See that cracked bell behind glass? That’s apparently a giant tourist attraction for some reason! Yeah, I don’t know why people love this thing so much when…I mean, it’s a bell. Philly has so much more to offer than…a bell! Okay, whatever, I’m not here to review tourist attractions. I’m here to review the stations people use to get to those attractions – in this case, it’s 5th Street/Independence Hall.
As Wikipedia oddly specifically points out, this is the only MFL station in Center City where passengers must walk above ground to switch directions. Thus, each direction gets two entrances on their respective side of the street: one fancy one, and one hole-in-the-ground one. That being said, “fancy” only means that there are two or three sets of stairs instead of just one, and “hole-in-the-ground” is your classic SEPTA single-staircase entrance with no frills. In other words, there’s nothing special here.
5th Street is wheelchair accessible, so we also get two elevators – one for each direction. They get these nice facades poking up on Market Street, and the elevators themselves are fine (although someone decided to use one as a dumping ground for their unfinished chicken meal). I like the signage directing people across the street if they’re trying to go in the other direction, although geez, talk about wordy: “SEPTA Market Frankford Line eastbound accessible 5th Street Station/For westbound accessible entrance, cross Market St. to NW corner of 5th St. and Market St.”
Before we head underground, I want to talk about the bus situation here. 5th Street has four bus stops, all but one of which amount to nothing more than a sign. The stop that gets a shelter is the westbound one for the 17 and the 33, which makes sense. The other routes that stop here are the eastbound 48, and the 38 and 44, which terminate here. Finally, the PHLASH makes stops here, as do countless tour buses. You can tell they know where their passengers want to go.
We’ll start with the eastbound side, which is…cramped. I mean, it’s trying really hard to make use of the space, but two awkwardly-placed fare machines doesn’t feel like enough (although five faregates isn’t bad). Also, sorry, people who need the elevator – it’s a long way down a narrow hallway to get there. Have fun! On the plus side, the red, white, and blue designs on the walls add a splash of color to the otherwise drab area.
Like any SEPTA station, 5th Street goes as crazy with exit-only turnstiles as it can, including two that are right next to each other! Once you leave the station through those, there’s no way to get back in, so you’re going to have to buy another ticket. Let’s just see what the cashier hours are here, taken from the website: “6:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday; 6:00 a.m. – 2:40 p.m. Monday through Friday.” Huh. Okay, so I assume that second one is supposed to be Saturday and Sunday, but even then, if you can only afford one shift (which is why I assume the station goes unstaffed at 2:40), why not have it start later in the morning? The market here is primarily tourists, and I don’t think hordes of out-of-towners are waking up at 6 AM to go check out the Jewish History Museum before it opens.
Coming down through the “fancy” westbound entrance, there’s a rather nice map of the Independence Mall area on the wall. Although – and I know this is nitpicking – wouldn’t it be better on the eastbound side? After all, most tourists are probably coming from west of here, so they’re getting off from eastbound trains. Stick a “You are here” marker on the map, and it would actually be pretty helpful as a navigation tool for first-time visitors.
The westbound mezzanine is more or less identical to the eastbound one. However, it’s here in the more often-used direction where having two fare machines poses a legitimate problem: this is a major station for tourists, many of whom might not be inclined to buy a SEPTA Key and are just getting single trip tickets for their rides. I can imagine the lines for the machines here getting real long…
Huh…so this is what tourists see when they come to the birthplace of American independence: trash, chipping paint, low ceilings, broken lights, and a general feeling of hopelessness and despair. Welcome to SEPTA, I guess? Yeah, I really don’t like this platform. I’ve been here before during a rainstorm and seen a monsoon of water blasting down from one of the columns. The one saving grace is once again the wall art, which has some great collages of historical images colored in red, white, and blue.
Station: 5th Street/Independence Hall
Ridership: Wow, I thought this station was more important than it actually is. As it turns out, 5th Street gets pretty mediocre ridership for the El, with about 3,986 riders per weekday. My guess for why it’s lower than other stations (especially other Center City stations) is just that it’s in such a touristy area. For the most part, the market for this station is leisure travellers. However, that also means that its weekend ridership is probably close to what it gets on weekdays. There’s no public data for this, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Pros: The station is accessible, which is always a plus, and it boasts some nice wall art that gives it character. And it sure is in a good location for all those people coming to see Philadelphia’s most popular attractions!
Cons: Of course, once people seeing those attractions enter this station, their thoughts on America’s birthplace might change a bit. I mean, this is just not a pleasant facility to use, from the moment you enter the cramped mezzanine to the moment you leave the squalid platform to board a train. And don’t come when it’s raining unless you want to see lots and lots of water. Lots. And lots. Of water.
Nearby and Noteworthy: You know, I could list off all the tourist attractions around here, but you probably know what they are already. Instead, I’m going to shout out the Ritz at the Bourse, a movie theater that shows new releases but also a ton of classics and independent films. I’ve never been, but they played Rocky Horror last month (I wish I could’ve gone), and they’re showing The Room (the best movie of all time – look it up) in April, so it’s clear that this is a great theater!
Final Verdict: 4/10
I would feel bad giving an accessible station with some decent artwork a 3, but just know that I’m darn close. Still, for only 4,000 people a day, is it really worth renovating the place? In that sense, I understand why they’re keeping it in its current state – there are so many other SEPTA stations that need much grander improvements, including a ton that remain inaccessible. Oh wait…they’re rebuilding this station. Well…at least it’ll look prettier for the tourists, I guess.
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