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!?
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.
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.
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.
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!