Since the 49 is opening in less than a week, I thought I’d take a look at one of the other routes that winds its way through Brewerytown and Fairmount. I’ve actually ridden both the 48 and the 7 in full, but since A) the 48 comes before the 7 in my backlog, and B) the 7 is a ridiculously long route and the post involves a story, I figured we’d push the 7 for another day. For now, let’s take a ride on the 48!

Oooh, I love the way it’s snaking in!

The fact that I rode on a Saturday at noon may affect my opinion on the route. After all, the 48 goes across the entirety of Center City, from Front Street to 22nd Street. The traffic during rush hour must be unbearable! But on a Saturday midday, it wasn’t bad at all. Luckily, I’ve seen 48s at rush hour trapped in Center City traffic, so I know how slow the route can be.

Might as well get our bus inception out of the way now!

Another oddity of the 48 is that it starts at the Front-Market Loop (the only other route that begins there is the 5). The other buses that travel across Center City begin at Penn’s Landing, but I guess for capacity reasons, the 48’s first stop is this loop just before the Penn’s Landing viaduct. The Penn’s Landing routes all just run down Market in both directions, but because the 48 starts where it does (and because SEPTA can’t establish any routing consistency anywhere), it uses Market in the eastbound direction and Arch in the westbound – the only route to travel down Arch across Center City.

Oh, apparently we’ve travelled back in time to the 18th Century! Okay…

We went up Front Street, a ridiculously narrow road squashed between apartments and the I-95 viaduct. Luckily, Arch Street was a somewhat normal-sized street (for Philly, at least), lined with apartments and fancy Old City businesses. There were also plenty of historical attractions, including the Betsy Ross House, the US Mint, and Independence Mall.

Welcome to Philly’s tourist trap- er, historical green.

The African American Museum was the last museum in the clump of them around Independence Mall. A few blocks later, we entered Chinatown, going straight by the arch (which was on the wrong side for me to get a picture, alas). That ended after a few more blocks, then one side of the street was occupied by the gigantic Philadelphia Convention Center, while we passed Reading Terminal Market on the other side.

Some of the businesses of Chinatown.

We got a great view of City Hall crossing Broad Street, then we saw Love Park right after (still hosting the Christmas Village when I rode). It was skyscraper time from there, including the Comcast Center, the tallest building in Philly. Soon, though, the street got residential as the Regional Rail came out of its tunnel a half-block south. We took a right onto 22nd Street, finally beginning our trek north.

Christmas Village! And a ton of tall buildings.

22nd Street was all apartments, but unlike in Old City, these were definitely built in the 20th Century. After going over the Vine Street Expressway, we crossed the good ol’ basically-a-highway Ben Franklin Parkway, with a fleeting view of the art museum (and the Rodin Museum right along 22nd). We officially entered the Fairmount neighborhood after the intersection with Spring Garden Street.

This was a really nice neighborhood – lots of rowhouses, but also one-off small businesses that mingled in with the apartments. The bus got to do a fun maneuver at Fairmount Ave, where 22nd Street has to make its way around the Eastern State Penitentiary. Some tight turns ensued, then we took a left onto Aspen Street outside of a parking lot.

Looking down 24th Street.

Aspen was a street that was far narrower than any street with a bus route on it should conceivably be, but it did pass some charming businesses at each corner, with the ever-present rowhouses in between. We turned onto 27th Street once we reached the edge of Fairmount Park. Let me just preview a rant that will come later by saying that all three (soon to be four) buses that serve western Fairmount take slightly different routes, but not the exact same routes. Thus, it’s noteworthy that all three of them share this part of the one-way 27th, if only for a few blocks! But…oh wait, the 49 won’t serve it. Of course it won’t.

Hi, Girard!

After a left onto Poplar Street and a right onto 29th Street, the craziness was over: the northbound and southbound routings of the 48 were together at last, and we would make no more turns until the end. Wonderful. We crossed Girard Ave (and the 15 trolley), leaving Fairmount and entering Brewerytown. The primarily residential 29th Street definitely had a rougher edge to it than before.

Crossing Cecil B. Moore Ave.

Once we crossed the Northeast Corridor, we entered Strawberry Mansion, where there were a lot more abandoned buildings and patches of vacant land. We passed a few businesses, mostly grocery stores and shuttered restaurants, as well as a few churches, but it was mostly apartments in varying states of decay. Also, the 7 left us at Susquehanna Ave, and we would be on our own for the remainder of the trip.

Hmm…it might be wise to choose a different daycare.

A park broke up the blocks of rowhouses, and along with it came a Philadelphia Water Department office and a middle school. A few blocks after the apartments came back, we turned onto Allegheny Ave. The route ends with a loop around SEPTA’s Allegheny Depot via 26th, Clearfield, and 27th; I got off at Clearfield and 27th, so it would look like I was actually going somewhere. From there, the bus proceeded to its layover point, where there’s no actual space for laying over, so you just get multiple articulated buses blocking a ton of parked cars from leaving their spaces. Nice.

About to turn onto 27th.
Just wanted to showcase how awful this layover is.

Route: 48 (Front-Market – 27th-Allegheny)

Ridership: Given the route’s frequency, I would’ve thought its ridership would be higher, but it’s nothing spectacular: 7,630 people per day. Oh, don’t get me wrong, that’s great ridership, but it ranks 33rd for SEPTA routes, and plenty of busier buses get worse service.

Pros: I appreciate how once the route gets onto 29th Street, it’s a straight shot up to Allegheny – talk about a good strong corridor. And the frequency on the 48 really is impressive, with possibly one of the best schedules on all of SEPTA: every 6-8 minutes at rush hour (with similar productivity to midday, to boot!), every 12 minutes during the day, every 10 minutes on Saturdays, and every 15 minutes on Sundays. The route does become every half hour at night (service runs until almost 2 AM), but it’s at least every 20 minutes until 10 PM seven days a week, which is really quite good for SEPTA. Also, the 48 has just one variant! Every trip does the exact same thing! I love it!

Cons: Oof, that layover. How can they get away with blocking cars like that? I know it’s right next to a SEPTA garage, but it seems like anyone can park there. I guess a word of advice is…don’t. The 48’s routing through Fairmount is, of course, very annoying, especially when every other bus through the neighborhood goes its own way. Also, running down Arch Street is a little strange, considering no other route does it (plus the 48 takes Market like normal in the other direction), but I get more why it has to do that – space in Center City is limited, so starting at Front and Market makes some sense. Finally, I think this route might be under-capacity. I mean, the route’s load chart shows that vehicles never get above 45-ish people on board at once. And it uses articulated buses! Granted, there aren’t any other routes out of Allegheny Depot that need them more than the 48, but it really would be nice to see these buses go to routes that regularly get packed. Assuming these charts are accurate, regular 40-foot buses can easily handle the 48’s loads.

Nearby and Noteworthy: This is a great way of getting to the Eastern State Penitentiary from Center City. I’ve yet to visit, but I’ve heard it’s awesome! Also, Fairmount in general seems like a great place to just walk around.

Final Verdict: 6/10
I was hovering between a 5 and a 6 here. I mean, the layover is ridiculous, the routing is often questionable, and the articulated buses could be put to better use on other routes. Plus, running straight through Center City can’t be good for reliability. But darn it, that frequency is just fantastic! I just have to praise SEPTA for running a route that manages to run as frequently for as long as this one does. Here’s a question, though: will the 48 and the 49 be able to coexist and still remain useful? Stay tuned…

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