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All Aboard: BRT Coming to City Branch

Borne out of the ongoing Central District Plan, the Planning Commission has decided to pursue BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) for City Branch in Logan Square, an old submerged railbed that has been underutilized for years.

While not a new idea on the world stage, this would be Philly’s first foray into BRT. A mode of transit not unlike light rail (but without the rail part), BRT utilizes special buses in dedicated lanes to move people around. In true Philly fashion, the proposed BRT is getting its own spin: the Commission is billing it as a "Cultural BRT," connecting some of the city’s most important arts and civic institutions along its route. 

According to Laura Spina of the City Planning Commission, the current proposal would run buses from the Please Touch
Museum and Mann Music Center, eventually connecting to Girard Avenue where it would cross the Schuylkill and connect to the submerged City Branch cut at 30th and Poplar Streets. Eventually the line would reemerge and run along Race and Arch Streets to link up with the future transit lines along Columbus Boulevard (proposed in the adopted Waterfront Master Plan).

But before any of this happens, a lot of public education needs to take place. “This isn’t your typical SEPTA bus,” says Spina,  pointing to BRT examples in Los Angeles and Cleveland as prototypes for Philly’s new line. “It will run on a much higher frequency in dedicated lanes with enhanced stations.” 

Spina also argues that City Branch is the perfect place for implementing BRT: “It is already a dedicated right-of-way that is separate from the grid, so this cuts down on implementation costs, making it one third the cost of building light rail at a similar scope.”

City planners expect the Cultural BRT to cost about $75 million in total, but it isn’t the price tag that has some groups riled up over the Commission’s plan. “There are two groups of people who are upset over the BRT proposal,” explains Spina, “those that want to use City Branch for light rail and those that want to turn it into a park.” 

ViaductGreene is the most organized group advocating to turn the submerged City Branch landscape into open space that would connect to the long-awaited Reading Viaduct park, but they would have to convince SEPTA, the current landowner, to turn it over for such a purpose. As of now, SEPTA seems to be on the side of BRT. “SEPTA is very much in support of BRT here,” says Spina. “They want to find the best way to utilize City Branch and they want to grow their system.  For them, it’s a win-win.” 

Spina says a lot of the details still need to be hammered out through the Central District Plan, but expects Philadelphia to welcome BRT sooner rather than later. “A big part of the bus line is right there and ready to use," she explains. "Once we finalize the route and gain community support, we want to get BRT up and running to improve transportation choices in Fairmount, while connecting some of the best cultural institutions Philly has.” 

Source: Laura Spina, City Planning Commission
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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