Franklin Square stop would reopen for first time since 1979.
In potentially excellent news for the future of transit service in Center City Philadelphia, PATCO announced last week that it would be reopening a station at Franklin Square last used in 1979, but which remains in adequate condition. Trains currently run stop-free past the platforms, which are located between existing stations at 8th and Market in Philadelphia and across the river at City Hall in downtown Camden. Though the region’s rapid transit network remains disorganized and requires significant upgrades to provide world-class service, the announcement is encouraging news for a quickly developing center city.
PATCO claims that the reopening makes sense because of recent improvements in the neighborhood around the station. The National Constitution Center opened in 2002, followed by the redevelopment of a former hospital into a new condo complex. The Northern Liberties neighborhood north of the station is growing. The station’s renewed operation would also coincide with the opening of a new transit line in South Jersey, which would feed into PATCO and presumably increase ridership. In the longer term, PATCO has proposed building a light rail system from Franklin Square to the waterfront along the Delaware River. That project would allow direct transfers between PATCO and light rail once Franklin Square is reopened.
As the Examiner reports, the station itself has a sketchy history. It opened in 1936, but closed several years later due to limited ridership; it reopened during World War II to provide service to troops, but closed in the late 1940s; it saw new service in 1953 when PATCO was expanded, but then shut its doors a few years later; finally, it operated between 1976 and 1979 for Bicentennial visitors. Can we expect the $5-10 million being invested in this station’s renovation to provide for a permanent transit facility? Or will the Franklin Square stop close once again a few years down the road?
Why hasn’t the station been particularly attractive in the past? The answer lies in its location and the connections offered to the rest of Philadelphia from it. For one, it’s only six blocks away from the PATCO and SEPTA station at 8th and Market, so it’s competing directly with another stop. Second, though Franklin Square itself is a relatively handsome park, other than the Constitution Center, there are few destinations directly surrounding it. To make matters worse, the park’s northern and eastern boundaries — specifically, the connections to the aforementioned Northern Liberties — are desecrated by the huge interchange between the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Vine Street Expressway. Not exactly a walkable zone.
Second, even if the walk to the station were enjoyable, the people of the neighborhood have little incentive to use PATCO. A ride further south into Philadelphia could get them as far as 16th and Locust, where the system terminates, but that’s only about a mile and a half’s walk away — is that worth the wait for a train? Neighborhood dwellers also could be provided a commute into Camden and South Jersey, but there’s not exactly a huge employment zone there, so what’s the point?
Ultimately, then, the station is unlikely to be well-used, no matter the excitement about the revival of this area of Philadelphia.
But there’s an alternative that would provide more connections to and from the neighborhood: a reconnection of the Broad-Ridge Spur to the Locust Street Subway. Today, only PATCO trains running from New Jersey take the route from 8th and Market Streets south and west to Locust and 16th Street. Until 1969, however, (SEPTA) Broad-Ridge Spur Subway trains also took that path, using a connection just south of the Franklin Square Station. The reopening of this link — the tunnel, though lacking tracks, still exists — would reinvigorate transit service to the neighborhood via the adjacent Chinatown Station, which is just a block away from Franklin Square. Customers using that station, as well as people traveling from north Broad Street, would then get access to southern Central City along Locust Street.
The reopening of the Broad-Ridge Spur’s abandoned Spring Garden Station could be timed concurrently with this project. That subway stop is located within comfortable and convenient walking distance of much of the redeveloping areas and could open up far more development potential than the Franklin Square stop, encroached upon by the surrounding freeways, would.