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

BRTA: 5 (Pittsfield/Lanesboro)

I was hoping that the whole Corona quarantine rendering me a housebound worm would at least spur me to write more (a “productive worm”), but it seems like it’s instead encouraging me to mindlessly watch a bunch of YouTube videos (a “worm worm”). So, uh, bear with me as I force myself to actually use my brain for something other than deciding which pretzel I should eat next. Hey, at least the quarantine means I can get through this crazy backlog without adding more to it – and it’s so far behind that when I rode “the 5“, it was still two separate routes!

Looks reasonable enough. But there’s more than meets the eye at play here…

Yes, so there used to be a route 5 and a route 13. Probably due to low ridership on both, the BRTA decided to combine them into a one-way loop. Sure, I could shelf this review until I get the chance to ride the loop again, but Pittsfield is such a pain to get to, plus the loop route incorporates very few actual new roads (only about 650 feet of unique running!). So with that in mind, we’ll start with the original 5, which was the eastern half of the current loop.

A dead-end, badly-paved street.

We went up North Street from the Intermodal Center, running through downtown Pittsfield and its outer, more suburban frontiers. Merging onto Wahconah Street, we passed the backside of the Berkshire Medical Center and then some more businesses, plus Wahconah Park, a small baseball stadium. There were lots of houses here too, including a few apartment complexes as we got further up Wahconah.

About to make a turn.

Wahconah became woodsy for a bit, but an industrial park came just before we merged onto North Street (again). This too was industrial, but it had a little bit of everything: businesses and houses showed up in spades, too. It leaned more heavily toward those latter two as we came right up alongside Pontoosuc Lake, entering Lanesboro in the process.

I was sitting on the wrong side for lake photos on the way up, so here’s one from the trip back!

Lots of lake-oriented establishments cropped up, including several hotels, a mini-golf course, and a boat rental place. A section of forest separated this collection of civilization with Lanesboro Center itself, which was little more than some denser, historical-looking houses and some municipal buildings. The bus turned around at a Mobil gas station.

More lake! Don’t ya like lakes?

So at this point, modern route 5 buses would turn around and traverse the side of the lake again. Meanwhile, the former route 13 terminated on the south side of the lake, mere hundreds of feet away from the 5; when turning the two into a loop, it took little more than a right turn onto Hancock Road to get to the 13 portion of the trip! So for our summer 2018 journey (yup, let that sink in), we shall now travel there, for an inbound trip on the “13”.

Abandoned factory with boats in front of it? Intriguing…

Hancock Road featured a bunch of houses. And then we turned onto Highland Ave, which also featured a bunch of houses. Things finally switched up when we intersected with Pecks Road: there, we passed some businesses, an abandoned factory, and a trailer park. The street was now called Valentine Road as it ran through some forest, but we were back amongst houses once we turned onto Lakeway Drive. Several turns on the small roads of this neighborhood later, we arrived back at the Intermodal Center.

The bus again, this time much blurrier!

BRTA Route: 5 (Pittsfield/Lanesboro)

Ridership: The most recent ridership I have splits the 5 and 13 up into separate routes: at that point, the 5 got about 82 riders per weekday and 30 per Saturday, while the 13 got 35 riders per weekday and 14 per Saturday! Okay, yeah, I see why they combined these – as a single unit, they would rank in the upper echelon of local Pittsfield routes, assuming their ridership levels are similar.

Pros: Honestly, if I had actually gotten this review done on time back when I rode it, I would’ve suggested to make it a loop anyway. Soooooo…thanks for making it happen, BRTA! Yeah, the 13 especially got such low ridership that it didn’t make a lot of sense to run on its own, but it does still serve some sizable residential neighborhoods. The route has the standard Pittsfield BRTA timetable: every hour on weekdays, and every two hours on Saturdays.

Cons: All of the cons associated with running a one-way loop: if you want to get to one side of it, you’re gonna be in for a long trip. There’s also a questionable by-request deviation. Lanesboro Elementary makes sense and can be reasonably done within the layover time, but “Mount Greylock Turnaround”? My best guess for what that might be is far enough away to instantly make the bus late if someone requests it! I appreciate the BRTA trying to help out transit-oriented mountain climbers, but that seems pretty volatile…

Nearby and Noteworthy: Pontoosuc Lake certainly seems to be a big attraction! That seems to mostly be limited to boat-related stuff, though – if you want to swim, the western side of the loop goes within about a ten-minute walk from a beach on Onoto Lake!

Final Verdict: 6/10
A one-way loop isn’t pretty, but it’s the most cost-effective way to serve these areas. Neither of the previous routes were getting extraordinary ridership, so combining them allows for one bus to be more productive. It does mean you end up with the classic one-way loop pitfalls, but they’re pretty much unavoidable.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Haverford

This station has an almost…enigmatic feel to it. When you’re inside it, it’s like being inside this mysterious place that appeared out of nowhere and hasn’t been changed in years. Such is the nature of the Haverford Regional Rail station.

One of the station’s parking lots. This, uh, isn’t the enigmatic part.

Haverford Station is located right in the community’s small downtown, but there still manages to be some parking slotted in around the station building and between some houses and the tracks. It adds up to 169 spaces (80 $1 daily ones and 89 $25/month permit ones). Aside from that, three bike racks are provided next to the station building, while shelterless bus stops on Lancaster Ave provide connections to the 105 and 106 buses to 69th Street.

Whoa…

Ah, but now we enter the station and the enigma of it becomes clearer! This place is just…bizarre. The way the walls are molded and painted feels like you’re in a house, but the way everything’s cracking and falling apart turns it into a haunted house. A dank, moist tunnel with exposed brick beneath the peeling paint takes you underneath the tracks, where you’ll find a painting…of a…stormy arch desert (?)…just…on the wall. It’s eerie in the neatest way possible. Oh, also, there was an antique furniture store accessible from down here (again, bizarre), but it seems to have shut its doors for good.

Nice parking job, Range Rover.

Coming out of the tunnel on the outbound side, the outside wall of the building has some beautiful little details and a bit of ivy growing. The inbound building is okay, but this outbound one is truly a work of art. We’ve got some more parking lots on this side, again both outside the building and across the street. It’s worth noting that in neither case are crosswalks provided to get across…it’s jaywalking time.

On the platform.

Once you’re on the platform itself, it feels like any other Main Line station. Still, it is very nice: most of it is sheltered, and the outbound side provides a bench right alongside the beautiful building exterior. Nifty staircases lead from the platform directly to the lots across the street from the buildings.

The inbound waiting room.

The inbound side doesn’t have any benches, though, probably because the waiting room is on this side. Given how well-designed the rest of the station is, though, it’s a shame that this waiting room is just a long, narrow bench and a ticket office in what feels like a 1950s office lobby. It’s only open from 6 AM to 11 AM on weekdays only, too, so most of the time, you’re out of luck when it comes to seating.

A train to Thorndale coming in.

Station: Haverford

Ridership: This one gets pretty standard Regional Rail ridership with 404 boardings per day, but given that it’s sandwiched between the powerhouses of Bryn Mawr and Ardmore, I’d say that’s pretty good! Certainly a large portion of the ridership here is heading for the station’s namesake school, but the parking lots regularly filling up indicates that plenty of people commute from here to Philly, too.

Pros: Look, the fact that the paint in that hallway is chipping is ostensibly not a good thing, but I don’t want it to change. I’m not a believer in ghosts or anything like that, but the hallway here just has a certain aura that I am really drawn to. The mysterious painting helps a lot. Uhhh, but okay, other than that, we’ve got some parking (nice for a downtown station), a good location, and mostly sheltered platforms.

Cons: Argh, it’s not accessible. Darn it. And the lack of benches on the inbound side is rough, especially when this station probably does get a bunch of off-peak ridership from college students.

Nearby and Noteworthy: A bookstore dedicated exclusive to children’s books? YES! AMAZING!

Final Verdict: 6/10
Probably the highest score I can give to a station that’s not wheelchair accessible. And look, I know that when this station gets upgraded to be accessible however many years down the line, it’s probably gonna lose a lot of the aspects that give it such a cool energy. It’ll certainly be a necessary upgrade, but I’m also gonna appreciate what we have now, because this station really is something special.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
I’m back in Boston due to Penn kicking us out due to coronavirus! It shouldn’t affect the stuff that gets posted (boy, is my SEPTA backlog long), but just figured I’d let you all know.

Guide to the MBTA’s Spring 2020 Service Changes

Thanks for releasing your service changes during midterm season, MBTA! They put these out two Saturdays ago (they go into effect March 15th) and I’m only just getting to them now. And because we’re not in Better Bus season anymore, I get the feeling this might be a lot of fluff…

SL1: And whaddaya know, we start the list off with a pretty inconsequential change. Headways are being adjusted, sometimes longer and sometimes shorter, but never more than two minutes.

SL2: Aside from some minor headway adjustments, it looks like we’re bringing back the weird AM/PM termini on the Design Center loop. I mean, I guess it makes sense for commuters, but it sure is explained terribly on the schedule…

SL3: Headway adjustments, although they’re all positive this time! Particularly noteworthy is the shift from “every 15 minutes or less” in the inbound direction on weekday afternoons to “every 12 minutes”! Although “every 15 minutes or less” could’ve just meant “Yeah, there’s one 15-minute gap and the rest is every 12”. Who knows? Also, the last inbound trip on weekdays is eliminated.

1: Probably the one truly major change we’re gonna get this rating! The 1 will finally stop doing the whole loop around Harvard Yard, instead using Dunster Street to immediately travel inbound. This leads to some minor headway changes, although the real gains from this will hopefully be in reliability. Please. Anything helps.

4: Evening departures from Tide Street will be at cleaner times.

8: Departure time changes throughout the day, plus the elimination of an outbound trip near the end of the morning rush.

15: The 3:15 inbound weekday trip from Kane Square will now leave a minute earlier from Saint Peters Square.

16: A bunch of trip time changes.

17: Ditto.

18: Trip time changes throughout the day, but they did make inbound buses near the end of service slightly more frequent!

19: Yup, trip time changes.

27: A school trip in the morning will leave slightly earlier.

34: A morning school trip will leave later.

39: Morning rush frequencies will be decreased by about a minute, but weekday afternoons make up for it: service goes from every 15 minutes to every 12!

42: Three trips are shifted by a few minutes.

47: Some trip time changes for inbound midmorning trips on weekdays.

55: Welpppp, say goodbye to another clockface route. The 55’s clean hourly midday headway changes into every 65 minutes! Rush hours see lowered frequencies too.

57: Trip time changes for some outbound night trips on weekdays. Also, the 193 (I cannot believe they called it that on the schedule change list – get some darn continuity with your early morning trips, MBTA!) is shifting by a few minutes on weekdays.

60: No actual changes, but the Mall at Chestnut Hill seems to have been renamed to the Shops at Chestnut Hill. Unfortunately, they forgot to update one of the timepoints (weekday outbound) with that information…

61/70: Again, no actual changes, but the T has now labelled on the schedule which trips interline between the two routes! THANK YOU!

64: Oh! Hang on, we actually have kind of a substantial one? Instead of using Life Street to return from its deviation to the Boston Landing area, it’s gonna use Market Street instead. But maybe update the street labels on the map to not highlight Life Street as if the route takes it? Also I worry how much slower that routing will be at rush hour. Tell me again why this thing deviates a block, anyway?

65: Some trip time changes, most notably resulting in a lost outbound trip in the morning rush.

91: So why does the Saturday night service have to go from being every hour to every whenever-it-wants? Also, the route now has an ominous note about how the Washington Street bridge diversion will add additional travel time and essentially render the regular schedule null.

92: A Saturday night trip is being shifted a minute earlier. A MINUTE!

93: Trip time shifts for outbound morning rush service, plus Saturday night service goes from hourly to wheneverly! Boy, I sure love losing all this clockface…

94: The bad: the Saturday headways are all over the place now. The good: they’re more frequent! While the old schedule was a clean every 50 minutes, this new one is anywhere from every 35 to every 50.

95: A few school trips are shifted or removed on weekdays, while Saturday service has some trip time changes to make it just a little bit more insane than it already was.

96: A weird outbound trip on weekdays is being eliminated, and the Saturday service sees the same service increases as the 94.

97: Time shifts on outbound Saturday afternoon service.

99: “Weekday, Saturday, and Sunday schedule changes in the late evening.” Uhh…no, these changes are happening at all times. Weekday times get shifted, Saturday service gets improved from every 50 minutes to every 40 (although with some weird, inconsistent departure times from Wellington), and Sunday service goes from every 60 minutes to every 70. So…with the inconsequential weekday changes, the good Saturday changes, and the bad Sunday changes, I guess this balances out to net neutral?

100: Oh come on, the Saturday night schedule goes from every hour to every 62 minutes? Badddd…

101: A few time shifts on weekdays and on the last trip on Saturday nights.

104: Aghghhhh, flipping between the old and new schedules is sensory overload! And the sad part is that not much seems to be changing – they really seem to have just switched all the times without changing the headways too much (although Saturday nights lose some service).

105: Literally no change, despite the fact that the online page thinks there’s one.

106: Yikes, they did this one dirty. Weekdays just see time shifts, but Saturdays go from a beautiful half-hourly schedule to an ugly 40-minute schedule, while Sundays go from hourly to every 70 minutes.

108: Similar boat. Time shifts on weekdays (although with a few added morning rush trips, that’s nice), while Saturdays go from every 30 minutes to every 40 and Sundays go from every 60 to every 70.

109: Similar to the 104, a lot of time shifts that don’t seem to affect headway too much.

110: Time shifts on weekdays, but hey, Saturday evening service goes from every hour to every 45 minutes!

111: A few select trips are eliminated, leading to some weirdly long gaps in the middle of shorter ones…

112: Time shifts on all days.

120: The terminus was reverted from Jeffries Point back to Maverick, leading to some associated time changes.

132: Oh boy, let’s keep the Saturday schedule at roughly hourly, but give it time changes to make it leave at confusing, random times! Great!

134: Whoa, underrated change right here! Saturday night service goes from every 50 minutes to every 25 and gets extended from Medford Square to Playstead Road! Nicely done, MBTA, nicely done!

170: Time shifts for all four daily trips.

214/216: Yikessssss, huge cuts in late morning rush service. Maybe those trips were underperforming? Hopefully the resources went somewhere good…

225: Oh, perhaps they went towards this? The 225 goes from every 15 minutes at rush hour to around every 10-12! Plus…oh, they’ve added the Quintree Mall short-turn again for a few morning rush trips. Okay, ew, but I guess anything adding more service is good…

325/326: Time shifts galore for these northern suburb express routes!

352: Trips are lost in both rushes, alas.

354: A lot of time shifts, plus some lost peak-direction evening rush trips.

411: Despite what the MBTA tells you, the time shifts here aren’t confined to Saturdays: they happen on weekdays too.

426: The 8:03 AM outbound trip on weekdays will now start at Wonderland 15 minutes earlier instead of Linden Square.

430: Time shifts on weekdays and Saturdays. Also, the MBTA may want to take another look at the 10:20 inbound trip on weekdays: it seems to arrive Malden Center at “10:504”.

505: Time shifts.

556/558: Time shifts, mostly on the 558.

So yeah, not much going on here. I guess we couldn’t have expected much after the big Better Bus changes, but hey, at least we got Dunster Street on the 1, some better night service for the 134, and the 61/70 schedule finally shows which trips are interlined! Small steps, small steps.

K (Ridge-Midvale to Arrott Transportation Center)

The K really is an odd duck in the SEPTA canon. Forming almost an upside-down U, this route is a crosstown across North Philadelphia that completely overshoots the Broad Street Line, running through some of the northernmost reaches of the city. Despite that, it manages to get pretty darn busy! This requires further investigation…

Laying over on River Road.

The K even starts weirdly: buses begin at the intersection of River Road and Midvale Ave in East Falls, a place where no other route starts. There was no one else on the bus as we took a right onto Midvale, running through East Falls’s small downtown before making our way up a twisty hill with rowhouses lining the road. A few more businesses were clustered around East Falls Station, then the road got incredibly leafy and lined with beautiful houses.

Making a turn.

We had a brief one-block foray on Fox Street in order to get to Queen Lane, which aside from more houses, took us past the Drexel University College of Medicine. As we hit Queen Lane Station, the neighborhood finally started to densify and our first passengers started getting on. The street was now lined with denser rowhouses and people were getting on at a steady clip.

Some of those rowhouses.

Some semi-detached houses returned when we took a left onto Wayne Ave, though, but a giant apartment tower did serve to offset that a bit. Some suburban businesses with parking lots showed up as we turned onto Chelten Ave, but they quickly morphed into a more constant affair: retail lined the road, culminating in some multistory buildings at the major intersection with Germantown Ave. Businesses continued from there in various forms as we passed Germantown Station, eventually supplemented by more semi-detached houses and eventually pure rowhouses.

An odd diagonal intersection.

We got more retail at the intersection with Chew Ave, and Chelten Ave got really diverse north of that, with rowhouses, businesses, a few churches, a school, and a park/recreation center. At an intersection surrounding a tiny triangular monument, Chelten Ave suddenly turned 45 degrees to head east; buses heading the other way use it, but we would continue straight on what was now called Wyncote Ave. This street passed some more businesses and houses, with similar scenery as we turned onto the wide 66th Ave.

The intersection where Chelten Ave tears off.

We eventually crossed Broad Street about a mile north of the Broad Street Line’s northernmost station on it, Olney. East of there, it was a very sudden shift to lower-density housing, as the street became lined with big single-family homes and a ton of trees. Some rows returned as we made a right onto 5th Street and passed the Oak Lane Reservoir, then we turned onto Godfrey Ave less than half a mile from Fern Rock Transportation Center as the crow flies (but because of the street system and station layout, a significantly longer distance by walking).

Some of the big ol’ houses from east of Broad Street.

Well, on Godfrey Ave, density was back: rowhouses for days along here! A suburban shopping plaza and a school appeared when we turned onto Front Street, but it quickly became dense houses again, continuing as we took a right onto Champlost Ave. Well, at least until that street curved its way into the woods. This was just a brief jaunt into the small forested area surrounding Tacony Creek, and once we turned onto Adams Ave and crossed it, we were back in civilization.

Crossing the creek.

Civilization, as it turned out, meant a giant factory, a giant shopping plaza, and a giant apartment complex. Sure, there was a brief section of rowhomes after that, but it was back to suburban businesses as we made our way onto everyone’s favorite road, Roosevelt Boulevard. Luckily, this segment on the twelve-lane behemoth was short: we pretty quickly merged onto the dense, residential Foulkrod Street (where the speed limit for buses, according to the signs, is as low as 5 MPH. 5 MPH!!!!). As we approached the El, one final right turn onto Oxford Ave led us to the dropoff at Arrott Transportation Center.

Under the trackless trolley wires at Arrott.

Route: K (Ridge-Midvale to Arrott Transportation Center)

Ridership: Yeah, for a pretty bizarre route, it’s interesting that the K hits the top 30 for ridership: it’s the 26th-busiest on the system, nabbing 8,448 riders per weekday. Even my Sunday trip was decent, with 37 riders over the course of about an hour. It’s noteworthy that the bus was empty from East Falls to Queen Lane, but even so, that part of the route serves as an important connection, and East Falls is the best place to turn the bus around, anyway.

Pros: It’s honestly amazing to me that this strange upside-down U of a route that doesn’t even touch the Broad Street Line can get so much ridership, but I’m so proud of it! Unfortunately, I don’t have a ton to say about the schedule that belongs in this section, but the every 7-10 minute peak headway is nice, as is the roughly every 12-15 minute schedule on weekdays and roughly every 20 minute schedule on Saturdays.

Cons: SEPTA is usually pretty good about keeping consistent headways, so I don’t understand why this route has such weird ones! On weekday midmornings, the range is from every 15-17 minutes, while on Saturdays, it’s every 19-21. The Sunday schedule is roughly half-hourly, which is subpar anyway, but it doesn’t help that it actually ranges from every 29-32 minutes (and it’s even worse at night, ranging from every 30-37 minutes)! The layovers are all over the place, too – on Saturdays, for example, the time the bus spends at Ridge and Midvale ranges from seven minutes to twelve minutes, changing trip by trip. If the layovers could be more standardized, the schedule could probably be more consistent! Also, while I can’t find any data on productivity specifically, the K almost certainly runs more frequently at rush hour than it has to – the load profile shows a few packed midday trips (probably school runs) and late trips (no idea why those are so busy!), but rush hour is not any more crowded than other times. Buses could be taken off the route during those “peak” hours to improve service middays and weekends.

The routing itself has a few odd aspects too. The fact that it splits into two one-way segments around the western portion on 66th Ave makes very little sense to me – all the main roads in that area are two-way and wide enough for buses to pass, so it feels really unnecessary to put the two directions a four minute walk apart. I would opt for having both directions take what the eastbound currently does: Wyncote to 66th, a much simpler trip than the westbound route, which has to do an awkward jog onto Stenton Ave. Speaking of awkward jogs, what’s up with the route’s deviation on Front Street and Champlost Ave just to the west of Tacony Creek? Running it straight down Godfrey would make a lot more sense, especially when the deviation doesn’t serve anything not within a short walk from there, and it’s doubled by the 57 anyway.

Nearby and Noteworthy: East Falls is great, Germantown is great, and there are neat-looking ethnic restaurants (Caribbean, Korean…) along the whole route.

Final Verdict: 5/10
I really have a lot of respect for the K, and I think that positively affected the score. This is such a bizarre, underdog route that clearly serves an important crosstown purpose, and that’s reflected in the ridership. But this has to be one of SEPTA’s craziest single-variant schedules, what with the bizarre headways, and the routing has quirks that make no sense. With some streamlining, the K could be really good, but as it stands, it’s mediocre at best. Or, as some might say: it’s O”K”. HA!

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

BRTA: 15 (West Pittsfield/Lebanon Ave)

The 16 interlines straight into the 15, so I wasn’t able to get a proper shot of the bus! Shoot.

I had to get creative.

We headed out from the ITC onto the highway-like Center Street, passing some suburban businesses before turning onto Housatonic Street, whose retail had smaller parking lots. There were houses along here, too, and relatively dense ones at that. A major stop along the route is “Pittsfield Plaza”, which is now…entirely dedicated to a U-Haul center. Yeah, probably not generating a ton of ridership from that.

Poor Pittsfield Plaza…

We got some forest after the plaza, but a few side streets had houses along them. The street became a bit of a hodgepodge, with residential sections, as well as some businesses, a few hotels, and some industrial buildings – that last one especially as we turned onto Lebanon Ave. We used this mostly house-lined street to loop around and head back to Pittsfield.

A twisty road that eventually leads to a housing development not served by this bus.

BRTA Route: 15 (West Pittsfield/Lebanon Ave)

Ridership: These short Pittsfield-based shuttle routes all seem to get similar levels of ridership, and the 15 fits into that mold nicely, with around 62 passengers per weekday and 15 per Saturday. That equates to around 5 people per round trip on weekdays (which isn’t awful given that the BRTA is rural and the round trip is just half an hour), but mine got a whole 10!

Pros: Standard BRTA stuff: an hourly service on weekdays, a defendable bi-hourly service on Saturdays, and a direct route serving a bunch of houses and a few workplaces.

Cons: Nothing like a by-request deviation to a historical museum! If someone actually takes the BRTA to the request-only stop at Hancock Shaker Village, you have my blessing.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Besides Hancock Shaker Village? Nothing much.

Final Verdict: 5/10
I’d put this in the same boat as the 11, but unlike with that route, the 15 doesn’t really have any anchors that could potentially drive ridership up. Maybe transit vouchers for employees at the few factories near the end of the route, but other than that, it’s really just houses. The downfall of Pittsfield Plaza surely didn’t help matters here.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Girard (BSL)

I reported this to SEPTA, so it isn’t an issue anymore, but the station page for the Girard Broad Street Line station showed a map of the Girard Market Frankford Line station! See, this is why you don’t give your stations the same name, because stuff like this happens! Once this post is done, though, I’ll have reviewed every SEPTA station called Girard. What a milestone.

A screenshot of the error for prosperity.

Girard is one of the most well-served stations on the Broad Street Line, since all three service patterns stop here: locals, expresses, and the Broad-Ridge Spur. This is the southernmost station where everything’s on the same main line, too, so you end up with a few odd, not-publicized connection opportunities. On weekdays, many northbound locals meet up with northbound expresses, while on Saturdays, every Broad-Ridge Spur train is supposed to meet with a local (delays notwithstanding, of course).

On the platform.

But other than the timed meetups here, the platform at Girard is standard BSL express stop fare. While the tracks are full of gunk and the paint on the walls and ceilings is chipping away, the platform itself is pretty clean, with some appealing tilework on the pillars and plenty of places to sit or throw out your trash (although clearly some people still prefer to use the tracks). The staircases have some neat artwork to give a bit of a unique flavor to the station, though.

One of the staircases.

Girard has two mezzanines, but the one on the south side of the intersection is only open from 7:30 AM to 4:00 PM, weekdays only (at all other times, it’s exit-only)! I mean, according to the faint older sign, it was at one point only open from noon to 4:30, so I guess it’s improved since then? The current hours are still bad, though – at least it’s only a matter of crossing the street to get to the other entrance, but people still manage to fare evade here anyway by wrestling open the emergency door (admittedly small sample size: two people I saw while I was here). Clearly it’s gonna happen whether you keep the entrance open or not, so why not just keep it open?

The bad mezzanine. Out of sight is the giant fence blocking anyone from getting in through the faregates.

The other mezzanine is where the elevators go, but annoyingly, they drop you off slightly below ground level, so elevator users have to ascend a few steps or a ramp once they get up here. Again, the classic SEPTA hallmarks are here: a few benches to wait at just inside fare control, a too-small number of faregates and fare machines, and some outdated AT&T signage. The ramps to the elevators have some more of that cool staircase art, though!

The better mezzanine.

One elevator and two sets of stairs lead to street level. Aside from one entrance to the bad mezzanine that’s just a staircase in the ground (which frankly makes sense – they shouldn’t be advertising that thing given its opening hours), Girard’s entrances have a nice aesthetic to them. It’s not unique to this station, but I still like the way the shelters feel like they’re bursting out of the ground.

One of the entrances.

The connections here include the 4 and 16, because of course they do, but these subway-paralleling routes actually get shelters in both directions! There’s also a connection to the 15, which in the westbound direction gets a proper median stop, while in the eastbound direction it’s just a standard roadside stop…with no shelter. C’mon, the 4 and 16 get one, but not the far busier 15? Boo! Not that the median stop is any better when it comes to putting a roof over people’s heads, of course.

A BSL train heading south.
Aw…RIP.

Station: Girard (BSL)

Ridership: This is one of three stations on the Broad Street Line that gets the max number of trips every day (596!), but it’s by far the least-used of the three. Just over 4,000 riders per day is decent enough ridership, although once you factor in how many trips a day it gets, it averages out to under 7 boardings per train. I guess local-to-express transfers might throw in a few extra riders here, but generally this is not a super busy stop.

Pros: Aside from your standard pros, like a decently clean platform, nice entrances, and wheelchair accessibility, Girard stands out with its neat staircase art.

Cons: The entrance on the south side of the station being closed evenings and weekends is the big one for me, especially when people still seem to fare evade in there anyway – presumably that’s the reason they keep it closed, but it doesn’t seem to be helping much, so I say just leave it open sans cashier. Other problems are smaller, like the dirty tracks, the sunken elevators, and the lack of a shelter for the westbound 15. Also, it would probably make more sense for this to be a local-only stop and for Cecil B. Moore to get express service, but we’re long past the point where that kind of infrastructural change can be made…

Nearby and Noteworthy: Lots of fast food chains surround this one intersection: take your pick from McDonald’s, Checkers, or KFC! Or if you’re looking for a real place to go, this is the closest stop to The Met Philadelphia.

Final Verdict: 6/10
For all intents and purposes, this is a fine station. It’s accessible, it gets a ton of service, and it’s in a sensible location – what more could you want? Aside from that entrance being open more, the elevators being raised a little bit, and the express stops making more sense, that is. 6/10 seems about right.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

BRTA: 16 (Allendale Shopping Plaza/Crane Ave)

Yikes, Crane Ave is the main street on the 16, and it offers pretty much nothing transit-oriented aside from one apartment complex. That’s the breaks when you’re running a system as rural as the BRTA, I guess…

Minibus time!

The initial section on North Street was urban, though, since we were right downtown – that benefit was dampered, though, by the fact that there are three other routes that go this way. The 16 is the only one that actually deviates into the Berkshire Medical Center, probably because it gets the least ridership out of any of the buses on this trunk, so the deviation inconveniences the smallest amount of people. It was north of the hospital that we broke free from the other routes, running alone on Route 7 past a bunch of leafy houses and the giant Springside Park.

A middle school within Springside Park.

We turned onto Crane Ave, the route’s main street, but a dense residential neighborhood lasted just a few blocks before devolving into spread-out houses with no side streets. Oh, and two golf courses. Across the street from each other. The small Oak Hill Apartments complex was pretty much the only thing along here that could conceivably justify sending a bus this way. Crane Ave eventually led us to the mall complex in northeastern Pittsfield (served by many other routes), and a deviation into the Allendale Shopping Center ended the trip.

The scenery on Crane Ave.

BRTA Route: 16 (Allendale Shopping Plaza/Crane Ave)

Ridership: Among the lowest on the system, getting about 57 riders per weekday and a mere 19 per Saturday. The full trip takes just 15 minutes, though, so that slightly offsets the incredibly low passenger numbers.

Pros: This route is verrrrryyyyyyy political. Serve an entire street just to get one apartment building? Alright, fine! Granted, these routes serve a coverage purpose and very hard to get rid of, and the 16 provides a decent hourly weekday service to the places it goes.

Cons: Five trips every two hours on Saturdays is sad, but what are you going to do when ridership is so low? The 16’s biggest problem, though, is that it just doesn’t really do enough to justify existing on its own. Because the 1 and the 4 run so close together during their Pittsfield sections, it could be possible to have one of them go via Crane Ave (it wouldn’t take much longer – if anything, it might be slightly faster) and eliminate the 16 altogether. Essentially no places would lose service, and the extra bus could be used to increase frequency somewhere else.

Nearby and Noteworthy: If you like golf, have I got the route for you.

Final Verdict: 3/10
For a political route that pretty much has to exist to serve the Oak Hill Apartments, I can’t fault the 16 too much. Yes, I gave it a 3, but it’s not an angry 3; it’s a pity 3. The 16 gets a pity 3. Poor 16.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates