Sunday, September 28, 2003

I love Philadelphia. After moving here almost four years ago, I decided to make the city my home and buy property. So before I launch into what is going to be a major bitchfest about what's wrong with this fucking place, please keep in mind: I love it here. And I get mad because Philly is not the best place it could be. We've gone through a few slogans since I arrived. The City of Brotherly Love. The Place the Loves You Back I have a better motto: Philadelphia: The Loveable Place That Makes Astonishingly Bad Decisions.
We have so many wonderful things going for us. We are strategicallly located, a few hours from new York City and Washington DC. We're home to some of the most architecturally diverse and historically relevant sites anywhere else in the entire United States. We have a beautiful park, the largest city park in the world. yet we also have some of the worst schools in the country, a steady brain drain, a history of racial tension. We have an oppressive wage tax. All of these cons balance out the pros of living in Philadelphia, and all will someday have to be addressed. For my money however, the one thing that simply must be changed in Philadelphia, for the good of our air as well as for city's collective well-being, is an overhaul of how we deal with public transportation, especially revamping the light rail and trolley lines and how they connect our neighborhoods. Because if there is ANYTHING that is going to send me screaming into the night with my duffel bag over my shoulder it is the way the state and SEPTA have completely and utterly fucked up what was once an amazing rail system.

To understand the magnitude of this, it's informative to look to the past. There is an absolutely wonderful site called, that provides not only a look back at the cars, but how the system has changed, largely for the worse, over the years. For instance, this map is from 1944. Zoom in on any of the quadrants, and you will see that on nearly every single street in Center City, there was a trolley or trackless trolley. Northeast Philadelphia had an extensive network of streetcars. Even the less populated ares to the west had a variety of options. Today, a fraction of those lines remain and they are woefully mismanaged.

Subways and subway surface cars will always be preferable to buses, which tend to bundle and get caught in traffic. Furthermore, they don't pollute the air as much nor do they make as much noise. Yet only two of the five running trolleys run all night, and both the Market Street El and the Broad Street Subway shut down at 12:30n or so. They provide shuttle buses, but it has been my personal experience that the shuttle service is much slower than the train. The regional rails lines to both the suburbs and neighborhoods far from Center City like Manayunk and Chestnut Hill shut down before last call, isolating our neighborhoods and costing people money in cab fares and parking fees.