Some routes make a ton of sense as crosstowns. Take the 15: it runs straight across Girard and operates frequently all day every day to really maximize its usefulness. SEPTA has lots of routes like that. But then…there’s the odd, odd case of the 64. Ostensibly it’s trying to be both an east-west crosstown in South Philly and a north-south crosstown in West Philly, but it kinda fails at both? Bizarre deviations and an infrequent schedule are on the menu tonight. Let’s take a look.
You know what they say: all South Philly crosstown routes lead to the malls area (they = me, just now). The 64 is no exception, starting at Pier 70 at the northern end of the complex. As we left the Walmart that’s right there, we turned onto Tasker Street alongside a grassy wasteland, then used Columbus Boulevard to get to Reed Street. We took this a block before heading onto Front Street, a road with dense rowhouses on one side and the uber-depressing I-95 viaduct on the other side.
Most of the land underneath the highway was used for parking, but just before we turned onto Washington Ave, there was…A SKATING RINK! UNDER THE HIGHWAY! Bring a date to this incredibly romantic location! And speaking of romantic locations, Washington Ave, the main east-west road for the 64, is way too wide and has some ugly housing along it that definitely wasn’t built at the same time as most of the area’s rowhouses. At least a few parks appeared on its south side.
While normal rowhouses did eventually show up on the north side of the street, the south side remained a bit of a toss-up, featuring anything from a daycare housed in a brand-new building to a shopping plaza with way too much parking for such an urban area (although it was dominated by various Asian restaurants, which was neat). At 9th Street we saw the awnings of the Italian Market, but even there, the road still has this industrial vibe that it can never really shake. There were attempts to change that as we continued: new apartment buildings contrasted sharply with garages and warehouses.
That clash continued as we crossed Broad Street, where sadly, the Broad Street Line does not stop. I’m pretty sure (but correct me if I’m wrong) that the 64 used to deviate to Ellsworth-Federal Station a block south – honestly, it’s close enough that a deviation isn’t really necessary in my eyes, especially given the crazy routings we’ll see later. Washington Ave remained industrial west of Broad, but there were traditional rowhouses on the side streets and some businesses between the industry and parking lots. Another park made for a nice break, too.
Any efforts to make the street look okay were ceased as we got further west. The road went underneath the CSX rail viaduct and then ended, so we took a left turn onto Grays Ferry Ave. This street was mostly industrial as well, but there was a shopping plaza right where we…turned onto 29th Street? Yeah, so here’s where the 64 does an out-of-nowhere deviation into Grays Ferry, and I really have no idea why it exists.
So to save people a 4-minute walk, we get to do this ridiculous jog involving tiny, residential streets. Sure, it’s a dense rowhouse neighborhood, but this important crosstown route should not be deviating to save people two blocks of walking (one block in the other direction!). I mean, first we got stuck when we tried to make the sharp turn onto 33rd Street, involving some maneuvering to make it around. Then when making the left turn back onto Grays Ferry Ave, there was so much traffic that we spent a period of time just sitting sideways across the road waiting for an opening, blocking traffic going the other way! See why I don’t like this thing??
Once on Grays Ferry Ave, we sped past the little Forgotten Bottom neighborhood before crossing the Schuylkill into West Philadelphia. We turned onto Paschall Ave, a leafy road with run-down rowhouses and some abandoned land, for a few blocks and took a right onto 49th Street, a street adorned with trolley tracks that took us past SEPTA’s Woodland facility. A few rowhouses later, we crossed the Media/Elwyn Line and its station named after our street.
There was a stark change in the neighborhood when we crossed the tracks: there were tons more trees now, and the houses (which were mostly duplexes rather than rows) were in much better shape. Once we hit the hipster haven of Baltimore Ave, though, we had to make an annoying maneuver where we took that for one block just to pop over to 48th Street instead of 49th. I guess that’s the only reasonable way to get over to what becomes the much more major street north of Baltimore, though.
The leafy, charming duplex houses were still around on 48th Street up until we crossed Pine – now there were apartment buildings, plus some businesses at the intersection with Spruce. We soon reached Chestnut Street, and here we annoyingly had to take a right. ALSO: this intersection is home to the CENTRAL CITY TOYOTA, which is the WORST name for a car dealership! FIRST of all, it’s CENTER CITY. *CENTER* CITY. Get it right! PLUS, we’re not even IN Center City – it’s about 20 blocks east! SUCH a bad name, people!
We were only on Chestnut Street for a little bit – once we turned onto the rowhouse-lined Farragut Street, the purpose of the deviation became clear: we were serving 46th Street Station. But…wait, why does this station get special treatment and not Ellsworth-Federal? I mean, this distance is slightly farther, but not by much! But okay, I can handle a deviation to a train station…but then we have to deviate back to 48th a few blocks later?? Make up your mind!
A lot of the housing around here was built later than some of the more traditional rowhouses that came up too. There were also some abandoned tracts of land, a high school, and a random auto shop that gave me Washington Ave flashbacks and probably had no place being here in this residential neighborhood. And then because this route makes no sense, we suddenly turned onto Westminster Ave to head back to 46th Street – or, excuse me, 45th Street! SURE!
Westminster Ave was a real hodgepodge of housing stock. After crossing the 10 trolley at Lancaster Ave, we took a left onto 45th Street, which by this point had become Belmont Ave. This street was all rowhouses, but while their architecture was consistent, the placement was not: there were weird gaps between them, sometimes the width of a house (so likely one was torn down) and other times not, with just these little alleys running between them!
We crossed over the Paoli/Thorndale Line at an intersection with Girard Ave above the tracks (RIP 15 trolley), and there was a bit of an industrial vibe past there, including a U-Haul storage space and a few auto shops (although there were houses and several schools too). Once we turned onto Parkside Ave, we were in the home stretch: we just had to do a strange routing via 49th, Jefferson, and 50th Streets through a bizarre abandoned wasteland to get to the 50th-Parkside Loop (it used to be a rail yard apparently – this website is your new best friend if you’ve never heard of it!). Why we didn’t just turn straight onto 50th from Parkside is beyond me.
Route: 64 (50th-Parkside to Pier 70)
Ridership: I’m not particularly impressed with the ridership on this one. I mean, for a route that’s so urban, 5,036 riders a day isn’t great, especially when spread out over the 64’s 126 daily trips – that’s about 40 riders per trip, each of which takes a little under an hour to complete. Perhaps some evidence could be found in the route’s load profile: check out the loads! They’re genuinely pretty high throughout the course of the route! What’s more, take a look at the chart at the bottom of this PDF – while the route does have slightly lower productivity at peak than midday (alas), its productivity is comparable to much more frequent routes like the 17, 21, and 23! Hmm…
Pros: Okay, this thing definitely serves a ton, I’ll give it that. With some streamlining, it could be a really effective crosstown route. The rush hour frequencies are good: every 8-10 minutes, mostly geared toward school times.
Cons: Every 20 minutes on weekdays? Every 30 on weekends? Every 45 minutes at night, running a truncated route from Pier 70 to Kingsessing, that ends service as early as 11 PM??? This is an urban route – these headways are awful! And hey, speaking of the route, what the heck is the route this thing takes? First there’s that Greys Ferry deviation, which almost certainly inconveniences more passengers than it benefits – some of the turns are so tight, and getting back onto Greys Ferry Ave can be a pain! And then the route in West Philly? Oh gosh, don’t get me started. It makes sense in theory: first you gotta deviate to serve 46th Street Station, then you gotta come back to 48th to directly serve the middle school over there. But this is a distance of two blocks we’re talking about, and this is what should be a high capacity urban route. For maximum straightness, staying on 48th Street would be great, but I get that serving the El station is important. But then the route should really just stay on 46th until it has to swing over to Belmont Ave – that middle school abuts 47th ANYWAY, so students would only be walking a block to get to the bus! All this twisty business just seems like it’s discouraging ridership; riding it through that section just felt so inefficient.
Nearby and Noteworthy: I know they tend to be embroiled in controversy (and honestly for good reason), but it doesn’t curb my curiosity about the Mummers Museum, which this route passes straight by. But of course, countless other restaurants of so many different cultures are served by the 64 as it tears its way through South Philly!
Final Verdict: 4/10
I mean…if the schedule’s bad and the route’s bad, then what is there to salvage it? Certainly the 64 serves a lot and it seems to get good ridership throughout its journey. I think the low overall daily ridership is more representative of the fact that it doesn’t run very frequently – I would love to see this thing get a frequency increase to every 15 minutes! Also the Greys Ferry deviation could definitely stand to be straightened out; the situation in West Philly is a little more complicated, but I think there should be efforts there too, whether the route travels mainly on 48th or on 46th.
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
This feels interestingly similar to an RTA crosstown… Well maybe the headways are decent… no it’s not…
For several years in the mid-90’s I lived a block off the 64’s route in West Philly. About once every three months I’d ride it over to South Philly for one reason or another. I had a remarkable track record of arriving at the stop just after the previous bus left. Often it was quicker just to walk down to Baltimore Ave, catch the 34 to City Hall and connect to the BSS, rather than wait around for the next 64. I see that hasn’t really changed.
The 64 is a fun contrast to rural Mass, huh? I use the South Phila leg once a month or so, and your take was, as usual, fun and informative. Someday, I should ride West of the Schuykill. N&N, there’s nice access to the Delaware River bike path by the Wal-Mart with a panoramic view of Camden, NJ. I95 makes a nice rain shelter for the bench there. The Ralph Rizzo scating rink actually gets used in the Summer. The church is technically a Khymer Wat. The weird mini suburban tracts on both sides of Washington are what’s left of 20th Century urban renewal projects, clearance, towers subsequently toppled. The strange “parking lots” are cleared industrial plots (don’t touch the soil). Washington Avenue is absurdly wide because pre-car it was oodles of railroad tracks instrumental in shuttling Union soldiers South to kill rebs and return injured to a huge hospital at Broad (mostly now under the Target) which is why many streets in South Phila are named for Union generals.
“Central City Toyota” is a bad name. A runner up in bad car business names might be “Arlington Forest Service Center,” a car repair place in Alexandria, Virginia. There is an Arlington Forest, about 4 miles away in, of all places, Arlington, Virginia. It actually has trees if not a forest. The car repair place is at the empty Landmark Mall, and the only forest is the many, many concrete posts holding up the adjacent parking garage. The name of the business drives me nuts every time I pass it on the bus, which is a lot.