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!

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