Wow, have we got a beast today. The 57 is an absolutely massive route, going from the northern border of Philadelphia (and indeed, slightly over it) to almost the southern border! But in typical Miles in Transit fashion, I wasn’t content with picking just any variant of the 57 – I had to do one of the five trips per day that gets extended down to the Packer Marine Terminal in South Philly. And of course, I had to take it to the Marine Terminal in the morning so it would be in the peak direction! But hey, I’m not too crazy: I didn’t feel like schlepping up to Fern Rock for the 5:54 AM trip, so I opted to take the last one of the morning, which leaves from Rising Sun and Olney Aves at 6:46. That meant I would have to do a Fern Rock trip at 6:23 to actually get down to that point and ensure I was covering the whole route! Okay, got it? Cool – this isn’t confusing at all.
Before we could get settled on the 57’s relatively (read: relatively) straightforward path south, we had to deal with the roundabout mess it does around Fern Rock. That mess began with a left turn onto 10th Street, heading north through the leafy residential areas north of the Broad Street Line station. A few corner stores awaited where we took a right onto Godfrey Ave, heading under the SEPTA Main Line. There was an interesting dynamic for a few blocks where charming dense rowhouses occupied the south side of the street, while the north side was a wooded neighborhood whose single family houses could barely be seen behind the tree covering.
We very much entered urbanity when we crossed 5th Street and the terminal loop of the 47 at that intersection. It was a consistent line of rowhouses on both sides of the street, at least until we made a turn onto 2nd Street to go further north, passing a school on one side. Eventually it was just single family houses along here, continuing up to when we took a right onto Cheltenham Ave. This street, which marks the border between Philly and Cheltenham, fittingly ran with rowhouses and duplexes on the city side and single families on the suburb side!
This street was taking us southeast, so we were heading in the semi-right direction! Aside from a few shopping plazas at the intersection with Front Street, though, it felt like we were getting further from civilization – turning onto Crescentville Road, Tacony Creek occupied one side of the street, so that was complete and total forest. Rowhouses and apartments took up the other side, granted. The street curved west and became Champlost Ave, at which point we took a left onto Front Street to head proper south. Finally!
It was pretty much all rowhouses along Front Street, something we’d be seeing of a ton of on this trip. We also passed an entrance to the massive One and Olney Square shopping plaza, though, which is mostly hidden behind the line of houses. Taking a left onto Olney Ave, we crossed the Fox Chase Line and went by a striking blue and beige middle school. I got off at the intersection with Rising Sun Ave – it was time to wait for my connection to the Marine Terminal!
While I was here, I figured I’d do a review of the Rising Sun-Olney Loop! And…well, yeah, there’s not much. This thing runs around the back of a gas station and as far as passenger amenities go, all you’ve got is a shelter, a bench, a wastebasket, and a payphone sign advertising a payphone that was removed long ago. I’ll note that this stop only serves every other trip on the 57 (the ones that don’t go all the way to Fern Rock) and a few trips per weekday on the 26, so it’s not doing much, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an awful bus loop. 2/10.
Pulling out from the loop, we made our way down Rising Sun Ave, a road that cuts diagonally across the Philly street grid. It was home to a ton of different businesses (from local restaurants to small convenience stores to a suburban Rite Aid) and a ton of different house types (from typical rowhouses to an apartment building to a few single families). The relatively constant stream of buildings was broken by a big field connected to nearby Olney High School, and a few blocks after that, we crossed the wide hellish expanse of Roosevelt Ave.
While there was a number of businesses at the diagonal intersection with Front Street (including a church in what appeared to be a converted movie theater), most of them were closed. It’s also worth noting that while the bus eventually does end up on Front Street, it stays on the diagonal Rising Sun for several more blocks, requiring two more turns. Sure, the street is lined with retail, but at its furthest, the route gets a tenth of a mile away from Front – it sure would save a lot of time to just turn onto that, and it wouldn’t be much of an inconvenience.
The first industrial portion of the route began just before we used Wingohocking Street to get onto Front Street (oh hey, wonder if we could’ve gone on that earlier!). This was a particularly apocalyptic industrial area, complete with barbed wire, graffitied fences, and scrapyards with random car parts strewn everywhere. Front Street had a big cemetery across the street from the industry, which included one of those massive mail processing post offices (RIP USPS…).
The intersection with Hunting Park Ave had a gas station and a U-Haul to the north, and to the south was a field and a city vehicle garage, both of which were elevated above the road so they couldn’t be seen. We went by a characterless fire station and a mysterious building surrounded by barbed wire before going through another cemetery. On the other side of those was (you guessed it) another weird industrial area, where we took Erie Ave for a block to get onto 2nd Street. Once the road crossed the Northeast Corridor, though, we entered a more typical rowhouse neighborhood.
This neighborhood was super dense – most of the rowhouses had porches, and while no one was out on this rainy morning, it certainly seemed like they would be buzzing on days with better weather. There were occasional businesses too, mostly local restaurants and corner stores (although a parking lot-adorned KFC begged to differ). There was some more industry surrounding a freight rail line, over which the road crossed, and it continued to mingle with rowhouses as we continued south.
We turned onto Lehigh Ave very briefly, using it to get onto American Street, a wide, industrial, depressing, unfriendly road with a railroad track running down the middle of it. Good analogy for America? You be the judge of that. At any rate, we trundled down past old factories and plots of vacant land. Eventually the railroad track started to get dug up – I think they’re replacing it with a leafy median of some kind, which would certainly be an improvement!
What’s especially interesting is that the surrounding neighborhoods are certainly dense enough to support a bus – American Street is just this weird industrial thing that cuts through it all. SEPTA routes always seem to have some sort of detour going on, and the 57 was clearly no exception: we had to take a left onto Berks Street for a block before turning onto 2nd, which the bus would normally wait until later to travel on. This street was a nice break from the frankly depressing American Street, supporting an actual neighborhood of rowhouses and corner stores.
The first thing we saw when we turned onto Girard Ave was a massive, modern ACME Market with a parking garage on top. We were only on this street for two blocks, but it was clear that we were getting closer to Center City: there were fewer abandoned buildings, and many of the ones that had been abandoned were now under renovation. Turning onto 4th Street, we slowly ran through a tight, dense neighborhood of packed rowhouses, some old and some new. Six or seven students departed the bus at the Bodine High School for International Affairs.
The rowhouses continued unabated for blocks, occasionally punctuated by little shops and restaurants. When did they become, er, abated? Well, the massive Spring Garden Street took care of that. South of that wide road, the few buildings that did show up (big offices and an apartment building mostly) were surrounded by huge parking lots. In quick succession, we went under on-ramps for I-95 and then the Ben Franklin Bridge, although surprisingly, a semi-charming neighborhood (including a beautiful old church) has managed to remain intact in the two blocks between the elevated highways.
The imposing concrete wall of the US Mint took up a whole block, but a few historic buildings cropped up as we crossed Market Street and continued into Society Hill; a gorgeous park we drove through down there had a ton of them. The neighborhood did work its way back to typical rowhouses, but this is Society Hill we’re talking about – these things were old and beautiful. The road soon passed through an old graveyard before we crossed South Street with its colorful offbeat businesses.
We then intersected with Bainbridge Street, which had a little park (and park-ing) in its median. This was my first time travelling on 4th Street down here, and I was amazed at how bustling it was – this thing was lined with retail and restaurants, complete with apartments on top! Certainly when I return to Philly (if that ever happens…), I’d love to come back here and just stroll down! The mixed-use neighborhood stopped after Christian Street, though, when we entered a housing complex.
Remember how I mentioned how Spring Garden Street is wide and ugly? Well, its southern variant is Washington Ave, and indeed, it was wide and ugly. We turned onto it for a few blocks, but most of that time was spent on an odd little slip road next to it. I guess this was to make it easier to take our right onto Moyamensing Ave, a diagonal street whose perpendicular parking increased its width by a significant margin. While it was mostly residential, a good amount of restaurants and cafes showed up too.
As South Philadelphia tends to be, the houses along Moyamensing were dense, broken only a few times: once by a park, and once by a strange little shopping plaza. The street ended at Snyder Ave, at which point we had to traverse two intersections that are way too close together to get onto 4th Street. This neighborhood consisted of, you guessed it, dense rowhouses.
As we got closer to the end of 4th Street, some other land uses showed up in the mix: a rehab center, a school, and a recreation center. Now, once the 57 gets to Oregon Ave, the vast majority of buses take a right to pull into Whitman Plaza. We were going to the Packer Marine Terminal, though! “I’m taking a left!” the driver announced. “I know!” I responded, excited for what this thrice-a-day trip would bring. I was the only one on at this point.
So we took a left onto Oregon Ave, a wide road that forms the border between the dense rowhouses of South Philadelphia to the north and a bunch of suburban businesses and malls to the south. Once we went under I-95, though, that atmosphere completely changed: now it was a desolate but bustling industrial area with massive warehouses, rail yards, and parking lots. We turned onto Columbus Ave, which parallels the Delaware River.
The marine terminals along here played host to a ton of trucks and shipping containers, all bearing Western European names (Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd, Hamburg…). “Do you work here?” the driver asked. I explained the blog, and he told me that usually there are three people on his trip that come out here: one heading to the Philadelphia Parking Authority yard, and two for the marine terminal. This time, though, it was just me. I got off the bus at the terminal next to some trucks and watched it drive away into the foggy abyss.
Route: 57 (Whitman Plaza to Rising Sun-Olney or Fern Rock Transportation Center)
Ridership: It is super easy for a local route this long to get high ridership – our pal the 57 fits the bill, nabbing 9,762 riders per weekday. However, on a trip-by-trip basis, it’s a little less productive than other routes; the 47-ish riders per trip doesn’t sound as high when the route length is anywhere from an hour to nearly 90 minutes.
Pros: I mean, you definitely can’t say the 57 doesn’t serve a lot. It’s a long route, and from the perspective of population covered, this is among SEPTA’s best buses. For most of the day on weekdays, the schedule does reflect this, with service every 12 minutes during the day and every 7-10 minutes at rush hour. Because every other trip ends at Rising Sun-Olney, Fern Rock only gets half the buses, but that doesn’t seem like a huge deal since that area is more suburban.
Cons: It’s one of those ones where I’m not even sure where to begin. I guess the schedule is as good a place to start as any: pretty much any time period besides the ones mentioned in the “Pros” above has a less-than-desirable schedule. On weekends it’s a clean every 20 minutes all day, which for a route of this length and density seems infrequent. And at night, it’s anywhere from every 30-40 minutes. Sure, parts of it are industrial, but for most of it, residences are never far away.
That’s another thing, by the way – the route is kind of a mess! The biggest offender is the Fern Rock section, although I guess if you are going to send something up to that part of Cheltenham Ave, better to use the route that’s near its terminus rather than the middle of the K, which also runs over there. But other parts are less excusable: the way it goes from Rising Sun Ave to Front Street, for example, or the way the southbound route deviates over to Moyamensing Ave in South Philly. In both of these cases, bus travel time is extended to prevent short walks.
The 57 has a ton of variants too. The Rising Sun-Olney one makes sense, but it’s downhill from there. On weekdays from 2:45 to 4:15 PM, southbound buses take a slightly different routing in North Philly to avoid a middle school – perhaps a sensible decision from a traffic perspective, but it might be important to tell passengers it exists besides a tiny note on the map! A ton of northbound morning trips start at either 2nd Street and Oregon Ave or 4th Street and Oregon Ave, presumably because ridership from Whitman Plaza is low to nonexistent at that point. By why either 2nd or 4th? And you’re only saving about 2-3 minutes by starting there, anyway!
The Packer Marine Terminal variant really doesn’t seem to be a big-hitter. Are you saving a few commuters a transfer and a ten-minute walk? Sure…but it seems to only be a few commuters. These kinds of low-use variants tend to just make routes more complicated without benefitting too many people. Perhaps the strangest pattern, though, is the fact that every other northbound trip ends at 3rd Street and Girard Ave from around 1:45 to 3:30 PM. So you’re telling me that all service north of there is every 20-22 minutes at what is a really major time?? (the South Philly part of the route is more oriented around the traditional rush, while North Philly’s ridership is highest at school times) That doesn’t track, man.
Nearby and Noteworthy: 4th Street south of South Street was definitely the biggest draw for me – that seems like a really cool neighborhood.
Final Verdict: 4/10
I think this is too important of a route to give a score lower than this. Obviously there’s so much wrong with it, but it does serve a ton and it does have a decent weekday frequency that at least somewhat makes up for its many problems. Are those problems many, though? Yes. Many. Many. Many.
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