It’s coming up on Halloween. The air is finally getting colder, the days are shorter, and a mix of fallen leaves and election flyers start clogging the storm drains. As we stand on the point of transition into the dark half of the year, a ghost story — or a fairy tale, depending on your point of view — seems an appropriate way to mark the season.
In the last night of the year, five things we’ll remember from 2014:
- The year of citizen action. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much when Conrad Benner launched a change.org petition to get SEPTA to run the subways overnight. But it worked, and now another petition has sparked progress on a second front, in Wilmington. Can we look forward to more petitions working in 2015? If the trend of well-informed riders asking for achievable, concrete, inexpensive improvements continues, then yes. And we’ll keep you posted.
- Bridges needing fixing. A once-in-a-generation maintenance project on the Ben Franklin Bridge has made this an annus horribilis for PATCO riders, but after the major work wrapped in the fall, it faded into the background noise of commuter complaints. A much bigger splash was made by the I-495 bridge, and only by the grace of higher powers did that not end with a literal splash into the Christina River. The traffic snarls around Wilmington started out on epic scale, but soon enough people found other ways to get around the closed bridge. And when the bridge reopened before Labor Day, it was a reminder that, in an emergency, when you don’t have to worry about keeping traffic open, work can get done very quickly. Something to keep in mind, or look forward to, as SEPTA prepares to replace the Crum Creek Viaduct.
- Communication über alles. PATCO’s troubles finally forced it to copy SEPTA and start monitoring and responding to people on its official Twitter account. (For the first day or so, whoever was working that desk was the unluckiest schmo in South Jersey.) In the modern world, this kind of real-time interaction with customer service is a requirement, not an option. (Hint, hint, NJT, hint, DART.) SEPTA’s successful app for iOS was joined this year by a counterpart for Android, but its copious APIs continue to put SEPTA in a clear technical lead over peer agencies.
- Labor brinksmanship. In the fractious relationships SEPTA has with its unions, the one thing we all thought we could count on was Regional Rail needing a very long lead time before a strike. SEPTA turned that axiom on its head by deliberately provoking a work stoppage from the BLET and IBEW. The first Regional Rail strike since the big one in 1983 only lasted 24 hours before President Obama could intervene. That assertiveness set the tone for the protracted negotiations and mutual threats between SEPTA and its largest union, TWU 234, whose contracts expired in March and April. TWU wouldn’t get a new contract until late in the night on Halloween, and it mostly just kicked the can down the road to 2016.
- Bringing the word to where people live. Dear well-off suburbanites: If you drive through communities of the oppressed, you should be prepared to hear from them. Just saying.
And five things to look forward to in the new year.
- SEPTA Key. The future of fare payment is coming, and in addition to convenience, it’s going to open up a treasure trove of data about how people use SEPTA, and how to adapt the system to the riders’ needs. Mmmm, data.
- PHL Bike Share. It’s late, it still doesn’t have a sponsor, but when it comes, it’s still going to be a revolution in how we make short trips around town. Spring can’t get here soon enough.
- The Papal Meltdown. Not all of the news is going to be good. When Pope Francis visits in September, the crowds on the Parkway are being predicted for the 1 million-2 million range. That will overtax every road and every transit resource in the area. Remember the 2008 Phillies parade and Live 8? His Holiness is going to be even bigger. Hope the planners are already crunching numbers to minimize the amount of agony going around.
- Don’t mourn, organize. The 2015 municipal election cycle will provide a lot of good fodder for discussion. For instance: the 22nd Street bike lane needs to happen, and Bill Greenlee needs to either stop resisting it or stop being in a position to resist it. I’m not saying that Greenlee doesn’t know that a bike lane will save lives, and is insanely popular in his neighborhood. I’m just saying he hasn’t done anything that would suggest that he cares. Even if Greenlee wins re-election, Darrell Clarke, may find it necessary to throw Greenlee’s pro-motor-vehicle fetish under the (metaphorical) bus to preserve Clarke’s own chances of ever being elected mayor. Good luck, everybody!
- Shiny new things with wheels. SEPTA’s Rebuilding For The Future program and ongoing Amtrak equipment orders will mean lots of new, unfamiliar shapes will be in and around Philadelphia. Although some of the new orders, like the SuperNova buses and the Viewliner II baggage cars, have already made their first appearances, many equipment orders will be either fulfilled or placed in 2015. But while the railfans and busfans will have their fun, the real joy will accrue to the the riders, who will get faster, more comfortable, and/or more reliable rides out of all the new equipment.
It’s been a pleasure writing for you all this year. See you in 2015!
Oh, yes, right.
Some technical problems related to a self-destructing laptop took down posting access to the blog, but they’re fixed now, and hopefully will never return. (Also: SHINY new laptop.) I hope I was able to keep those of you who follow me on Twitter informed, or at least amused in the interim.
And the blog really is returning to a Philadelphia a mini-Rip Van Winkle who slept through the last two months would only partly recognize.
- Our second-busiest Regional Rail station is now renamed for our 6th and 15th biggest employers, sparking a renewed and ongoing debate over the monetization of the public realm.
- Dilworth Plaza is now officially reborn as Dilworth Park, and the new subway entrance has a complete NPT fareline (with swipe access for existing transpasses and a booth troll taking all tokens and cash).
- Friend of the Blog Sandy Smith got what I think is the transit scoop of the year, as SEPTA’s Jeff Knueppel went on record and announced that SEPTA is planning to increase off-peak service to 30 minute headways on the Manayunk/Norristown and Chestnut Hill East Regional Rail Lines, sometime in the next few years.
And that was all just one day. (September 4th)
Since then, the hits have just kept coming, the latest being SEPTA’s declaration that its pilot program of overnight Subway and El service on weekends is a smashing success, and will be “extended indefinitely”. Late night revelers and graveyard shift workers alike have taken to the restored rail service, with average weekend ridership up 66% over the Nite Owl buses. Despite that added ridership not covering the increased cost of the service, a confident SEPTA is committing itself to being a public service, driving economic growth in Philadelphia. As of now, SEPTA cannot directly recover any of the myriad gains to the city that take the form of greater economic activity, decreased incidence of driving-while-impaired, or quality of life improvements like being able to cross 2nd Street in Northern Liberties between 2:00a and 3:00a without getting run over by a taxi. But the declaration that the public good outweighs the bottom line — from a SEPTA that is still under the stringent financial management of CFO Rich “Dr. No” Burnfield — is a demonstration of self-confidence that’s still surprising, and even staggering in the context of SEPTA’s precarious position before the passage of Act 89.
Writing this blog is going to be a lot more fun, going forward. I hope I get plenty of opportunity to do so.
It’s been a very busy few weeks in Greater Philadelphia transportation news. The 24 hour Regional Rail strike. The continuing saga of Delaware’s I-495 bridge. The reintroduction of overnight weekend service on the El and Subway, which despite the lack of staffing at most stations, has so far been a smashing success. PATCO’s travails with the Ben Franklin Bridge reconstruction. Proposals for renaming 30th Street Station, and selling naming rights at Suburban Station.
I’ve barely written about any of it.
I’m sorry. I’ve been busy.
(Warning: pictures and self-indulgence after the jump)
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There’s been some discussion lately on ditching the phrase “Delaware Valley” in favor of some variant of “Greater Philadelphia”. The reason given is that “Delaware Valley” allows (suburban) Philadelphians to dissociate themselves from Philadelphia.
I admire where the sentiment is coming from, but for now, I can’t see the language choice as important enough to police my own language or scold anyone else for theirs. This may change in the future, or it may not. Still, I thought I should make a note for those as do care.
I grew up in the Cincinnati suburbs. I first moved to the Philadelphia area in 2000 to attend Swarthmore College, and I immediately fell in love with this city. I’ve lived nine of the last twelve years in Swarthmore, University City, Roxborough, and Point Breeze/Newbold, and have accumulated some opinions in that time as a “New Philadelphian”. I also fell in love with getting around Philadelphia and its suburbs without a car. In my time away from the Delaware Valley, I lived in New York and Las Vegas, which reinforced the love of walkable and transit-oriented places from both extremes.
I’ve been posting things I’ve learned and things I’ve come to believe, in various corners of the internet, for quite some time now. I’ve decided it’s time to get more serious about doing that, so I’m starting this blog to collect everything in one place. As I shout, please shout back at me; I like discussion, and even if I don’t personally reply to every comment, I liked reading yours.