Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In Defense of Noisy Teenagers on a Bus

In my occasional scanning of what Philadelphians are Tweeting about SEPTA, one of the biggest complaints is those damn teenagers!  They're loud and obnoxious, and they don't respect other passengers...Sure, all true, but there is something so pure and exuberant about this scene from the lives of a group of young kids in the back of this bus.  They're so full of energy and enthusiasm, so positive, so ready for what's next.  And probably, for some of them, it's about to get serious.  But for now, these few moments riding with their friends on the 52 bus (pdf), planning their weekend at Fairmount Park, can't we let them have that?  Just put on your headphones and remember what it was like: 

If you're there, you might as well follow me on Twitter and share the stuff you like about riding SEPTA.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dance: 31 on the Market-Frankford El

I can't say that I wholly endorse subjecting your fellow El passengers to Britney Spears and a half-hearted dance-routine at 11pm on  a Friday night, but I endorse it a little bit, at least:

The performance is part of a dance-a-day series called Dance: 31, leading up to a Philly Fringe show. Other locations include Cheese Steak Central, Citizens Bank Park, and, of course, the Art Museum Steps. Why not friend them on Facebook?  Check out all of the videos at the AnthologyProject YouTube Channel, or take a look at the schedule and catch the next live performance.  Also, don't just beat the crap out of Thomas Choinacky if you see him dancing on the 34 trolley.  

Monday, May 18, 2009

SEPTA's New Public Defender

Oh hell yes, Phawker.  Hell YES!  And thank you Phillygrrl, for having the courage to get out there and get in our faces with just how awesome SEPTA is (blah blah blah, despite all its flaws, blah blah blah).  A weekly column?!  Another reason to TGIF and TGIPh.


BY PHILLYGRRL It can be hard for both non-SEPTA and SEPTA riders alike to understand the appeal public transportation holds for a former country girl like me. When I moved here from New Jersey as a child, I was fascinated by the trolleys, trains, subways and buses I saw everywhere. Even now, despite the grime and urine, the inconveniences and hassles, I’m still awed by how accessible everything is to the average Philadelphian. With just $2 in your pocket, you can go anywhere you like in the city, a rarity for your average small-town American without a car. The best part for me (and the worst part for some Philadelphians) is how riding SEPTA gives you a front-row seat into the living rooms of your neighbors. I’ve seen and heard more interesting things on SEPTA than I’ve ever experienced in my years growing up in a Philadelphia neighborhood and attending Philadelphia schools. There’s something very intimate about being thrown together towards a common destination on a day-to-day basis with a group of strangers. It can reveal a lot, both positive and negative, about your own prejudices and those of your fellow citizens. In the next few weeks, I hope to share some of the things I’ve learned and continue to learn from my experiences riding SEPTA on a daily basis. I’ll also be taking some routes I don’t normally take, learning the city a little better and highlighting all of those nice conductors out there. Who knows? I may be sitting on your bus.

Check out Phillygrrl's SEPTA column every Friday at Phawker!  

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Car-Free in Philadelphia

Great discussion in a New York Times opinion blog on the possibilities of car-free living.  Though the claim is disputed in comments, Witold Rybczynski--a professor at Penn--makes this bold claim in his post:
There are only six American downtown districts that are dense enough to support mass transit, which you need if you’re going to be carless: New York City (Midtown and Downtown), Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco. That’s it. The breaking-point for density and mass transit feasibility seems to be about 50 persons per acre, which means families living in flats and apartments, rather than single-family houses, even row houses. Not necessarily high-rise apartments, but at least walk-ups.
I'm glad Philadelphia makes that list, since it's true that you can live in Philadelphia without a car.  It's a fact some of SEPTA's most passionate critics tend to forget, possibly because many of them have not lived for long outside of one of those five cities.   But I think he probably overstates the case just a little. Once you've got mass transit, it can constitute its own organizing principle for a city offering car-free (or nearly car-free) living to those living in transit-adjacent corridors.  That's largely the problem with selling people on the virtues of public transit.  It's not quite like offering a service like high-speed internet access or central water, where there's demand in the places people already live.   Mass transit is a service that creates its own demand, its own new constituencies, simply by coming into existence.  In that sense, "demand" for public transit has to be reckoned in a more abstract way than demand for coffee shops, bars, grocery stores and other commercial endeavors.  
Philadelphia is lucky to have the transit corridors it already has.  They've made the kind of density we enjoy (or at least some of us enjoy) possible.  Few cities have demonstrated the courage to build mass transit corridors with a future like Philadelphia in mind.  
That's why I may never ever leave.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dream or Nightmare?

Love this piece of SEPTA angst from The Dream.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Heartrate City

First, thanks to @_missbee for the new twitter logo:

It got me thinking a little about hearts. In my daily sampling of tweets about Philadelphians' public transit woes, I often wonder about the parallel 'private' transit happening on the regions roads and highways. I suppose one of the hidden PR disadvantages of running public transit is that your clients have nothing but time to complain while waiting for and actually using your service. Drivers, on the other hand, we hope, are keeping a white knuckle grip on their steering wheels while commuting to work and have not time to thumb out their disgust with traffic. In other words, thanks to a mechanical bias built into the ways we commute, the twitstreams simply aren't sufficiently similar to compare the stress and irritation of driving vs. riding SEPTA.

So here's an idea. Let's take 100 daily public transit riders and 100 daily car commuters and strap heart rate monitors to them. Let's recruit them from the same communities and the same industries. And then let's look at their commute times and heart rates for one month. Let's make the data public and compare just how long and how stressful our commutes are. And hell, let's do a little oral history while we're at it!

Hypothesis: Driving sucks WAY more than riding SEPTA. And you'll feel much better about that bus that just drove by without stopping or the train conductor who shut the doors in your face if you know there's a sad sack somewhere on 95 North choking down a Croissanwich and spitting with rage at the Jetta driver who just cut him off to reach the Aramingo exit.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Beautiful shot from Market East Station by flickr user mezone.

There's already been quite a bit of chatter about the delay in SEPTA's new smart-card fare system, but it's well worth deliberating a little over this. It's a lot of money and still a few years away. It's smart to take it slow since some of the necessary technologies are still evolving. Still, if these descriptions are accurate, it's going to be quite a convenience and a significant improvement over even NYC's beloved metro card:

The "smart card" system will replace the tokens, tickets, and magnetic-stripe cards that passengers now use on buses, subways, trains, and trolleys. Passengers will be able to wave a card at a sensor on a turnstile or fare box and be on their way.

SEPTA wants a system that will allow passengers to use credit cards, prepaid SEPTA cards, and even cell phones to pay for their trips.