Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Extending the Market-Frankford Line
The Market-Frankford Line (locally called the "el") is the busiest heavy-rail route in Philadelphia, with some 180,000 daily riders, a number that compares favorably with anything the CTA, MTA, WMATA, or MBTA could put forward. It is a broad-gauge line using under-rail contact third-rail electrification, a setup totally unique in the United States, and its dynamic envelope is somewhat narrower than the Broad Street Line's. The line doesn't have any express tracks, and in fact, its daily operation pattern is near-optimized given its constraints. Its current trains are 8 cars, the same length as the line's shortest station, 5th Street; lengthening this station might allow longer trains, certainly necessary given the line's frequent crush loads.
The line currently terminates at Frankford Transportation Center in the near Northeast; while the capacity constraints laid out above prevent it from being used as a Northeast subway, a relatively short extension may be used to help the capacity problem.
This extension would involve a connection with the proposed Roosevelt Boulevard subway at Bustleton Avenue. Since the Boulevard subway would connect into the Broad Street tunnel, which does have express tracks, and a surprisingly high proportion of el riders go from Center City to the Northeast, with a transfer at Frankford, this expansion would be integrated into the Phase I construction of the Boulevard line in order to hopefully cut the el's ridership some--as I mentioned, congestion is an issue at peak hours, when train cars are beyond SRO and simply packed to gills.
The second part of this extension is an extension to place. The corner of Cottman and Roosevelt is one of the major retail centers of the Northeast, and the el extension there simplifies access to place. With improved access, of course, densification of the heart of the corridor--the stretch of Cottman from the Boulevard through Bustleton to Castor, would be encouraged. Also of interest: the proximity of this stretch of Cottman to Pennypack Park suggests a possible sub-use as a bicycling trailhead.
The three new stops (Roosevelt Bvld., Tyson, and Roosevelt Mall) would be expected to generate some new traffic, but this is counteracted by the siphoning effect of the major junction at the Boulevard and Bustleton. A study earlier this decade suggested that a Boulevard subway would have as many as 300,000 daily riders; this extension, being limited in scope, would have far less.