back to 46th Street – or, excuse me, 45th Street! SURE!

About to head onto Belmont Ave.

Westminster Ave was a real hodgepodge of housing stock. After crossing the 10 trolley at Lancaster Ave, we took a left onto 45th Street, which by this point had become Belmont Ave. This street was all rowhouses, but while their architecture was consistent, the placement was not: there were weird gaps between them, sometimes the width of a house (so likely one was torn down) and other times not, with just these little alleys running between them!

I dunno if it’s the weather or what, but this street is drab!

We crossed over the Paoli/Thorndale Line at an intersection with Girard Ave above the tracks (RIP 15 trolley), and there was a bit of an industrial vibe past there, including a U-Haul storage space and a few auto shops (although there were houses and several schools too). Once we turned onto Parkside Ave, we were in the home stretch: we just had to do a strange routing via 49th, Jefferson, and 50th Streets through a bizarre abandoned wasteland to get to the 50th-Parkside Loop (it used to be a rail yard apparently – this website is your new best friend if you’ve never heard of it!). Why we didn’t just turn straight onto 50th from Parkside is beyond me.

Laying over in the loop.

Route: 64 (50th-Parkside to Pier 70)

Ridership: I’m not particularly impressed with the ridership on this one. I mean, for a route that’s so urban, 5,036 riders a day isn’t great, especially when spread out over the 64’s 126 daily trips – that’s about 40 riders per trip, each of which takes a little under an hour to complete. Perhaps some evidence could be found in the route’s load profile: check out the loads! They’re genuinely pretty high throughout the course of the route! What’s more, take a look at the chart at the bottom of this PDF – while the route does have slightly lower productivity at peak than midday (alas), its productivity is comparable to much more frequent routes like the 17, 21, and 23! Hmm…

Pros: Okay, this thing definitely serves a ton, I’ll give it that. With some streamlining, it could be a really effective crosstown route. The rush hour frequencies are good: every 8-10 minutes, mostly geared toward school times.

Cons: Every 20 minutes on weekdays? Every 30 on weekends? Every 45 minutes at night, running a truncated route from Pier 70 to Kingsessing, that ends service as early as 11 PM??? This is an urban route – these headways are awful! And hey, speaking of the route, what the heck is the route this thing takes? First there’s that Greys Ferry deviation, which almost certainly inconveniences more passengers than it benefits – some of the turns are so tight, and getting back onto Greys Ferry Ave can be a pain! And then the route in West Philly? Oh gosh, don’t get me started. It makes sense in theory: first you gotta deviate to serve 46th Street Station, then you gotta come back to 48th to directly serve the middle school over there. But this is a distance of two blocks we’re talking about, and this is what should be a high capacity urban route. For maximum straightness, staying on 48th Street would be great, but I get that serving the El station is important. But then the route should really just stay on 46th until it has to swing over to Belmont Ave – that middle school abuts 47th ANYWAY, so students would only be walking a block to get to the bus! All this twisty business just seems like it’s discouraging ridership; riding it through that section just felt so inefficient.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I know they tend to be embroiled in controversy (and honestly for good reason), but it doesn’t curb my curiosity about the Mummers Museum, which this route passes straight by. But of course, countless other restaurants of so many different cultures are served by the 64 as it tears its way through South Philly!

Final Verdict: 4/10
I mean…if the schedule’s bad and the route’s bad, then what is there to salvage it? Certainly the 64 serves a lot and it seems to get good ridership throughout its journey. I think the low overall daily ridership is more representative of the fact that it doesn’t run very frequently – I would love to see this thing get a frequency increase to every 15 minutes! Also the Greys Ferry deviation could definitely stand to be straightened out; the situation in West Philly is a little more complicated, but I think there should be efforts there too, whether the route travels mainly on 48th or on 46th.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

GATRA: Bellingham South Shuttle

Well, we’ve covered the North Shuttle, now it’s time to head south!

The Dial-A-Ride vehicle returns.

While the North Shuttle acts as a park-and-ride route for northern Bellingham, the South Shuttle has ulterior motives: it runs from Forge Park to almost the Rhode Island border, and across that border is the sixth largest city in the state, Woonsocket. I wonder what this could possibly be trying to serve! When the driver asked where I, the sole passenger on the bus, was going, I said Hilltop Farms, the last stop on the route mere steps away from Rhode Island. “Okay,” he said, “We’ah gonna take a shoahtcut.”

Why is this recycling bin strapped into one of the seats? Because GATRA, that’s why.

That “shoahtcut” involved going the complete wrong way: instead of taking a right onto Central Street, we took a left instead, running over to Grove Street to head south on that. Well, given that it was dark and Grove Street was pretty much all forest, my pictures came out terribly! Aside from a few housing developments and industrial buildings, it was super barren.

Thank goodness I had one intersection to get a photo of!

There was a bit of civilization in the form of a residential neighborhood at the intersection with Washington Street, onto which we turned. It’s a shame it was so dark, though – amongst the houses along here were some patches of farmland! But while there was a consistent stream of houses now, they were often covered by trees, so especially in the dark, it still felt equally woodsy!

Er…yeah.

We had actually been in Franklin this whole time, finally entering Bellingham along this stretch. There were a number of lumber stores and auto shops around the intersection with Lake Street, and soon houses along the road got denser. By the time we finally merged back with the normal route (“shoahtcut” complete, I guess), there were actually a ton of businesses (with parking lots) and even some apartments along the street. The driver accidentally drove past Hilltop Farms, and with an apology dropped me off at a pool place a few businesses down. I didn’t mind – quicker walk to Woonsocket!

Ooh, I am loving that neon!

GATRA Route: Bellingham South Shuttle

Ridership: Well, if we remember from last time, the two Bellingham shuttles get a combined 19 riders per day, equalling around two people per trip. That means this one theoretically averages four commuters per day, although given that I rode soon before Christmas, there was no one else on my trip. Also, yeah…four commuters a day. Not great.

Pros: Well…its two trips in each direction per day time with trains, and it almost makes it to Woonsocket…

Cons: I’ll be honest, in its current state, this thing makes so much less sense than the North Shuttle. First of all, there’s only one park-and-ride location on the route, and it’s at Bellingham Marketplace – not even the closest stop to Woonsocket. And while northern Bellingham has a lot more going on in terms of residential density, especially in the neighboring town of Milford, southern Bellingham is sparse: I can’t imagine many people going out of their way to park at Bellingham Marketplace for this thing, even factoring in the cheaper cost. Indeed, thanks to the data from Jules’s guest post on this route, we can confirm that even on a normal day, no one’s using this to park – they’re all taking it to the end or close to it (also, his trip took a different “shoahtcut” from mine – this thing just doesn’t like to follow its prescribed routing!).

Nearby and Noteworthy: Um, neon pool shop, hello?? But also, despite the longish walk to downtown Woonsocket, this is the quickest way to get there by transit if you happen to be travelling at rush hour. Jules also mentions the Beef Barn in his guest post, and…yeah, that place looks awesome.

Final Verdict: 2/10
I’ll give it to GATRA that the southern terminus of the shuttle is in a pretty dense residential and commercial area. But you know what’s a really dense residential and commercial area? Woonsocket. It would really do GATRA good to figure out the bureaucratic logistics of getting this thing across state lines to at least the RIPTA stop on John Cummings Way. It’s just a four minute drive beyond the current terminus, but it could potentially help or add to the 328 daily commuters from Woonsocket to Boston…or indeed, the combined 1,745 daily commuters from Woonsocket to Bellingham or Franklin (source: this really cool document)! At the moment, the Bellingham South Shuttle just feels unfinished.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

22 (Warminster and Willow Grove to Olney Transportation Center)

It’s a testament to the size of SEPTA’s suburban network that so many Regional Rail termini have bus connections. While the 22 to Warminster is nowhere near the odyssey of the 55 to Doylestown, it’s still impressive that an entire Regional Rail line can have a local bus pretty much paralleling it the whole way! Would there be much less need for a bus if Regional Rail had more frequent service and cheaper fares? I mean…yeah…

Shh…don’t scare it!

The 22 doesn’t actually begin at Warminster Station – to get to the real terminus (because we don’t play around here at Miles in Transit), you have to walk about ten minutes down the road to its odd little terminal stop: no sidewalk, an apartment building on one side, and a fenced-off industrial one on the other. Unexpectedly, three people were already on the bus at this first stop, but that’s still no excuse to leave two minutes early the way we did! We crawled through a housing development, eventually popping back out onto Jacksonville Road.

Some of the houses in the neighborhood.

Jacksonville Road was a mix of transit-oriented apartment complexes and likely-unintentionally-transit-oriented industrial buildings. We performed a deviation into Walmart, because…I dunno, why not?…before coming out onto Street Road, a wide avenue with suburban houses and businesses. We took this up to York Road, where we hung a left to start heading towards Philly, passing more businesses.

Well, I appreciate the effort to put a mini-park here…

The sprawl was consistent, leading us all the way down to the intersection of County Line Road, which acts as the dividing line between Bucks County to the north and Montgomery County to the south. While the road remained mostly commercial, the businesses were now mostly in houses, consisting of home medical offices and funeral parlors and stuff like that. Soon we entered downtown Hatboro and York Road became its pedestrian-friendly main street a block away from its train station.

I think I picked the two most boring businesses in Hatboro to take a picture of…

We crossed over Pennypack Creek south of downtown Hatboro, passing through a residential neighborhood before going under I-276 into an industrial area. The entrance to the Upper Moreland High School appeared around here before a brief residential section, but that devolved into the giant suburban businesses of Willow Grove. We performed the route’s deviation to the Willow Grove Park Mall, a hub for other suburban SEPTA routes as well as the terminating point for most 22s coming from Olney.

Coming out of the mall.

York Road, the street we were on before, headed in another direction, so we were now on a different main drag: Easton Road. There were lots of auto dealerships along here (all named after and presumably owned by someone named Marty Sussman), but also lots of other car-related businesses like tire shops and used car dealerships! It did change to more traditional retail eventually, and with relatively tasteful parking lots for such a car-oriented area.

Houses on a side street.

We passed Rosslyn Station as the Warminster Line awkwardly had a level crossing across a four-way intersection. After that it was a real mix of stuff, from houses to a huge variety of businesses, including a mini-golf course!!! We also got some fabulous Tudor style buildings at the immensely charming Keswick Village, whose main street branches off from Easton Road.

Not a good photo, but look how cute it is!

A buffer of houses separated Keswick Village and Glenside, another nice downtown with a bunch of businesses. This one has a Regional Rail station, too. Easton Road served as Glenside’s main street, but the businesses along it got more suburban the further away we got, and a brief, almost rural section took us through the campus of Arcadia University. We travelled through a highway interchange with Route 309, then a huge cemetery lined the road as we came alongside Cedarbrook Plaza right on the Philly border.

The plaza.

Indeed, we turned onto Cheltenham Ave outside of the plaza, which literally forms the border between Montgomery County and Philly. Along here, we passed a giant church along with several smaller churches, as well as rowhouses on the Philly side of the road. Lots of businesses surrounded the intersection with Ogontz Ave, including what is known on the 22’s schedule as the “Cheltenham Square Mall”, but what in real life appears to be called “Greenleaf at Cheltenham”.

SEPTA’s Cheltenham-Ogontz loop outside of Greenleaf.

The Philly side of the road was pretty consistently rowhouses, but on the other side was this absolutely massive planned housing development. Retail showed up too, more often than not accompanied by parking. Soon after we passed a cemetery, we turned onto Broad Street at its very end – it sure is weird travelling down Broad Street up this far, when it’s just a leafy road lined mostly with rowhouses.

Some residences.

Because SEPTA likes being confusing, the 22 only stays on Broad Street in the northbound direction. Southbound people? Nah, you’re going on Old York Road. It basically just curves a tiny bit away (no more than a block) from Broad Street for a bit before curving back. It was home to a few apartment buildings, some churches, and a ton of rowhouses. Just before the road merged back into Broad Street, we took a left onto Nedro Ave before swinging a right onto the residential Park Ave, a half-block away from Broad. This was just so we could loop into the Olney Transportation Center, which was, coincidentally, very close by!

…or we can stop just outside the terminal. That works too.

Route: 22 (Warminster and Willow Grove to Olney Transportation Center)

Ridership: The route gets an average of 4,640 riders per weekday, and most of those are concentrated in the portion south of Willow Grove Park Mall. For example, my ride got a total of 44 people, but just 15 came from north of Willow Grove – plus, the route is significantly more frequent on its inner section. It’s also worth noting that while there’s definitely a contingency of people who commute into the city using the 22, it also has a significant amount of reverse commute ridership, both to Willow Grove and to Warminster.

Pros: Willow Grove is a huge destination, exemplified by the fact that SEPTA can have two rather popular routes that travel there from Olney, the other being the 55. Both of these routes also travel to faraway places, with the 22’s Warminster section seeming to nab pretty good ridership, especially in the reverse-peak direction. It helps that the schedule is so well-optimized: weekday midday service is every 20 minutes as far as Willow Grove, and every third bus continues to Warminster, creating hourly service. Of course, the route is more frequent to both at rush hour, while the Saturday schedule operates every 30 minutes to Willow Grove and hourly beyond – reasonable for a suburban environment.

Cons: Night service is about hourly, despite the fact that some night trips appear to get busier than peak ones. The Sunday schedule is rough, too: it’s about every 40 minutes to Willow Grove and every 80 minutes to Warminster, but not only that, the departure times are really inconsistent to boot (2:50, 3:29, 4:08, 4:50, etc.). I’m also not a fan of the “Old York Road southbound, Broad Street northbound” routing that happens north of Olney – just pick one, they’re both bidirectional streets! The route is long, so on-time performance lags behind at 76%. Also, while variants are kept to a minimum, the nine trips that take an “express routing” and save at most three minutes…come on, let’s keep things simple. And finally, while this is sort of a nitpick, there’s no effort at coordinating the 22 and the 55 to Willow Grove or the 22 and the 16 to Cheltenham-Ogontz (and the latter is along the same roads!), despite the fact that all three run at the same frequency. I know it would be really hard to do so I’m not weighing this too much into the score, but it would be nice.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Definitely there are a few notable places along the route, but Keswick Village really seemed awesome! I loved the architecture there, and it seems like a great place to walk around, get a bite to eat, and see a concert at the local theater (er…once concerts become a thing again).

Final Verdict: 7/10
I’m honestly impressed with this one! The schedule is really solid, keeping things generally simple (besides those few “express” trips) and balancing frequencies well. Nights and Sundays could definitely be better, but it is a suburban route, so I cut it a little bit of slack. While I would say that the inner part of the 55 is better than the inner part of the 22, the strength of the 22’s outer section (including running hourly six days a week and having just one variant past Willow Grove) makes it my preferred route between the two.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

GATRA: Bellingham North Shuttle

Oh YES! THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF GATRA!!!!! And this is a side of our favorite RTA not seen quite as often on here: commuter routes with HORRIBLE ridership! Welcome to the Bellingham North Shuttle!

Oh, of course it uses Dial-A-Ride vehicles.

I suppose it’s not a surprise, per se, that this thing uses unsigned Dial-A-Ride vehicles. I mean, it’s a GATRA commuter route, they couldn’t give a hoot about these. But the, er, unsignedness of the bus gets a little harder to swallow when you realize that there are two Bellingham routes. So in order to find the bus you want at Forge Park (or excuse me, “Forge Park MBTA”), you literally just have to go up to the door and ask if it’s the right one. Boy, have I missed you, GATRA.

It’s what appears to be an office building? It’s a bit dark…

Since it was a few days before Christmas, traffic on both the street and the bus was low (I was the only one on). We headed down Central Street, which was wide and industrial, aside from a few restaurants at the intersection with Maple Street. Also at that intersection was an apartment complex, which really would’ve been better sited, like, a mile down the road outside of Forge Park station…

It’s supposed to be “transit-oriented development”, not “kinda-close-to-transit-such-that-maybe-you-could-drive-to-it-if-you-really-wanted-to development”!

We were in Bellingham now, and development along what was now called Mechanic Street was…weird. Like, businesses here, a cemetery there, whoop, here’s a residential cul-de-sac, hey, who threw a long, narrow cemetery in here? Bellingham Center had a nice town common, but other than that, it had…a shopping plaza? Some other car-oriented businesses? A church? Definitely not one of Massachusetts’s better downtowns…

World-class photography by Miles Taylor.

We crossed a train track and the Charles River before entering a proper residential neighborhood. Among the single-family houses, there was also an apartment complex and a campground of all things (it didn’t exactly seem like this scenic place to pitch a tent and relax under the stars). A brief section of woods led us to Home Depot Plaza, the end of this one-way trip. Yes…now it was time to walk back to Forge Park in the dark. Good times.

If you want to make a transit-oriented lawnmower purchase, this is the route for you.

GATRA Route: Bellingham North Shuttle

Ridership: Oho, double trouble from GATRA’s ridership data: they count both Bellingham routes as one thing! Okay, so we have to remember that this number is gonna be inflated, so it might be higher than you expect. Andddddddddd…19 riders per day. Oh dear. Split between the ten combined daily trips of the Bellingham shuttles, that gives us an average of slightly less than…2 riders per trip. So the Bellingham North Shuttle attracts about 6 commuters per day. What a time to be alive.

Pros: I give this thing credit that its $40 monthly pass combined with free commuter parking at the locations it serves beats spending $105 a month to park directly at the station. The three rush hour trips in each direction per day all connect to Commuter Rail trains, and that’s nice. Although…I see nothing on the GATRA website about them suspending service on these routes due to the pandemic. Are they just connecting to nothing right now? ‘Cause, like, the Franklin Line definitely isn’t on its regular schedule…

Cons: Okay, 6 commuters a day. What is this thing doing wrong? Well, I think one issue is the bizarre loopy nature of the shuttle: the bus only takes the route I described in the evening rush, while in the morning rush, it starts in Bellingham Center, runs up and deviates into Home Depot, and then hops on I-495 to get to the station. Why? Don’t even bother with that morning rush routing, the evening one makes far more sense – sure, Home Depot people get a slightly longer ride in the morning, but the service will be so much simpler because of it, plus overall trip times would be quicker! But still, that shouldn’t be enough to single handedly drag down ridership this much. Honestly, like so many of these commuter shuttles, it might come down to lack of advertising. It would be fantastic if the MBTA was able to partner with these RTAs to get those schedules printed on their timetables so more people know about them…but of course, then they might lose parking revenue. Sigh…

Nearby and Noteworthy: I wasn’t impressed with Bellingham. But I can confirm from experience that the town common is quite nice.

Final Verdict: 3/10
Alright, GATRA, there’s potential here. Honestly, the service offered is a pretty good deal for commuters, even if it does limit you to three trains per day. The most important thing is to get the word out there so more people know about it! Also, an interesting quirk from the agency’s Regional Transit Plan: they were considering adding midday service to this thing! While it’s a nice idea and it does serve a number of shopping plazas, I don’t think the population is there to support ridership on such a small loop. Interesting thought, though – at the very least, it might attract more than 6 people a day.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Hatboro

Sure, I could’ve easily done the hour-long walk from Southampton to Warminster after riding the 24. But…I’ve reviewed Warminster already. So of course I would opt for the 90-minute walk to the next station over, Hatboro! Wouldn’t you???

The station seen from Byberry Road.

Getting to the station is as simple as just stepping onto it from the road. In fact, you have two roads to choose from: Byberry Road to the south and Moreland Ave to the north. The excitement! If you’re coming by car, there’s a 100-space lot right next to the station, a 75-space lot across from Byberry Road next to a big warehouse, and a 93-space municipal lot across from Moreland Ave. All cost a dollar a day. A whole two bike racks is provided by SEPTA, but there are an additional three in the municipal lot. The stop is also served by the 22 bus, although contrary to what the incredibly outdated bus stop signs on the road right next to the station proclaim, the route actually travels a block away.

Peeking inside the station building.

The platform is super basic: it contains a couple of benches (both metal, one green, one silver), a wastebasket, and three Key Card validators. At least the building, which is only open during the morning rush, has more promise, offering charming wooden benches, a bathroom, a water fountain, and a ticket office. Also, quite bizarrely, a Boston Calling poster was pasted to the side of the building when I was here. Is it…that big of an event? Huh!

My three-car train coming in to take me to Philly.

Station: Hatboro

Ridership: After neighboring Warminster, this is the second-busiest station on the line (with the next stop south, Willow Grove, being the third-busiest!), getting 500 boardings and 530 alightings per weekday. The parking lots don’t seem to fill up too much on a daily basis, and since the station is located right in downtown Hatboro, I would imagine a lot of people walk here!

Pros: It’s always great when a station is located in a downtown but also has parking. The lots aren’t intrusive, too: the one closest to the station and the municipal one are both pushed up against the tracks, while that second SEPTA lot takes advantage of existing space outside of a warehouse. The station platform is basic but it works, with sheltered benches and a pretty nice morning rush building.

Cons: Lack of wheelchair accessibility is the big one – this is a low-level platform. The fact that it’s single track and there are level crossings on either side is rough, too, but accessibility is the main thing!

Nearby and Noteworthy: I only had time to take a quick stroll down the main drag of Hatboro before grabbing my train, but man, I want to come back here! Among other things, the businesses include a music store, a specialty popcorn place, and a retro toy/record store!

Final Verdict: 6/10
With accessibility, I’d give it an 8. But accessibility is important, so Hatboro, I’m sorry, but it’s a 6 for you. Seriously, besides that, the station is pretty darn good, though!

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

WRTA: 8 (Park Avenue Connector)

The WRTA loves to take one bus and use it to single-handedly run some sort of “bonus route” on the system. For a while this took the form of a downtown shuttle, whether it was the small free loop of the 80 or the larger un-free loop of the 40. Eventually realizing that Worcester just does not have a strong enough downtown to justify dedicating a bus to serving it, the WRTA took a complete 180 and created a route that helps people avoid downtown: the 8 is the only route on the system that doesn’t serve Union Station, instead acting as a crosstown connector along Park Ave in western Worcester. If they were gonna make a crosstown route, the direct, dense corridor of Park Ave was a good place to go.

It’s finally here!

The boarding process for this one was a little harried. For one thing, Nathan and I were getting conflicting information about where the thing actually picks up at Webster Square Plaza: the bus stop signs were useless, and the Transit app was saying the route started in a different place than what the schedule said. It didn’t really matter, though, because the thing ended up arriving 20 minutes late. Okay, no way were we getting to the Greendale Mall on time…right?

That’s a lot of sidewalk parking right there!

We travelled down Main Street along the length of Webster Square Plaza and a little beyond that before merging left onto Park Ave. This road definitely felt industrial, but there were regular businesses along it too, with dense residential neighborhoods off of it. The 8 spends a lot of time interacting with other routes, the 7 being one of them: it travels on Park Ave for a decent amount of time, although it does a jog into a neighborhood that the 8 doesn’t.

Houses seen through a parking lot.

The industrial-feeling commercial development continued after the 7 left us at May Street and as we crossed the 6 and the 2 on Chandler and Pleasant Streets, respectively (gosh, this post sure is a good excuse to give my old WRTA reviews some more clicks!). But it’s at Elm Street a few blocks later that the 8’s usefulness becomes a bit more cloudy: the 31 joins up with the route from there all the way to the Greendale Mall, making the entire second half of the 8 shared with a more frequent service. At least we passed through a lovely park when the 31 joined.

Elm Park’s blurry pond.

A few suburban businesses popped up again as we crossed the 3 at Highland Ave, but the athletic portions of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute occupied one side of the road for a while after that. We also passed the headquarters of the American Antiquarian Society – who knew the oldest nationally-focused historical society in the country was based in Worcester?? The road was residential for just a bit after that before it returned to classic suburban retail. As Park Ave split into two one-way roads, the parking lots got bigger and the scenery felt more industrial, and once we crossed I-190, it was time to pull into the awkwardly-located Greendale Mall, surrounded by highways and a railroad track. So…we had left 20 minutes late, and we had arrived…3 minutes late. Okay, put a pin in that.

The sun sets over the Greendale Mall parking lot.

WRTA Route: 8 (Park Avenue Connector)

Ridership: This route is too new to have any public ridership data from the WRTA, so we’ll have to use the “data” I collected on my one ride, the 7 PM journey from Webster Square to Greendale Mall. So, let’s see here…one rider. Okay, not the best, obviously, but it was an evening trip…maybe it’s busier during the day?

Pros: Huge props to the WRTA for creating a crosstown route! The second biggest city in New England deserves a real bus service, and routes that don’t all feed into downtown is a good signifier of that.

Cons: Well, pretty much everything about the execution is awful. Firstly, this thing is hourly on weekdays only, so it can only be so useful. Plus, crosstown buses tend to work better if the system has good bones with its radial routes, and the WRTA really doesn’t have that, so the 8 is pretty much just a “if you gotta make your way up Park Ave, maybe use this” route rather than something you could transfer to from somewhere else. It doesn’t help that even though it is a clean circumferential corridor, the route’s northern anchor is hardly an anchor: as you’ll see in the “Nearby and Noteworthy” section, the Greendale Mall is noteworthy for all the wrong reasons. At least there are supermarkets and other attractions along here too.

The fact that half of the 8’s route is shared with the 31 is another pitfall. Not only does that route go much further than the 8 does and can be used as a Park Ave crosstown for the 8’s northern half, but it also runs every 40 minutes and has Saturday service. And let’s also talk about the 8’s reliability as a route: it has none. Our bus left 20 minutes late, which in itself is awful, but it might’ve just been a purposeful act on the driver’s part to make up for the excessively padded running times. While the scheduled running time of half an hour might hold some weight on midday trips, it certainly shouldn’t be scheduled to take that long for morning and night trips! Our run took just 13 minutes, which is why we ended up making up 17 minutes of lateness! Rather than forcing drivers to run insanely behind schedule, inconveniencing the few passengers this thing gets, would it not be better to just make the schedule realistic?

Nearby and Noteworthy: Let’s talk about the Greendale Mall: this thing is on its last legs. And because of that…I think it’s noteworthy! Dead malls are fascinating, and this one was almost completely devoid of people. A few shops remain, including a rinky-dink arcade that appeared to be unstaffed and a “Lensecrafters”, because apparently the people who made the mall’s online store directory really really really don’t care. The food court has a total of two eating establishments where Nathan and I got some excessively cheap Chinese food that didn’t make us sick. Win in my book!

Well, at least there’s a Best Buy (update: I have been told in the comments it’s since closed!). And re: that clock up there – at least a stopped clock is right twice a day.
“Children at play.”
The empty food court.

Final Verdict: 2/10
It’s a nice effort, but man, this just isn’t working. I’m not even sure if I would call this a “way to be there” route – I think there’s so much wrong with it that while its existence is certainly a plus, I would go so far as to congratulate it for anything. Of course, ridership could be higher than I’m giving it credit for, but given the schedule, the running times, and the duplication, I doubt it’s being used by too many people.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

24 (Southampton and Rockledge to Frankford Transportation Center)

One thing I’ll always give SEPTA praise for is the connectivity of its suburban network. It’s obviously not perfect, but there are very few routes that end in places where no direct connections can be made. Today, though, we’ll be checking out one of the exceptions: the 24 begins at the busy Frankford Transportation Center, but by the time it gets to its terminus in Southampton, that’s it – you’re the only bus around. It runs up that far pretty regularly on weekdays, but on Saturdays, it only goes up there three times a day (with no service that far on Sundays) – can you guess what day of the week I rode the 24?

Starting out in the city, though!

We started out on Pratt Street, which was mostly rowhouses and a few small businesses. Greenery became more common the further we got from Frankford, though, including a big field occupying one side of the road for a bit. We crossed Roosevelt Boulevard (making stops on both sides of the monstrosity, of course) and turned onto Summerdale Ave soon after. More rowhouses and businesses along here!

Some of the housing stock on a side street.

We hooked a left onto Oxford Ave eventually: because this road went diagonally through the grid, it had an awkward alignment where one side was a cemetery and the other side was vacant land between it and the housing project that adhered to the grid. A huge Naval center generated a lot of industry around it, but as we continued onto Martins Mill Row, it was back to leafy rowhouses.

Well, this is a heavy-duty intersection.

The narrow street went by a retirement home, and soon after that we made a right onto Rising Sun Ave. There was a ton along here: businesses, industry, and housing were all mixed in together. We were running with the 18 here, which continues along Rising Sun Ave to Fox Chase – the 24 goes to Fox Chase too, but it takes a left onto Cottman Ave and goes up a different way. This street passed Ryers Station before we turned onto Central Ave.

The commercial intersection between Rising Sun, Oxford, and Cottman Aves.

Central Ave was suburban, with Burholme Park occupying its entire western side, while the eastern side was home to a bunch of duplex houses all in a row. Also on that western side of the road was a massive Temple University Hospital complex, and the Ryerss Museum and Library, which always throws me off with its second “s” but is apparently amazing! Eventually we merged back into Oxford Ave, rejoining the 18 and running with it for its last stretch to the commercial intersection next to Fox Chase.

The Regional Rail station is down thereeeeeee…

Fox Chase is situated right on the Philadelphia border, and it got more suburban once we crossed that line. Also, while we had gotten decent ridership further south, just three people remained on the bus now, and that was after someone who had literally told his friend over the phone that he was riding for fun with no purpose got off. The road we were on was called Huntingdon Pike, but it wasn’t quite wide or fast enough to be a “proper” “pike”. Little suburban businesses and shopping plazas lined the street.

There were lots of houses on the side streets.

The Huntingdon Valley Shopping Center was the most major shopping plaza we had come across, while there was kind of an odd residential neighborhood on the other side of the road where every street was named after a California locale: Los Angeles Ave, Berkeley Ave, Pasadena Ave, etc. The shopping center was also the last breath of civilization for a bit (it’s no wonder many trips end here) – the road got super leafy and fast-moving, and the houses that weren’t completely hidden away were now farther apart from their neighbors. Non-house attractions included an elementary school and several churches.

An adorable side road.

Given the fairly rural nature of this road, you can imagine how the giant Holy Redeemer Hospital came as a bit of a surprise. For whatever reason, the hospital attracted a ton of development, too: no fewer than three housing developments surrounded it. We went up onto a high bridge after that, crossing both Pennypack Creek and its parallel trail before returning to ground level to sail past Bethayres Station.

The creek is, like, down there somewhere…

A clump of suburban businesses occupied the intersection north of Bethayres. It was here that we took a left onto Welsh Road to perform the route’s double-deviation: one to Gloria Dei Manor and one to Gloria Dei Towers. The one to the Manor went well, and with a note of the “deer crossing” sign on the woodsy driveway, we looped around the retirement home. The one to the Towers, though…uhh, it just didn’t happen. We just headed back down Welsh Road to get back onto Huntingdon Pike. Oh well…

The road leading up to the Manor.

It is past here that the thrice-a-day Saturday service begins (with all other trips this far terminating at Gloria Dei Manor), and given that the bus was completely empty, that low frequency seemed to make sense. While semi-dense houses and businesses lined the road for a bit, they dropped away suddenly when we passed through the bucolic campus of Bryn Athyn College. There are actually some fields that come up next to the road, but you can’t see them super well behind the curtain of trees.

The entrance to Bryn Athyn College.

Suburbia did return once we left the reach of the college, but everything was hidden behind fences – Huntingdon Pike itself had pretty much nothing abutting it aside from a church, a gas station, and a nursing home at the intersection with Welsh Road. It was then pretty much nothing until a few businesses at County Line Road (spelled “Coutny Line Road” on SEPTA’s route map – multiple times), onto which we took a left. Conveniently forming the border between Montgomery County and Bucks County, we took this over I-276 into an industrial area before going further into Bucks by turning north onto James Way.

Okay, I have several architectural questions.

Offices and industries continued as we took a right onto Jaymor Road, but once we headed back onto Huntingdon Pike (now called 2nd Street Pike for some reason – not like there are any other numbered streets around here!), it was mostly suburban shopping plazas. We passed Southampton Station on the abandoned Newtown Line (aw…) before turning onto Street Road, which threw in some other buildings besides the suburban businesses: houses, a modern fire station, and a church, among others. Nailing a sharp right onto Knowles Ave, this industrial road led us back to the intersection with 2nd Street Pike, completing our terminating loop.

Sadly the driver turned the sign off upon arrival. But here we are!

Route: 24 (Southampton and Rockledge to Frankford Transportation Center)

Ridership: 2,716 riders per weekday, a number that’s pretty expectedly low. Also unsurprisingly, based on data from both my ride and the route’s load profile, the 24’s ridership is mostly concentrated on the inner section south of Fox Chase, where it actually kinda functions like a real bus route (my trip got around 30 riders during that roughly 25-minute first stretch). Especially beyond the second main terminus at Gloria Dei Manor, ridership gets much lower, with the busiest buses carrying reverse commuters to the industrial areas that way.

Pros: Like I said, the inner route especially is decent – it covers some relatively dense areas, and while a lot of it is duplicative, it acts as a “fill in the gaps” route to grab some of the underserved areas between the more frequent lines. Understandably, frequencies get lower the further out on the route you go, as it starts to act as more of a lifeline service for lower-density areas: the inner portion is half-hourly seven days a week (hourly at night), while Gloria Dei Manor gets hourly service that stops earlier in the evening (peak service on weekdays is also more frequent, with a particular focus on school travel). Given that the inner part of the 24 is really just trying to fill in gaps, I think these frequencies make sense, and I appreciate the consistency of running the same headways seven days a week.

Cons: So, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way the route is set up: it makes sense for something this far-flung to have a number of termini to balance frequency and ridership. The problem is that it’s darn confusing! This mostly happens on weekdays – while a twice-a-day variant to serve a school makes sense, the fact that full Southampton trips tend to operate at inconsistent times (usually every two hours, but with more frequent service during the peak and a larger gap in the afternoon), combined with the fact that some deviate to Gloria Dei Manor and others don’t leads to a frustrating schedule. It’s certainly not the worst SEPTA’s done, but it’s a problem regardless. I’m also iffy on the thrice-a-day Southampton service on Saturdays, especially given that my bus was empty up there, but the driver assured me that seniors and shoppers tend to reverse-commute up there and his inbound would get more people. If that’s the case, though, three times a day is super hard to rely on – it’s a barebones coverage service if I ever saw one!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Given that most of the route is residential or suburbia, there didn’t seem to be a ton to write home about beyond Fox Chase. That being said, I’m definitely gonna shout out the Ryerss Museum again – this is the closest route that serves it, and how can you beat a free art museum housed in an old mansion? Definitely seems like a good place to check out once we’re out of quarantine!

Final Verdict: 7/10
Oh wow, am I really about to stick up for the 24 of all things? Geez…I must be in a good mood or something. Here’s my reasoning: the 24 isn’t trying to be this super busy route or anything. It’s either duplicative of more frequent routes, or running to far-flung areas that don’t need a ton of service to begin with. And while the schedule definitely has annoying quirks, I feel like overall the frequencies match the ridership pretty well!

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

WRTA: 25 (Union Station Hub – Webster Square Plaza via Canterbury Street)

The 25 has really shifted around throughout the past few years – as far as I can remember, it’s had three different termini since I started paying attention to the WRTA. The one commonality between the route’s various permutations is its 0.8 mile unique section on Canterbury Street, and the current route is no different. So, let’s do a ride on the 25: the route the WRTA has no idea what to do with.

Oh, did I mention it uses PROTERRAS?

To get onto the main road, the bus first has to loop around the rotary to the east of the train tracks heading north of Union Station. We made it onto McGrath Boulevard, except we were only on there briefly because the route decides to jog to Myrtle Street and Southbridge Street, despite the fact that other WRTA routes don’t do that – I guess the relative “localness” of the 25 is used to justify it? The deviation took us past some offices surrounded by parking lots, but once back on the main road, things got industrial.

Turning off of the main road.

In the midst of the wasteland, we made a right onto Hammond Street to get under some train tracks, beginning the main Canterbury Street unique section with a left turn. While the whole street still has an industrial vibe to it, it eventually became lined with dense houses, apartments, and a few businesses. At an elongated four-way intersection, we hooked a right onto Cambridge Street.

Gotta love these Proterra rear windows!

Cambridge Street had houses along it too, but there was also a Salvation Army building in an old factory, some industrial buildings, and a Price Chopper. That latter type of scenery continued as we turned onto Main Street and then merged left onto Stafford Street. One side of the road was occupied by a lake and its surrounding marshes, but there was eventually enough spare land to stick a row of houses along there. Once Webster Square Plaza came up on the other side, that was the end of the route!

Our neat electric bus sitting outside the plaza. We arrived very early.

WRTA Route: 25 (Union Station Hub – Webster Square Plaza via Canterbury Street)

Ridership: This is a tough one to gauge because no ridership data exists for the route’s current form. Back when it went to the Auburn Industrial Park, it received 217 riders per weekday and 138 per Saturday, well below the WRTA averages. Even factoring in how short of a route it is, its financials and productivity are below average too. My trip got just two riders, and both of them went to Webster Square Plaza – a location well-served by other, more frequent WRTA routes.

Pros: Having service on Canterbury Street is the kind of thing that politically feels like it needs to exist, even if ridership is relatively low. The route runs hourly on weekdays, which I guess is fitting of the ridership.

Cons: There are better ways to serve Canterbury Street, I think. What about routing the 33 this way, for example? If anything, the routing is slightly faster than going via Main Street like it does now, and that would give the WRTA a spare bus to use to boost frequency on other parts of the system.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Nothing much on the independent section – it’s mostly industrial and residential.

Final Verdict: 4/10
Eh. It does its job okay, but there are certainly much better ways to provide service to Canterbury Street. This weird, short, self-contained thing? That ain’t it.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

J (Chelten-Wissahickon to Richmond-Orthodox)

I’m sure SEPTA had plenty of reason for each route they chose to operate their COVID-19 “lifeline service”, but I find it odd that the J, an infrequent crosstown route sandwiched between two more frequent ones, gets precedent over, say, the 54 (or, like, the 33 or 48? Hello? Why did we get rid of these, SEPTA?). Although then again…why is the J so infrequent? It would seem that not all North Philadelphia crosstown routes are created equal… (also no, I did not ride this during COVID times, don’t worry)

The bus laying over in a sea of apartment buildings.

But the J starts not in North Philadelphia, but in Germantown: the layover point at Chelten and Wissahickon Aves is home to a ton of big brick apartment buildings. Once the bus actually set off, though, it made its way onto School House Lane, which had a totally different setting of single-family and duplex houses. We crossed over the Chestnut Hill West Line and used Pulaski Ave to get back onto Chelten. This commercial road took us past rows of businesses up to Germantown Ave.

Busy Germantown Ave with its unused streetcar tracks.

North of Germantown Ave, there was more retail, along with Germantown Station. Just after crossing those Chestnut Hill East Line tracks, though, we turned off onto Baynton Street, a meandering road that curved its way down to the tracks. It felt like a forgotten road: the side the tracks were on was mostly trees, while a lot of the rowhouses on the other side were in pretty bad shape. They got into better condition once we curved back up again on Belfield Ave.

Okay, I’m totally here for this out-of-nowhere statue.

We passed Wister Station (again on the Chestnut Hill East Line) during a short industrial stretch, then Belfield Ave entered Wister Woods Park. It made a wide curve south and we sped our way through the forest around La Salle University, but right when we came to the edge of civilization, it was an instant left onto Lindley Ave. There were some rowhouses on the south side of this street, but the north side was still occupied by the park for a few blocks.

Definitely a weird picture, but…eh, I like it!

More rowhouses (now on both sides) led us to Broad Street, where Logan Station on the Broad Street Line is located directly underneath the SEPTA Main Line, which passes nonstop overhead. There were a few businesses here, but Logan has always struck me as being one of the less urban-feeling stations on the BSL. Continuing onward, Lindley Ave was full of trees, with some pretty charming rowhouse constructions.

Such as these!

The trees died off eventually, but aside from a school, a few industrial buildings, and a park (located above the road so it couldn’t be seen!), it was pretty much all residential, plus a few corner businesses. 5th Street was a huge retail corridor that we crossed, though. Because of some weird street layouts here, we had to turn north onto 2nd Street, a road with auto shops on one side and rowhouses on the other.

Making the left onto 2nd.

We headed onto Fisher Ave next, taking it to the retail-lined Rising Sun Ave. At that point, it turned into C Street and curved south, with one exceptionally tree-filled block lined with charming rowhouses and one block completely absent of trees and lined with much less charming rowhouses. Of course, any semblance of charm goes out the window when Roosevelt Boulevard is involved on your trip, and sure enough, we turned onto that twelve-lane behemoth once we intersected with it.

Blech.

The Boulevard took us over Frankford Creek and the greenery surrounding it, then (surprisingly pretty) rowhouses morphed into suburban shopping plazas and Friends Hospital. Past the hospital was a cemetery, and at that point we merged onto Adams Ave, taking it down to Orthodox Street. Aside from some initial industry, this normal-sized street (thank goodness) took us through a duplex-heavy residential area.

Whoa, rainbow house!

We crossed beneath the El a block away from Arrott Transportation Center, but the J isn’t content with ending there: it has to continue down to Bridesburg! While Frankford Ave had lots of retail under the El, it was residential on the other side of it, with rowhouses and some vacant land. The intersection with Torresdale Ave had a few more businesses, and vacant land between houses was all but eradicated once we crossed the Northeast Corridor. Industry was clustered around I-95, which we went under, and it was just a few more residential blocks until the end of the line at Orthodox and Richmond.

Great transit access to “Kitchen World”!

Route: J (Chelten-Wissahickon to Richmond-Orthodox)

Ridership: Given how infrequent it is, the J’s ridership isn’t the worst thing ever? 2,811 riders per weekday seems okay…it’s 45 minutes from end to end, and it averages around 33 people per trip. Yeah, that’s not so bad! Also peak ridership has around the same productivity as off-peak ridership, so maybe the infrequent midday service is justified?

Pros: This is one of those cases where I feel like the only pro I can give is a participation trophy: it’s nice that the J operates where it does. I’m glad we have a route running along Lindley Ave.

Cons: So firstly, because the streets in this part of North Philadelphia are a bit crazy, the J can’t be a straight crosstown. It has to traverse the odd segment on Belfield Ave plus the required deviation to Fisher Ave to get anywhere. The Bridesburg section feels kinda redundant to the 25 from Frankford, too – I’m not as down on this, though, since there’s probably not enough space at Arrott to have another route lay over. Of course, we also have to tackle the frequency: while the (kinda) every 20 minutes at rush hour is decent and the (sorta) every 30 minutes midday seems to work okay, the hourly night and weekend schedule is atrocious!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Definitely Germantown, but also Wister Woods Park (the one Belfield Ave passes through) seems like a cool secluded place next to La Salle University.

Final Verdict: 4/10
You know, throughout my childhood I played soccer, a sport I had very little actual skill in. One time, someone kicked the ball toward our side of the field. I, a defender, likely not paying attention at the time, inadvertently knocked the ball back toward the other side because it happened to hit me in the stomach. “Way to be there, Miles!” the coach yelled from the sideline, which was probably the most accurate compliment that could’ve been given to the situation. So I feel the J deserves the same hapless praise: Way to be there, J!

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

BRTA: 21X (Pittsfield/Great Barrington)

Yes, this is the end of our BRTA adventures for now. I know there are two night routes I still have to do, but they’re near-impossible unless I can find a place to stay out there, so for now, we’re gonna be taking the 21X back out into the hinterlands to finish our journeys in Western MA!

A minibus to take us back to Great Barrington.

The 21X serves two roles: it provides a quick way for buses on the regular 21 to return to the garage in Pittsfield, and it also runs a few rush hour trips for commuters. Our trip, the only one in the latter category that runs in the evening, started right in downtown Pittsfield, heading down the main drag with exactly zero other people on board. North Street became South Street, fittingly, and the road quickly morphed its way into suburbia.

Our last time seeing this downtown common in Pittsfield!

A golf course marked our transition from suburbia to woods, at least for a stretch; further down the road, there’s a random assortment of suburban businesses to contend with. Luckily, unlike the local route that runs along here, the 2, we didn’t have to deviate into any of them! Instead, the surroundings got a lot more forested as we travelled through Lenox, but a few housing developments, restaurants, and hotels popped out of the trees on occasion.

Aha! Trees!

It’s at this point that the route reaches a split: some trips serve Lenox Center, and others don’t. Despite taking a route that’s about as direct as the 2 (minus the 2’s relatively short deviations), the 21X is apparently 13 minutes faster than its local cousin. At any rate, we merged onto Main Street to serve beautiful downtown Lenox and the charming houses and inns around it, but we split off from the 2 by turning onto Kemble Street.

An open field.

Aside from a few Lenox cultural attractions (some theatres, some fancy hotels, a mansion), this street was woods, and those trees continued when we turned onto the much wider Route 7. There was, however, a nice break for a bit where got some lovely open fields, punctuated by evenly-spaced trees set up along the road. Some big bucolic houses were spread around as we re-entered the forest, crossing under I-90 without an interchange.

Stockbridge!

The transition from nothingness to Stockbridge Center was abrupt. It pretty much happened right when we merged into Main Street, which was lined with houses and eventually retail housed in charming buildings. There was a connection to the 21 here, but we left that route again by continuing on Route 7, which made a left turn onto South Street. Once again the transition between civilization and not-civilization was quick, and there were some lovely views as we blasted our way through the countryside and woods. Also, in the middle of all of that was a trio of schools all together: high, middle, and elementary.

Oooh, love it!

We merged back with the 21 eventually, with just a little more rural running to go before the “sprawl”, as it were, surrounding Great Barrington Center. The road was lined with businesses with parking lots, houses, and hotels, but we didn’t truly enter Great Barrington’s downtown until we turned onto Main Street. South of the charming center, a similar type of “sprawl” from the north end of town led us to the Great Barrington Big Y, where we both started this journey in the morning and were ending it now.

Thanks for a great day, BRTA!

BRTA Route: 21X (Pittsfield/Great Barrington)

Ridership: Alright, given the number of trips this thing has on a daily basis, combined with the number of people on my ride (0), I’m pleasantly surprised with the route’s daily ridership: around 26 people! I mean, given that the route only has seven trips per day, with at least four of those being deadheads that probably wouldn’t get a lot of people, that’s not an awful amount per trip! Well, for a rural system, anyway.

Pros: Great Barrington definitely needs a direct connection to Pittsfield, and this is the only route on the system that does it. It’s fast and it’s pretty straight, what more do you need?

Cons: Well, frequency would be nice. This thing only runs a few times a day, and the deadhead trips seem like they’re too early or too late to be particularly useful. So you’re stuck with the rush hour ones that are primarily geared toward Pittsfield commuters. I am wondering if my trip was a fluke, since zero people on an evening rush trip seems, uhh, weird!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Well, this is another good opportunity to say that all the major towns in Berkshire County south of Pittsfield are awesome! This route serves Lenox, Stockbridge, and Great Barrington, and their town centers are all fantastic.

Final Verdict: 4/10
This is a tough one to gauge. I mean, I get the appeal of running the lengthy 2-to-21 combo all day rather than doing a direct trip – the former is almost certainly more productive and it serves more. But on the other hand, could increasing service on the 21X drive more demand between Great Barrington and Pittsfield? I would imagine it could!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Germantown

The Chestnut Hill East Line takes a pretty odd route through Northwest Philly – it’s generally straight, except for what is essentially a deviation where the track goes out of the way from the path you would expect it to take. Of course, it’s to serve Germantown, a super major, densely populated neighborhood! So…now we have to figure out why a station in such an urban area is one of the least-used on the system.

Why are the only cars in this lot parked at the furthest spaces from the staton? Something’s fishy…

It’s interesting that such an urban station provides parking, and I wonder if the perpetual emptiness of its lots suggest that they may not be needed. I was here on a Saturday, but even the “availability” section of the Germantown station page suggests that 15 out of the station’s 25 spaces are available on any given weekday (at least, that’s what I’ve always assumed that means, but it’s so vague). Also, there are more than 25 spaces here. Like, I didn’t count them all, but even in the photo above, you can see that these spaces are clearly numbered “28” and “29”! I think SEPTA just forgot that there’s a secondary lot on the south side of the station. Of course, they also care so little about the lots here that parking is free.

The station’s grand entrance. Great newspaper box placement there.

But if you’re, like, a normal person who commutes to an urban neighborhood station without using a car, there are several options for you, too! As far as direct bus connections go, the 26, J, and K all share a stop (just signs, no benches or shelter) right near the station, but it’s also a short walk to the 23 and 65. Meanwhile, if you’re on a bike, SEPTA claims there’s room for eight of ’em. But, uhh, I only found two bike racks, and one of them had a newspaper box slapped in front of it. So, like, room for three bikes, or four if you have a really skinny one…

Up on the platform.

Oof, okay, not much to talk about once we’re up here, is there? Like every Chestnut Hill East station, this one isn’t wheelchair accessible, so you can only get up with stairs (while a decently un-dingy tunnel lets you cross beneath the platforms). Credit where credit is due, the cracking platform is entirely sheltered, but its coverage isn’t great. Also credit where credit is due, the inbound side gets one whole bench, so I guess that’s nice. And that’s about all the partial credit I’ll be giving to a station that otherwise deserves a failing grade…

Poor sign.

Station: Germantown

Ridership: So why is this urban Regional Rail station the 18th-least used on the system, with just 102 boardings per day? Well, probably because “urban” and “Regional Rail” are, at least in Philadelphia, oxymorons. Imagine if the Chestnut Hill East Line ran more often than kind-of-hourly, and if it cost less than 6 bucks to go the less than 6 miles to Center City from here. Maybe then Germantown would actually, you know, get ridership.

Pros: Well, hey, I had my two “credit where credit is due” moments – the whole platform is sheltered, and the inbound side has one singular bench. Also, I guess it’s nice that there’s parking, and the tunnel is, uhhh, not that dingy. Okay, but for a genuine good thing: the station is in a good location. It’s really close to the commercial center of Germantown.

Cons: I could take two angles here. The first is that the station is abysmal: it has way too much parking for a stop in an urban area, and a lower-income one at that, while the platforms are incredibly barebones and inaccessible. Cracking paint and the newspaper box shoved in front of a bike rack are just further indications of the level of caringness put into this stop. But then I could also argue that all of these things are okay because the ridership is so low – but the ridership is so low because Regional Rail is such an unhelpful service for Germantown residents. A frequent rail link to Germantown would be amazing, but as it stands, the cheap and frequent bus is a far more convenient service, even if it is much slower.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There’s a huge variety of businesses at and around the nearby intersection of Germantown and Chelten Aves, from an espresso bar to a jazz club to – whoa! – a combined cafe and bookstore! Most of Germantown’s historical houses are a little further away, but they’re absolutely accessible from here.

Final Verdict: 3/10
Hahaha, yeah, this is a really bad station. It’s a positive feedback loop, though: the low ridership, a result of the structure and target ridership for Regional Rail, causes SEPTA to care about the station less. And the neglect (i.e. the station’s general awfulness) certainly can’t help to increase ridership or keep existing levels stable. My final say on the matter is that the Chestnut Hill East line is short enough and urban enough to be its own rapid transit line. Hmmm…

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

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BRTA: 12/14 (Southeast Loop)

Unlike the rather rural 5, the BRTA has deemed that the 12/14, a loop serving the southeast area of Pittsfield, is worthy of bidirectional service! Wow, people, this is huge: you can go both ways around this loop. I’m sure we’re dealing with a ridership powerhouse here!

…or at least, as powerhousey as you can get with a minibus.

We started off by heading south down North Street (heh) and then east down East Street (ah). While that main intersection featured some tall buildings and a common, things quickly got suburban on East Street. I mean, how can something as cool-sounding as the “Berkshire Athenaeum” just be a bland brick building with a parking lot? Boring! At least Pittsfield High School had much better architecture.

See, that’s very nice.

We swung onto Elm Street, which crossed the East Branch Housatonic River and became home to lots of suburban businesses and houses. It got more residential the further we went, but for Pittsfield standards, these neighborhoods were fairly dense! Elm Street was pretty much all houses for the entire rest of its length, and besides a bit of retail immediately after we turned left onto Williams Street, that was houses too.

Hi, welcome to houses.

Williams Street curved left to become Dalton Division Road, right alongside an organic supermarket. This street was more woodsy, but houses were common enough, and among them was the entrance to a whole development of them. Just as things start to get more industrial, the route now supposedly features a deviation to “Federico Drive”, a little office complex; however, it didn’t exist back when I rode the route, so we had to sit tight until the next deviation a minute later into a different industrial park.

The BRTA garage!

Yes, this deviation served the buildings along “Downing Industrial Parkway”, which included the BRTA garage! Whoa! Upon our return to the main road, the industry shifted over to the Pittsfield mall complex that’s served by a ton of routes. This area got a double-deviation: first we served Walmart (part of the “Berkshire Crossing” complex), then we headed over to the Allendale Shopping Center.

The Allendale Shopping Center is clearly a location of rollickingly good fun.

After our deviations, we headed down Merrill Road, passing a few final malls before entering another industrial area. Using Junction Road to cross some train tracks, we pulled onto East Street, passing more industrial buildings and a few restaurants. We then took a left onto Newell Street, a mostly residential road with a few businesses here and there. This merged its way onto Elm Street, and from there, it was back to the Intermodal Center the same way we had left it.

In the midst of an industrial area.

BRTA Route: 12/14 (Southeast Loop)

Ridership: Okay, the “powerhouse” line actually wasn’t a joke: if you consider the 12 and 14 to be one route, which they essentially are, they’re the third-busiest on the system. They get about 229 riders per day on weekdays, while on Saturdays when only the 12 runs, it’s about 120 people.

Pros: Bidirectional loop! I approve. It’s set up perfectly too: because the mall area is at about the halfway point of the loop, the hourly 12 and 14 combine for half-hourly service from both the Intermodal Center and the mall area! On Saturdays only the 12 runs, but it’s still hourly, which isn’t bad. Even besides the malls, these routes do serve some relatively dense residential areas.

Cons: A few of the deviations seem excessive, especially Federico Drive, which is apparently low-ridership enough to be “request only” on the 14. Great. I also find it odd that only the 12 serves Newell Street, while the 14 travels straight down East Street – why the split? They’re both two-way streets!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Oh hey, an escape room in the middle of an industrial park! Neat!

Final Verdict: 7/10
Yeah, you know what, these are decent! They get the highest ridership of the Pittsfield local routes, and for good reason: they’re frequent and they serve dense areas. They certainly have quirks, and these would be great candidates for Sunday service if that was ever considered, but if you’re in the southeastern part of Pittsfield, you’ve got yourself a decent lil’ bus route! Or two.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

65 (Germantown-Chelten to 69th Street Transportation Center)

The 65 is a fascinating route. A crosstown along the often suburban-feeling City (Line) Ave, it runs surprisingly frequently and ends up attracting a decent amount of ridership! Well, I say it’s time for a trip along the literal outskirts of Philly to see what the fuss is all about.

A 65 in the 30 berth, alongside a bus on…some other route, maybe?

We did the slog from the 69th Street North Terminal through the various SEPTA yards up to Cardington Road. This led us through the big golf course north of the terminal, and we didn’t hit actual civilization until we got onto Landsdowne Ave and ended up amongst the rowhouses of Overbrook Park. We turned onto 66th Street, which was also residential, with little convenience stores and the like on street corners.

Hey look, it’s exactly what I described!

We eventually made a right onto Malvern Ave, whose rowhouse constructions felt newer – this was a neighborhood where there were back alleys where people could park their cars. But that abruptly ended at the beautiful campus for the Overbrook School for the Blind. And past there, the houses were much bigger and more spread out, and the neighborhood was much leafier. We passed the 63rd-Malvern loop before making our way onto 63rd Street.

The Overbrook School for the Blind seriously has an awesome building!

Aside from a short stretch of houses, 63rd Street was mostly retail, especially around Overbrook Station. Speaking of Overbrook Station, we crossed over both it and the Main Line when we turned onto City (Line) Ave, which skirts the border between Philadelphia and the neighboring townships. It was more leafy houses along here for a while, up until we entered the still-leafy-but-at-least-a-little-built-up Saint Joseph’s University campus.

Well…it’d be leafier if I didn’t ride this route in the winter…

Around 54th Street, we entered the suburban retail portion of City (Line) Ave. For the next while, lots of businesses with parking lots (either in front or in back) lined the road, including as we travelled over the Cynwyd Line at Bala Station. An apartment building (“Mansion at Bala”, yeesh) and a shopping plaza appeared after the station, plus Belmont Reservoir.

Oh, uh, hello.

The Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine spurred on a few healthcare related buildings. We also passed that weird standalone Saks Fifth Avenue, plus the competing NBC/ABC buildings on opposite sides of the street (one in Philadelphia, one in Bala Cynwyd!). From there, it was over the Schuylkill River back into Philadelphia proper, and after navigating the highway ramps on the other side of the bridge, we stopped outside of the Wissahickon Transportation Center.

Some hilly rowhouses past Wissahickon.

We continued onto Ridge Ave from Wissahickon, climbing into the hills and going by the rowhouses that are packed in as densely as they can be given the topography. As we got further up, though, the houses got a bit less dense, turning into duplexes, along with a few businesses with parking lots. And when we turned onto Walnut Lane, the semidetached houses got even further apart, eventually breaking away completely into a golf club. We then crossed Wissahickon Creek and the various nature trails around it.

The roundabout on the other side of the creek.

The neighborhood across the creek is called Blue Bell Hill, and there were a ton of woods around here as we ran past a few houses but mostly just a bunch of parkland. A big apartment building showed up once we hit the Chestnut Hill West Line, though – this was near Tulpehocken Station. We were very much in civilization after that, albeit in the form of giant houses with gorgeous architecture.

A bit of a denser section.

Things suddenly got way denser when we turned onto Germantown Ave. The cobblestoned main corridor of Germantown, there were lots of rowhouses and businesses along here. The intersection of Germantown and Chelten is the commercial apex of the neighborhood, and here the buildings were tall and the streets were bustling. We turned onto Chelten Ave, reaching the end of the route…four minutes early! That’s a little concerning.

Already signed to head back.

Route: 65 (Germantown-Chelten to 69th Street Transportation Center)

Ridership: As I mentioned, the 65 gets great ridership! For a route that spends a lot of time in suburban areas, 7,695 people per day is great, slotting the 65 as the 27th-busiest on the system. My ride only got 20 people, but other buses heading the other way were full-seated load, which is exactly what you want! Ridership tends to be at consistent levels throughout the whole route, reinforcing the fact that most people use the 65 to travel short distances.

Pros: This is an unexpectedly important element in Philadelphia’s grid of buses! It’s so awesome to see a rather suburban route like this get the ridership that it does! That generally carries over into the schedule, too: it’s every 8-10 minutes at rush hour, every 15 minutes on Saturdays, and every 20 minutes on Sundays. Plus, aside from a few early morning short-turns and some late-evening trips that depart from 69th Street’s South Terminal instead of its North Terminal, this thing is one service pattern and one service pattern only.

Cons: You’ll notice I didn’t put weekdays on my list of frequencies. Yeah, that’s because oddly, weekday service is less frequent than on Saturdays – it’s every 18 minutes! And from what I can tell based on a cursory glance at the schedule, they seem to have fewer buses running on weekday middays than on Saturdays, six instead of seven. Now, it could be that Saturday ridership is just higher (which would be a little odd in itself), but it seems to me that it would be a worthy investment to bring those weekday headways down to every 15 minutes! Also, I’m a little concerned that my bus arrived Germantown four minutes early – were we early during other sections of the ride, too??

Nearby and Noteworthy: City Line Ave has never been the most attractive destination to me – it just feels like suburban sprawl. But Wissahickon and Germantown? Heck yeah! If you’re coming from West Philly, the 65 may just be the way to go!

Final Verdict: 6/10
I am really heavily conflicted here. I want to give this thing a 7, I really do, but…every 18 minutes? It’s such an awkward frequency! I commend the route for its weekend service being as good as it is (better than services that run more often than this one on weekdays!), but weekdays are still when most people are travelling (at least most likely – maybe Saturdays really are much busier). The route creates a really valuable connection along the outskirts of West Philadelphia, but because of that, shouldn’t it have a better weekday schedule?

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates