A University City Historic Streetcar Loop
A Proposal Endorsed By
Philadelphia Trolley Coalition
University City is a vibrant, diverse and densely populated urban neighborhood that is home to three major universities - the University of Pennsylvania (and its medical, nursing, law, dental, veterinary and Wharton Schools), Drexel University, and the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. Its residential areas contain the nation's largest collection of intact Victorian housing stock, with three major National Register Historic Districts - Powelton, Garden Court and the West Philadelphia Streetcar Suburb. All of this, on public transit, only a few minutes from downtown Philadelphia.
University City is also home to other major institutions, including the University City Science Center, major hospitals and heath centers, world-class museums, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Recently, all three universities have made major capital reinvestments in the area: USP and Drexel committed to major campus expansions and Penn to massive investment in commercial, residential and educational improvements. Through the dedicated efforts of the neighborhood's people and institutions, University City is now experiencing a resurgence.
2. The Neighborhood
University City is well served by public transportation for travel to Center City and other neighborhoods. Five Subway-Surface trolleys and one subway provide rapid service, especially to Center City and to the areas west of University City. Bus Routes 21, 30, 31, and 42 provide east-west service, primarily carrying people between the residential area to the west and Center City to the east. Bus Routes 40 and 64 provide north-south service, primarily serving Haddington and South Philadelphia.
However, none of these routes provides convenient, easy-to-use service within the area. Travel from most locations in the neighborhood to another location requires at least two, even three, routes with the attendant inconvenience of changing vehicles. Most of the neighborhood's many amenities are not served by the Subway-Surface trolleys. Attempting to remedy this situation, both Drexel and Penn provide their own private bus service. While noble in intent, the exclusive nature of the private buses has resulted in fewer people on the street and in further separation of the universities and the neighborhood. The lack of useful intra-neighborhood public transportation means that for persons with access to an automobile, driving to other neighborhoods and suburbs is more feasible than patronizing neighborhood establishments.
A complicating factor is the frequent turnover of residents that is characteristic of all university towns. Approximately one quarter of the students are new to the neighborhood every September. The majority of the college students are unfamiliar with public transportation and many of them arrive with at least some fear of urban areas and subways. These factors tend to discourage the students from making full use of what they perceive as 'big, bad, and unsafe' subways and buses.
The University City District's "University City Circulator" ("LUCY") connects the transit hub at 30th Street Station to major employment centers as far west as 38th Street and as far south as the Philadelphia Center for Health Care Sciences with six small, brightly-colored buses, each with 25 to 30 seats, on two routes (one clockwise, one counter-clockwise). Buses run weekdays every ten to twenty minutes beginning at 6:30 in the morning and continuing until 8:00 into the evening, providing a fast and reliable connection for commuter rail passengers and city transit riders alike. Employees of participating institutions and SEPTA pass holders ride free; everyone else pays a special 50¢ SEPTA fare.
Within the area ringed by the proposed route are over 50,000 jobs in education, medicine, science and research, a job base that is already one of the largest concentrations in the Philadelphia region outside Center City and one that promises continued strong growth, but one with severe and growing parking problems. "Lucy" is designed to alleviate such problems by providing a mass transit commuter link among institutions in the eastern half of University City to the 30th Street Station transit hub. As such it addresses a major need, but one distinct from that served by the University City Historic Trolley Loop.
3. The Proposed Service
The proposed University City Historic Streetcar Loop is designed to provide frequent, daily and late night, intra-neighborhood public transportation. It is designed to move students, faculty, residents, visitors and others between off-campus housing and the universities, while simultaneously providing environmentally friendly neighborhood transportation to schools, stores, medical facilities, entertainment venues and its many other amenities. The goal is a distinctive, imaginative service that captures the spirit of the neighborhood and entices institutional, residential and visiting populations to use, patronize and enjoy the area's expanded and renewed commercial and institutional venues.
Making use of the extensive network of existing, active track, streetcars will travel in one direction in a loop through the neighborhood. Passengers will be able to board at any location on the loop and leave at any other location further around the loop. The trolleys would operate from about seven in the morning until after midnight. During most of this period, there would be a trolley approximately every fifteen minutes.
The proposed route approximates a figure eight on its side. It stretches from Powelton Village to the Baltimore Avenue end of the 52nd Street Business District, passing through the hearts of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of the Sciences campuses, the area's major commercial districts and highlights and serves some of the best preserved of the area's distinctive Victorian residential neighborhoods.
Service will begin early in the morning to serve persons traveling to work in the area and commuting to distant jobs. Continuing through the day, the route will carry university, public and private school students to their classes, then people to stores and medical appointments. In the afternoon, the trolleys will carry everyone home. Evening service will provide service for the restaurants, cultural venues and nightlife, for evening study activities, and, of course, for persons working second shift jobs.
For the first time in the area's history, aboveground trolley service will connect the disparate parts of University City on a north/south, east/west diagonal, supplementing the east/west Center City/Western suburbs links established when the area was principally a "bedroom community." It will tie Powelton to the other portions of University City; allow workers, residents and visitors to access the now-separated commercial/entertainment zones and provide alternatives to the automobile and repeated attempts to locate available parking for those attending programs at venues like the Sundance Theatre, International House, Annenberg and dining at the area's international restaurant locations.
In addition to connections with each of the five Subway-Surface lines, the Market-Frankfort Subway and the R3 Rail line at 49th Street Station, the loop passes within one block of the following:
4. Construction Cost
University City is blessed with the densest remaining network of trolley track in the nation. This track currently serves two purposes. First, the track on Lancaster, Baltimore, Chester and Woodland Avenues is used by five Subway-Surface lines to Center City. Second, the track on other streets forms the access route for Route 10 trolleys between Elmwood Depot at 73rd and Elmwood and Lancaster Avenue. Therefore, the University City Loop is a bargain because nearly all the track is already in place. Only three short sections of track and one end-of-line loop need to be built, a relatively minor expense.
The five sections of new track required are as follows: 45th Street, from Woodland Avenue to Chester Avenue 38th Street, from Filbert Street to Lancaster Avenue 36th and Walnut Streets, from 36th and Ludlow to 38th and Walnut An end-of-line loop on Baltimore Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets
In addition to track, more trolley cars are required to operate the proposed University City Historic Streetcar Loop. Approximately forty-five minutes is required for each trolley to complete a circuit of the Loop. Provision of reliable service requires the addition of "layover" time that enables recovery from delays. Therefore, planning is on the basis of each trolley making one loop an hour. Thus, one trolley provides service every 60 minutes, two trolleys every 30 minutes, three trolleys every 20 minutes, four trolleys every 15 minutes, five trolleys every 12 minutes, and so forth.
Four cars are required to provide the proposed fifteen-minute frequency. Provision of distinctive cars will give the Loop a distinctive neighborhood character and clearly distinguish it from the through service to Center City. A combination of rehabilitated vintage cars and spare, available Kawasaki LRVs, now being used on the Subway-Surface line, could enable service to begin as soon as track is constructed.
5. Connections to 30th Street and Center City.
The University City Historic Streetcar could immediately have a direct, seamless
connection to SEPTA mass transit facilities at 30th Street and those in Center
City by means of the SEPTA Route 10 Subway-Surface portal at 36th
and Ludlow. The loop could, on occasion or on regular intervals
or on a regular basis, be extended underground to these destinations using