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Old 08-20-2013, 02:52 PM
 
4,263 posts, read 10,024,086 times
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A couple of times a year we try to make car free visits to cities, as an antidote to our antiseptic suburban lives, and a change of pace from our usual rural trail trips.

Recently Philly was our destination, by train. 30th St Station seems better than it was, there are hands on the clocks in the waiting room and concourse again, even showing the correct time.

We asked at the info desk for a map of University City as we were heading first to the Penn Museum. Nope, no maps. (We had tried to get one the night before from the University City District web site to no avail, no PDF downloads of useful things like visitor maps, just annual reports and the like. Their web site attractions locator didn't work on an iPhone, a Mac, a PC with Safari, and a PC with IE, so not a good replacement for a non-existent PDF download of a printed map, that the major transportation gateway in the neighborhood didn't hand out.)

So we went to the Penn Museum and had lunch inside. Then we walked up to Fairmount Water Works.
We had forgotten to buy SEPTA tokens (tokens? really?? still??) back at 30th St so I figured we could stop by the University City rail station to buy some from an attendant or machine. But, there was no attendant, no machine, no explanation of the transit system, no vicinity pedestrian map.

On the slightly drippy Sunday there were plenty of folks out at the Markward Playground, fortunately I had found on the web a note about the grand opening of a bridge over to the Schuylkill Banks trail from there. On that web site I saw there were three access points listed. No mention of stairs down to it from Walnut, JFK, etc. Nor was this premier pedestrian pathway leading from the transport hub to the museum parkway area, shown on the SEPTA Center City giveaway map they did have at the info table back at 30th St Station other than as a vague green shaded area.

So from the water works we eventually found our way around the art museum to The Oval family fun day, a nice little setup not overly crowded on the overcast somewhat showery day. After finishing up hula hooping and watching a zoo keeper talk about a porcupine, we kept walking down to Sister Cities Park which was actually our 10 year old's favorite diversion this day. Good thing I had seen that on a Google search of things to do with kids in Philly since the maps didn't show it. The little visitor center counter there (that visitor handout maps don't show) did actually have a University City handout map, too bad it was too late in the day and incorrectly located with respect to our walking itinerary for us to make use of it.

Then we figured we'd head over to Independence Hall area. Daughter was a bit sick of walking so we went in the Race/Vine station, only after trying the exit stairs (no orientation map to find the entrance stairs, fortunately we guessed correctly which way to go). There was an attendant who said we needed to pay him exact change, and helpfully pointed out the change machine on a long blank wall. (Really? No token dispenser at the subway station between the convention center and museum parkway?? There's enough wall space...)

Over at the Independence NHP visitor center, we could at least buy tokens for our trip to dinner and back to the station. (Not in the gift shop closest to Market Street, but at a relatively obscure counter "back the hall" which were the directions given to us at the gift shop.) The changes from and to Market-Frankford 15th Street to the Broad Street City Hall took two and three tries for us to find due to minuscule mostly absent signage.

On getting back into the subway at the Walnut-Locust stop we found ourselves in an expansive nether world - but, oddly, and finally, there actually were locator maps for the Philadelphia Transit Concourse. I wondered why anyone ever created such a structure under South Broad Street - was it meant to be a bomb shelter? (When waiting back at the station for our Amtrak train out I searched online, found some interesting blogs about the space but didn't come up with a history link that explained it.) No murals, no musicians, no shops like Underground Montreal, just a weird disused urban space that was really somewhat creepy. But with the aid of the maps we actually did find the turnstile and entry to the westbound subway, and one stop later found ourselves back at 30th St. Someone here (presumably after repeated complaints) stuck up a bunch of arrows pointing the way to Amtrak - up onto the street and across a drive to the station.

Like I said, we carfree travel to cities fairly often. Washington DC transit stops for years, have orientation maps, readable signs pointing to platforms, and the like. New York City has made great strides in the last decade letting you know where you're at, even in a much more confusing transit infrastructure. We didn't have any trouble figuring out how to transition between elevated and subway lines in Chicago even.

Based on our visit it seems like Philadelphia has plenty of the hard stuff down for creating connectivity, and legacy still in place for moving people around in the urban core without cars. But it's many years behind peer cities in conveying information on how and where to get around carfree, to the end users.
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Old 08-20-2013, 03:15 PM
 
512 posts, read 876,936 times
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I get your frustration. It must be tough to be in a new city that your not used to. Philadelphia does have a wayfinding system with Walk Philadelphia on sign posts on the sidewalk. Did you see them? They are geared towards pedestrians with different colors representing the different quadrants of the downtown area.

SEPTA is upgrading their payment tech so they have not been investing in token tech. They are being slowly starved by the state and their local funding has been reduced too. Quite sad. Philadelphia is a great walking city except for the Parkway. Oldly enough our tourist detinations like the parkway, CC, Gallery Mall, and Independence Mall are some of the worst areas downtown. Next time check out Rittenhouse Sq, Washington Sq, and Chinatown.
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Old 08-20-2013, 03:25 PM
 
Location: The City
22,381 posts, read 33,159,779 times
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I think sadly what you wrote is true, and further sad is there a great set of bones and many great attributes to the city all not so easily displayed.

If is ok with you I would love to send a link to your post along to the CC District, U Cityy district and Speta as these are obvious flaws, and even more apparent to someone not familiar with the area.

At least the token system is going away this year, finally...
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Old 08-20-2013, 03:41 PM
 
Location: back in Philadelphia!
3,260 posts, read 4,877,400 times
Reputation: 2051
SEPTA has a history of (since raising fares always meets with so much opposition) aiming to increase revenues by inconveniencing non-regular riders as a way of getting more people to pay the higher base fares.
There was a time not THAT long ago, when they installed ticket and/or token vending machines in every station in the system. That was great. Then a few years later, most of the machines were removed, and were never replaced.
SEPTA does some things right, and is a good system by US standards, but they are totally backwards in this regard.
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Old 08-20-2013, 04:24 PM
 
Location: Philadelphia, PA
2,377 posts, read 2,695,391 times
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The road system is horrid for new comers too. Quite often the sign for an exit is technically after the exit. This can also be coupled with the exit itself being inside a blind turn. Or other things such as your lane becoming an exit without warning.

The subway system isn't too bad since they do have maps for it. But the buses are nearly useless to visitors. I've only ever seen a map for them at 69th station and it wasn't even in the main lobby. It all expects that you have google maps on your phone with public transportation set.
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Old 08-20-2013, 06:57 PM
 
Location: Midwest
1,283 posts, read 1,881,190 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeNigh View Post
The subway system isn't too bad since they do have maps for it. But the buses are nearly useless to visitors. I've only ever seen a map for them at 69th station and it wasn't even in the main lobby. It all expects that you have google maps on your phone with public transportation set.
A lot of the bus shelters in center city have maps of bus routes, including final destinations and transfer points.
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Old 08-20-2013, 07:55 PM
 
Location: Bella Vista
2,472 posts, read 3,486,213 times
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Sounds like most of your problems could have been solved by five minutes of prep, maybe download a septa app on your phone.

I couldn't imagine taking a day trip to a city and making "ask the train station information desk for a map" as my primary plan to navigate the city.
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Old 08-21-2013, 06:23 AM
 
4,263 posts, read 10,024,086 times
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Hmm, maybe I should have downloaded that app so I could shake my phone and have tokens come out.
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Old 08-21-2013, 06:25 AM
 
Location: Philadelphia
11,942 posts, read 10,818,746 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rotodome View Post
SEPTA has a history of (since raising fares always meets with so much opposition) aiming to increase revenues by inconveniencing non-regular riders as a way of getting more people to pay the higher base fares.
There was a time not THAT long ago, when they installed ticket and/or token vending machines in every station in the system. That was great. Then a few years later, most of the machines were removed, and were never replaced.
SEPTA does some things right, and is a good system by US standards, but they are totally backwards in this regard.
Very true-I recently paid $6 Zone 1 regional rail one way. I was told that it is because they want more people to get Trailpasses. I would if it were a monetary card and didn't expire, like in NYC.
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Old 08-21-2013, 06:47 AM
 
Location: a swanky suburb in my fancy pants
3,391 posts, read 7,737,587 times
Reputation: 1586
Your story is another example of why it is so important to do your homework before you travel. Now try again with your car this time and see a little bit of what you missed by restricting yourself to mass transit.
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