MOTU@5 | How We Got Here Online Exhibit | Good Bones and Big Infrastructure

Throughout October, MOTU and the Free Library of Philadelphia will be showcasing unique archival images from Philadelphia’s transportation and utilities history in an on-line exhibit called “How’d we get here?”.  Every and Monday and Wednesday in October we will be showcasing a certain segment of the exhibit (all photographs are from the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Print and Picture Collection).

On Monday we took a look at the history of the people who built/maintained Philly’s transportation system and the tools they used.  Today we’ll be taking a brief look at the history of the construction of the El and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge by selecting three of our favorite photos from the “Good Bones and Big Infrastructure” portion of the exhibit.  You can check out all of the historic images online here and in person at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Central Branch (1901 Vine Street).

Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Utilities, Rina Cutler likes to say that “Philadelphia has good bones” meaning that under girding of our transportation network we have an impressive infrastructure system that is the envy of cities across the United States. These photos take us back to the days when it was first built.

Market Frankford Line Under Construction, 1906

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The Market Frankford Line under construction in 1906.

Wooden Street During Construction, 1908

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As shown in this photograph, there were wooden streets with trolleys during the original subway construction under Market Street.

Benjamin Franklin Being Built, Southeast View

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This image from the 1920s shows a southeast view  of “Tower A” of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge being constructed.

Donated by J.B. Abbott

Image source and credit: Delaware River Port Authority,


Tidbit Tuesday | Which mode do Philadelphia public transit users take to work?

Every Tuesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities (MOTU) posts a map or graphic that tells a story about transportation or utilities in the City of Brotherly Love.

Based on the 2011 American Community Survey, approximately 25% of working Philadelphians commute to work via public transportation.  Here in Philly we have a wide-range of public transportation options, and so we decided to take a look this week at which mode Philadelphia public transit users take to work.


At 71.6%, those who take the bus (including trolley bus) to work make up the largest portion of public transportation users.  Next are subway (Market Frankford Line and Broad Street Line) users at 16.1%.  Following are regional rail users at 10.7%.  Finally, trolley users bring up the rear at 1.6%.

Tidbit Tuesday — SEPTA Ridership Trends 1999-2012

Every Tuesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities (MOTU) posts a map or graphic that tells a story about transportation or utilities in the City of Brotherly Love.

SEPTA just released data showing that they are currently celebrating achieving an all-time high regional rail ridership for Fiscal Year 2013!  In order to help celebrate, we took a look at their Annual Reports and created a graphic illustrating how SEPTA’s ridership has increased from its 1999 ridership levels!  Regional Rail saw an increase of 36% and Trolley, Bus, and Subway ridership saw an increase of 28% between Fiscal Year 1999 and Fiscal Year 2012!


Note, all trips shown are linked passenger trips.

Want to see more graphics related to SEPTA’s ridership?  Check out the following posts:

Tidbit Tuesday — Exploring SEPTA Ridership, Part 4

Every Tuesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities (MOTU) posts a map or graphic that tells a story about transportation or utilities in the City of Brotherly Love.

This week is the fourth and last post of a one month exploration of SEPTA’s ridership for FY12  through infographics (you can find the first week’s here, second week’s here, and last week’s here).  This week we have have produced two graphs.

First, we graphed the SEPTA Subway Routes.  Is your subway route the highest used in the city?


Second, we graphed those SEPTA bus, regional rail, trolley, and subway routes with the top 10 highest ridership (regardless of mode).  Is your route one of the top 10 most popular routes in Philadelphia?



Designing a Comfortable and Convenient Subway Car (No Middle Seats!)

If you’re a regular bus, trolley, or el rider, you probably know of the best places to stand or the most coveted seats in a transit vehicle. You might favor a seat with a window or that spot by the door knowing that you can jump off first at your stop. Your choice may even depending on whether you’re hopping on for a few stops or settling in for a cross-town ride.

Some service planners at New York City Transit Authority and the Metro-North Railroad set out to document and measure how people sit, stand, and circulate on New York City subway trains. As they mention in a current working paper, the interior layouts of their trains haven’t changed much in decades, and a redesign would have the potential to get more use out of limited space and make customers more comfortable.

What did these planners discover? Their most striking observation was that people really do not like “middle” seats—nobody wants to sit between two strangers without any physical separation. Riders frequently choose to stand rather than take an open “middle” seat. Such seats were more attractive, though, if poles or partitions split up a long row of seats into discrete pairs, effectively equipping every seat with a separator on at least one side.

They also found that when standing, passengers overwhelmingly prefer holding on to vertical poles rather than overhead bars or hanging straps. Passengers liked to congregate near the doors and only move in to the aisles as a last resort.


In this illustration from the study, layout (a) depicts a typical existing subway car, as viewed from above (the blue areas are seats). Layouts (b) and (c) are two recommendations developed by the authors that provide the same number of seats but eliminate the dreaded “middle” ones by strategically positioning separators. They also rearrange the doors so that they no longer face each other, creating a more open feel that encourages passengers to move further into all available standing areas.

The results of this study will potentially be applied to future generations of subway cars in New York City, but more research would help to confirm that these findings can extend to other cities and other types of vehicles. Bus and light-rail trains, for example, often only allow boarding at the front door to collect fares, which probably results in a different pattern of standing room and seat selection.  Varying travel distances and degrees of congestion among different markets would also influence local customer preferences.

The Broad Street Subway uses both transverse and longitudinal seats. (Image from

The Broad Street Subway uses both transverse and longitudinal seats. (Image from

Philadelphia is served by three heavy-rail lines with vehicles similar to those examined in the study. On the Market-Frankford and PATCO Lines, transverse seating provides more places to sit but less overall passenger capacity compared to a longitudinal layout. The Broad Street Line uses a mixed longitudinal and transverse seating plan.

The Federal Transit Administration estimates the useful life of a heavy-rail vehicle at 25 years, with many actually used for longer, so design decisions are made in advance of an entire generation of riders. Transit agencies have limited means to respond to changing trends, such as the 14% increase in SEPTA system ridership since 2006. Facing similar growth, Chicago decided to transition from transverse to longitudinal seating in their new vehicle purchases, while Boston has removed seats entirely from a few subway cars.

We want to hear from you: Would you rather have a better chance of finding a seat or have the room to quickly get on and off the train? How would you design a future generation of heavy rail vehicles?

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