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Spotlight on the Central District: Cultural Corridor Line Bus Rapid Transit

The Cultural Corridor Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is envisioned as a speedier (than typical bus) service operating between the Delaware River waterfront and the Mann Music Center.  It will connect the civic center area including the Convention Center, the Parkway museums and attractions, and the largest landscaped urban park in the world.  It is one of the “big ideas” in the Central District Plan (the full draft will be released for public comment on Tuesday, March 19th).

We know. We know. You’re thinking how can a “bus” be “rapid”? Especially if you’ve ever been on a bus in Center City!?

Is it a bus? A train? A caterpillar?  Source:

Is it a bus? A train? A caterpillar? Source:

Well, think of some things that make transportation “rapid”: dedicated travel lane, as in a separate tunnel for subways, or an elevated structure for an El; actual stations with platforms spaced more than a few blocks apart; potential to pay your fare prior to boarding (such as turnstiles); frequent service (every 15 minutes or better); and branding (such as use of orange for Broad Street Subway and green for trolley lines, etc.).




Now, keep all those things in mind, but imagine a bus service employing those strategies rather than a vehicle on rails. So? You ask how is that better – or even possible – on narrow Central District streets? It won’t be easy, but many of the characteristics of BRT can be incorporated into a new transit line.

The Cultural Corridor Line will not only connect important attractions, but its service will fill an important transit function – bringing rapid service to the northwestern Center City for the first time (the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Logan Square and Fairmount neighborhoods). To do this, the line will utilize the old railroad cut called the City Branch which lies largely below-grade from Broad Street west/northwest between Callowhill and Hamilton Streets then under Pennsylvania Avenue and along Fairmount Park near Kelly Drive.

View of current City Branch tunnel

View of current City Branch tunnel

By operating below the city streets in the City Branch, the buses can make-up any time lost when at street level – making “rapid” more than just a dream. Running in the tunnel will also mean that closures of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway won’t interfere with operations. No matter what event is happening at Eakins Oval, the transit line can run without any delays or reroutings.

The Cultural Corridor Line can also stitch together virtually all other forms of transit found in the Central District – Regional Rail, Broad-Ridge Subway system, Market-Frankford Subway-Elevated, subway-surface trolleys, Girard Avenue Light Rail, PATCO, NJT buses, and the Intercity Bus Terminal operations.

Not all of  the Cultural Corridor Line can operate below street level in the City Branch, it will also be necessary to operate the BRT on surface streets to extend the reach of the service. So, with inclusion of some on-street operation, potential exists for the Cultural Corridor Line to extend east to Penn’s Landing, up and down Delaware Avenue, and at the west end provide service to the Mann Music Center and West Fairmount Park.

Proposed Cultural Corridor Line route from the Central District Plan

Proposed Cultural Corridor Line route from the Central District Plan

The tunnel portions of the City Branch, beneath Pennsylvania Avenue, originally accommodated four tracks. So, there is quite a bit of space down there, even after busways and platforms are constructed. The stage is set for some serious Philly transit treatment. Perhaps a “signature” bike station? Maybe it can be integrated into a Cultural Corridor Line station. Brisbane, Australia is doing some marvelous BRT things, including new downtown BRT subway stations, at least one of which includes a bicycle station. There may be room for a park or trail as well within the City Branch railroad cut.

A downtown Brisbane, Autralia BRT Station that incorporates a bike station.  Source:

A downtown Brisbane, Autralia BRT Station that incorporates a bike station. Source:

There’s still a lot of details to figure out before the Cultural Corridor Line is up and running. The first step, which is part of the recommendation in the Central District Plan, is to do a feasibility study. This study will finalize the actual route for the line and the mode that would be most economical. Like most transportation projects – this isn’t quick, but we can certainly start support for the Cultural Corridor Line and begin the steps to make it happen!

10 thoughts on “Spotlight on the Central District: Cultural Corridor Line Bus Rapid Transit

  1. Honestly, I would like to see the extra lanes of the City Branch preserved for a future light rail/subway spur. This is a rare right-of-way that can’t be put to waste.

    • Why would installing BRT lanes in the City Branch preclude it’s future use for a light rail/subway spur. If anything, it will fix up the facility and keep it in good condition for future use, as opposed to letting it continue to sit unused and unfixed….

  2. This would be great! I rarely go to the waterfront or the Western portion of Fairmount park simply because there is so little public transit that goes there. I have enjoyed and utilized BRT in other cities. I think using a bus structure rather than rail cars is a flexible way to plan for the future.
    Bringing the line down Delaware avenue past Penn’s Landing would help revitalize those areas and give folks a chance to participate in festivals without an excessive parking fee.
    I also would like to see free interchange to the existing Broad street, Market/Frankford and trolley services incorporated. Running a link to the southern tip of the broad street line/stadium area would take congestive pressure off a singular rail line for sporting events and help southbound passengers travel during parade route disruptions to bus service.

  3. I agree with Rob. The City Branch has the potential to connect Strawberry Mansion and other neighborhoods where the lack of public transportation has hindered revival.

  4. Gee I wish I was still in Philly! I designed a similar proposal in conjunction with the Philadelphia Coca Cola Bottling Company related to the 1976 Bicentennial years ago. It was never accepted.

  5. This asset is HUGE! We need to use it to expand our fixed guide way transit system as a means to address revitalization of Strawberry Mansion and nearby neighborhoods as well as provide much needed rapid transit to Manayunk, Roxborough, and other places along I 76 that are choked by their auto-dependency!

  6. Pingback: » Blog Archive » This Moment In Chocolate And Peanut Butter: Your Reading Viaduct Is All Up In My Cultural Corridor Line!

  7. I suggest that you tie the Cultural Corridor BRT line with the proposed BRT along Roosevelt Boulevard. Access to the Boulevard would be had by 33rd Street and Hunting Park Avenue, or even better, an easement on the former Reading RR right-of-way west of the Schuylkill River. This combination would greatly enhance mass transit access to employment and cultural centers along the Parkway and other locations west of Broad Street.

  8. I think the Cultural Corridor Line should not be BRT. It should be Light Rail. Now that the state will be funding mass transit at a much higher level than it has been doing, it now makes more sense for the City to pursue rail for this corridor. Yes, buses are more “flexible” in that tracks don’t have to be laid for them. But they will need ramps to come back up to the surface once they are out of the busway and street loops to turn around in. And once the buses are back on the surface, they’re at the mercy of the other street traffic. With rail, it doesn’t have to be that way. One option could be to continue down the currently-unused Route 23 trolley tracks on 11th and 12th streets and loop around on Bainbridge St. Another option (maybe a long-term one) could be to connect the Broad-Ridge Spur tracks with the Cultural Corridor route at Ridge Ave and Noble St and have the route go underground at that point and terminate at 8th and Market with a free transfer to the El.

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