It’s always interesting to see what transit agencies choose for their route 1. The MBTA’s 1, for example, is one of the busiest bus routes on the system, running frequently down a major urban corridor. What does SEPTA’s 1 do? It runs hourly service, six days a week, through suburban areas on a ridiculously long journey with a million variants stopping at different termini or serving random industrial parks. Okay…well, that’s different.

I’m gonna be on this thing for two hours. Two hours!

The 1 began as the “Boulevard Limited”, running limited stops along everyone’s favorite monstrous street, Roosevelt Boulevard. It has grown and shrunk over the years, morphing into the beast it is today: a hopeless mess of legacy elements and tacked-on extensions that makes absolutely no sense. And this is SEPTA, so of course I had to get a very specific trip to satisfy my “riding the whole route” requirement – just four northbound and five southbound runs per day operate via “Drummond and Decatur”, an insanely long deviation where usually buses terminate. But a few trips per day operate via instead of to that location. The 1:36 PM from 54th-City is one of those trips.

A big apartment building.

54th-City is right in the midst of Saint Joseph’s University, but it sure didn’t feel like a college part of town when we pulled out onto City (Line) Ave. All I could see was a bunch of suburban businesses, random apartment buildings, and corporate office buildings all clustered together. There were a few points of interest, though: Bala Station, Belmont Reservoir, and that weird standalone Saks Fifth Avenue. Seriously, don’t you belong in a mall somewhere?

Looking across Belmont Reservoir.

We entered a highway interchange with the Schuylkill Expressway before crossing the expressway’s namesake river. While the route ultimately heads east on Ridge Ave, we first had to deviate to Wissahickon Transportation Center, going west on Ridge for a bit. We pulled in, looped around, and headed back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Crossing Wissahickon Creek with the Norristown Line sailing over.

Ridge Ave had a line of rowhouses on one side, while some recreational centers occupied the other side. A section through the woods led us to East Falls, where businesses and apartments lined the road, along with a riverfront park. We went by a newer apartment development and underneath some train tracks along a cemetery, then we turned onto Allegheny Ave.

A restaurant under a bridge.

Allegheny was lined with dense rowhouses, set back from the road with long steps up to the doors. The headquarters for Pep Boys was right smack in the middle of the neighborhood, and there were a few more industrial buildings as we merged onto Hunting Park Ave. We also passed some suburban businesses, some parking lots, and some giant abandoned factories.

Houses in the neighborhood.

It was at Wissahickon Ave that the 1’s weird limited stop section began. Yes, the route has a “limited stop” bit in the middle, which often translates to “the distance that every SEPTA stop should be” – there’s one about every two blocks. We proceeded down Hunting Park Ave, drifting in and out of legacy rowhouse neighborhoods and later-built suburban businesses and apartment buildings.

A Walgreens and a McDonald’s mix with older apartments at Broad Street.

We crossed Broad Street at Hunting Park Station, then our road became…Roosevelt Boulevard. Noooooooo! It very quickly grew to become the giant twelve-lane behemoth that cuts through neighborhoods and ruins lives. Indeed, dense rowhomes lined the street leading into neighborhoods with more of them, but the giant road itself was like a scar through them.

Houses along 9th Street

The “limited stops” were incredibly stupid, too. Sometimes they’d be, like, a mile and a half apart – pretty good – but more often than not, the bus was stopping every two blocks, which is essentially local bus spacing in every other city except Philly. Then there were some idiotically close ones: stopping at both Front and Rising Sun? They’re less than 500 feet apart! Geez!!!

A road directly next to the Boulevard.

Then after the stop at C Street, there was suddenly an over 1 mile gap in stops! Huh? Where did that come from? During that time, the Boulevard crossed Tacony Creek and passed some suburban businesses, including a strip mall at the first stop after that gap. Another 0.6 mile nonstop run led us to Pratt Street, where the limited stop portion ends. I guess that makes sense – this is where the 1’s only independent section begins, and there was actually a full-seated load of people on the bus.

Head down there and you’ll end up at Frankford.

The independent section only lasts for a mile, and it was mostly residential, with a few businesses at the insane Oxford Circle. The busyness of the bus is the reason SEPTA insists on keeping the 1 around: people use it to get from the southern portion of Roosevelt to the northern portion. We’ll talk about why this is bad reasoning later on, but for now, we joined up with four other Boulevard routes at Bustleton Ave (three of which are frequent) to continue the journey.

A giant penguin!

Yet despite the 1 now being with four other routes (two if you only count the ones that run on the Boulevard for a long time, but still)…it doesn’t become limited stops again. It makes every stop at every block! Sure, the Boulevard Direct already runs a limited stop service, but why shouldn’t the 1 only make those stops too? Is this not supposed to be the “Boulevard Limited” or whatever?

Well, this is depressing.

What about the scenery? Ugh. Rows upon rows of houses that all looked the same, with lots of random suburban businesses with giant parking lots to, er, break up the monotony? Going through Pennypack Park offered a nice five-second nature break before the suburban dullness began again. At least now the houses looked different from one another.

Dude, you’re blocking the crosswalk! Oh wait, probably no one’s used that crosswalk in twenty years.

Trees blocked the view of the large Northeast Philadelphia Airport, while a playground with sports fields occupied the other side of the road – tell your kids to enjoy inhaling the diesel fumes! There were still more suburban shopping plazas everywhere, but at least a new kind of relentless building type joined the mix: the single story industrial warehouse thing. And once we started that infamous Drummond and Decatur deviation by turning onto Comly Road, we would be seeing a lot more of those industrial buildings.

Dunno why my camera chose to focus on that little signal box, but it makes for an interesting photo. Look, I have dozens of pictures from this ride of just factories – I gravitate towards the ones that are different!

One side of Comly was occupied by houses that looked the same, while industry took up the other side. We went by a few more sports fields and the northeastern boundary of Northeast Philadelphia Airport before running along its southeastern side, Decatur Road. This took us to a loop via Drummond and Red Lion Roads, and it was just a bunch of industrial and corporate buildings. A decent number of people got off, but this area is served by two other routes, and they don’t have to deviate to get here! By the time we returned to Roosevelt Boulevard, it had been thirteen minutes since we had left. A thirteen minute deviation. Good lord.

The dead winter trees don’t help make this place feel more inviting.

Okay, back on Roosevelt, which had a full-on cloverleaf interchange with Woodhaven Road, because of course it did. We entered a big random park after that, finally leaving the City of Philadelphia in the process (oh yeah – we were in Philly that whole time). Roosevelt Boulevard’s name changed to Lincoln Highway on the other side of that park, and it finally lost its express lanes and shrunk down to a lowly eight travel lanes. Wimp.

We’re still running through this stuff, though.

We changed from industrial buildings to suburban businesses and hotels, but it was no less dreadful. At least a cemetery was on hand to break it up a bit. And right after that cemetery, we pulled onto a highway ramp leading to Street Road, which ended up not being a highway, but just a further collection of random businesses. A big gaudy sign let us know that we had made it to Parx Casino, and here, we turned onto Casino Way (good name) to loop around one of the facility’s many parking lots to get to the SEPTA stop. We were 12 minutes late. I needed to get out of that bus.

The front…
…and the back.

Route: 1 (Parx Casino to 54th-City)

Ridership: Okay, my trip got 79 people, which is certainly a high number. But remember that the 1 is a really really really long route, which negatively affects its productivity and generally makes that trip-by-trip number higher. It’s also super infrequent, so it’s overall ridership is going to come out really low, and it does: 2,847 riders per weekday, or SEPTA’s 66th most-used route. It also averages out to around 49 riders per trip, meaning mine was way above average for some reason.

Pros: I can’t deny that the route serves a purpose. People do genuinely use this as a quick way to get between the two halves of Roosevelt Ave. So for that, I give the 1 credit.

Cons: But ugh, this route is so stupid! It’s one of those SEPTA routes where I have no idea where to begin. Okay…the schedule. No Sunday service, first of all. Great. Hourly headways on Saturdays from 6:33 AM to 5:45 PM. Brilliant. And then weekdays…good luck deciphering what’s going on! This thing requires ten buses at rush hour, purely because of the insane amount of peak-only, peak direction-only service offered: every 12 minutes? Really? And then it just drops to hourly midday. Plus there are two random late-night trips that only go from Drummond and Decatur to 54th-City, five hours after the previous trip.

And then the variants! Oh gosh, there are so many! It mostly comes down to practically every timepoint being a possible terminus. Some trips begin at 54th-City, some begin at Wissahickon, some begin at Roosevelt and Broad, and it’s similar on the other end of the route. So you end up with all these different combinations of termini, not to mention whether or not trips do the Drummond and Decatur deviation, and the route comes out with 15 variants – the tenth-most complicated route on SEPTA. What an achievement.

But the elephant in the room: this route is moronic. Almost the entire thing duplicates other, frequent routes, and aside from the limited stop section that makes absolutely no sense, it does nothing to set itself apart from those other routes. “But the one-seat rides!” you might say. Well, assuming SEPTA keeps its backwards transfer fee, which has led to awful routes like this, then you have a point – it would genuinely be cheaper to use the 1 if you’re trying to get from one side of Roosevelt to the other. But the 1 is hourly. If you have a pass (or if SEPTA gets rid of the transfer fee, COUGH COUGH), it’s often way better to just hop on the first R you see (every 15 minutes at worst), take it to Frankford, and transfer to the first 14 or Boulevard Direct you see (also every 15 minutes at worst). Heck, even if you’re trying to go to Drummond and Decatur or Parx Casino, the 20 runs to the former every 15 minutes, while the 50 serves both every half hour, which isn’t great, but it’s STILL MORE FREQUENT THAN THE FREAKING 1!

Nearby and Noteworthy: I spent this whole post groaning about Roosevelt Boulevard. There really isn’t much to see along most of the 1. But okay, hmm…ooh, a bowling alley near Oxford Circle! But also, like, just take the 19, 59, or 67 from Frankford or Arrott…

Final Verdict: 2/10
The 1 is the embodiment of everything wrong with SEPTA’s bus system. It’s hopelessly long, it stops too frequently (even when it’s “limited stop”!), it only exists to provide people with one-seat rides because they’d have to pay extra for a two-seat ride, the schedule has an insane amount of peak service at the expense of equally-busy midday service, and it has enough variants to make your head spin. I wish I could give it a 1 to match its number, but people do actually use this – it’s partially because the network and fare structure forces them to, but they do use it. I think Jarrett Walker sums up the route and how to fix it best in his description on page 7 of this PDF: basically, let other routes do the work, and use the 1’s resources to make its replacements more frequent.

The 1 is definitely not Number 1.

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