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City, SEPTA team up to give riders the green light to take transit

If you ride SEPTA buses or trolleys, you have likely experienced what it feels like to be stopped at a red light block after block after block. The great news for you is that Philadelphia and SEPTA are working together to help alleviate your headache. In as little as 18 months, three select SEPTA bus or trolley routes within the city will be able to move a little faster, thanks to the planned re-timing of traffic lights to prioritize SEPTA vehicles.

Andrew Stober, chief of staff for the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU), explained just what traffic signal prioritization means. For instance, if a light cycle for a given intersection with no participating SEPTA routes passing through is 60 seconds, each direction would get 30 seconds of green. However, the city and SEPTA plan to utilize transponders atop buses and trolleys to alter traffic light timing so that a street’s lights will remain green for 40 seconds when a mass transit vehicle approaches.  

Currently MOTU is working with SEPTA to determine which bus or trolley routes are most deserving of traffic light prioritization. According to Stober, the five routes being debated for light re-timing are the routes 6, 52, and 60 buses, the route 13 trolley, and the route 66 trackless trolley. Stober described some criteria for the choice of routes. “All run along a single arterial with a lot of traffic signals,” he said. It is important to note that the prioritization will occur along the entirety of the three routes chosen, not just parts of them.

Interestingly, none of these routes go through Center City, which is not an accident. Stober justified these routes because they feed the Broad Street or Market-Frankford lines, which can subsequently be used to get downtown. With that in mind, the routes seem to represent many other parts of the city, including Southwest, West, North, Northeast, and Northwest Philadelphia.

Stober glorifies the transit prioritization by pointing out the many perceived benefits. The prioritization will "improve flow on capacity-constrained streets," boasted Stober. "The improvements will help increase transit modeshare." Not leaving out non-transit drivers, he added that other vehicles traveling in the same direction as the chosen buses or trolleys will also benefit from the lengthened green light.

This is all made possible by a $3.5 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA). The city and SEPTA expect the transit preference to begin in 18 months to two years. This is just the latest collaboration between the transit agency and the city it serve to speed up transit vehicles. It comes on the heels of the removal of half the stops for the route 47 bus between Market Street and its South Philadelphia endpoint.

Source: Andrew Stober, Philadelphia Mayor's Office on Transportation and Utilities
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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