Building a Better PATCO Map

My suggested improvement, which includes far more information about transfers and how PATCO fits into the larger Greater Philadelphia transit system.

My suggested improvement, which includes far more information about transfers and how PATCO fits into the larger Greater Philadelphia transit system.

The PATCO High Speed Line that runs between South Jersey and Philadelphia is a workhorse. It’s one of only four 24-hour train lines in the country. In the mornings and evenings, trains come every 5-10 minutes, and every other time there’s about 20 minutes between them. It gets tens of thousands of people to work, school, hospitals, bars, and restaurants in Philadelphia without having to find parking. Over the past 45 years, it’s become a staple of transportation in the region.

Though they’ve been shuttling South Jerseyans to and from Philadelphia for decades, their ability to convey crucial information leaves a lot to be desired. This has manifested itself a lot recently, with things like trains breaking down causing delays. But it’s also engrained in the structure of the agency. Specifically, my problem today is with the maps the agency uses in trains and on platforms.

Let me convey what I mean with a story. One of the most frustrating conversations I ever heard on the train was a little kid enthusiastically asking his mom if they could get to a baseball game from the train. His mom tersely shot back, “No, you can’t get to the stadium from the train”. My brain exploded. I don’t know if she didn’t like the idea of transferring to the subway, or if she really didn’t think you can get there, but this is one of the most basic (and economically stimulating) transfers on the entire PATCO line. To be clear, you can take the line to 12-13th & Locust, get on the Broad Street Subway southbound, and get to Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field, or the Wells Fargo Center in less time and for far less money than it takes to drive to any of them and park.

This kind of thing is what motivated me to come up with a fix for the fact that PATCO itself makes it difficult to understand how the line fits in to the larger Greater Philadelphia transit network. Basically, the maps at stations and in trains are horrible. They barely show any connections to the rest of Philadelphia’s transit network. For a well-used system that takes people into the heart of the fifth largest American city, this is a problem. Daily commuters might know what they’re going, but for people who don’t use the system frequently or who have never used it at all, it can be hard to figure out how to get around. For example, currently it might be unclear for the infrequent rider to know how to get to Fishtown from Haddonfield, or West Philadelphia from Lindenwold. These connections aren’t hard to make, but the map that PATCO provides barely give you any of this information.

Since the biggest problem I see with the current maps is the lack of information about transfers, I tried to make those as clear as possible in my map. For example, with this map you can pretty easily tell that you can get on PATCO in Westmont, change to the El at 8th & Market, and get off at Girard if you wanted to get to the Piazza in Northern Liberties. It’s not a new idea, it’s not revolutionary, but it’s a basic thing that transit maps really need to get right, and which the current PATCO maps certainly do not. And considering that transit use has been increasing in the region for the past decade, we need better maps that show us how our transportation options all fit together. We’re lucky in this area to have a fairly good transportation network, with PATCO, SEPTA, and NJTransit as options. But we need to build better maps to improve our transit literacy so no one thinks you can’t make one of the most highly-taken transfers in the entire system.

The current in-train maps have barely been updated in decades. A rare few still even show the long-closed Franklin Square station.

The current in-train maps have barely been updated in decades. A rare few still even show the long-closed Franklin Square station.

The current platform system map. Note the lack of information on SEPTA connections once the line crosses the river.

The current platform system map. Note the lack of information on SEPTA connections once the line crosses the river.


Sustainability in the Suburbs

Cherry Hill adopts a Complete Streets policy

Last monday at its bimonthly township council meeting, Cherry Hill did something pretty awesome. The council voted to take a step toward 21st century planning that puts it at the forefront of a national trend. They adopted a Complete Streets policy, which basically means rethinking roadways as not only streets for cars, but also pedestrians and bicycles. As Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn put it, “Complete Streets is a holistic approach to promoting joint use of our roadways by all users, including pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists, seniors, children, and those with limited mobility,”

This is a huge step for the suburbs. South Jersey has basically been dominated by car-dependent sprawl more than anything else over the past fifty years, a sprawl I’m very familiar with having spent my entire childhood living in it. To see the township, which covers just over 24 square miles very close to the region’s core, adopt a complete streets policy is a huge step toward turning suburban roads into more than just speedways for cars.

The full report can be found on Sustainable Cherry Hill’s website.

Example of a complete street that accommodates cars, bikers, and pedestrians. Could this be the future of the busy, wide roads of Cherry Hill like Route 70?


Camden County releases a long-range sustainability plan

Also within the past week was Camden County’s release of its 5-year sustainability plan, its first ever plan of this type. What’s that mean exactly? As the official report puts it, “Having a sound sustainability program provides a road map to conserving resources, promoting innovation and saving money. In addition, as the possibility of having to deal with events like Superstorm Sandy on a more regular basis seems likely, it’s critical to include resiliency and sustainability into all of our projects and planning.”

Basically this means formalizing a county-wide plan for things like water conservation, waste recycling, environmentally-friendly building design, alternative transportation, and energy efficiency. I look at all this as doing more with less, not wasting natural resources when you don’t have to, and giving county residents ways to engage in environmentally-friendly practices. Examples of initiatives already undertaken in the county include a bike sharing program that Collingswood started up and single-stream recycling paying dividends in Gloucester Township.

Overall it’s great to see the county committing to a sustainable future. People are obviously moving in this direction themselves, and it’s nice to see Camden County formally adopt these practices for itself. If you’re a sustainability nerd and environmentalist like I am, you can read the entire report here. Otherwise, you can find practical information about the plan on county’s new sustainability website,


Gentrification and Camden

Last week, author Howard Glilette, author of Camden After the Fall, wrote a piece for NewsWorks about the potential for Camden to become Philadelphia’s Brooklyn given that the former’s real estate boom may eventually price people out of Center City. It’s an interesting question. Can real estate prices from Philadelphia have a transformative effect on Camden, the way that New York’s market has affected Hoboken? Is the introduction of super-luxury condos in several Center City neighborhoods a foreshadowing of things to come? If so, can they affect the market so much that they end up pricing out those who wish to live nearby, poising Camden to take advantage of the overflow demand?

As provocative a question as it is, I think it’s already been answered in the short term. In a smaller city, the answer might be yes, but Center City has a plethora of neighborhoods on its periphery both pre-, mid-, and post-gentrification, and nearly all have excellent transportation to and from the jobs downtown. Philadelphia has yet to run out of space to absorb those who wish to live in the city and close to their jobs.

The more interesting question to me is, what happens to a city when gentrification fails to act on it? When it has basic needs that must be met, when there are people whose jobs it is to do so, and yet those needs go unfulfilled? And are real estate forces the only thing that brings attention and thus safety and investment to a city?

I recently wondered this out loud in an essay  that Stephen Danley was kind enough to publish on his Local Knowledge blog about Camden.

Food and Drink

Restaurant Weeks in South Jersey

There may not be much that South Jersey is known for outside of its shore resort towns, but the fact that we’ve got a booming restaurant scene is something even non-locals know. Take a walk down Haddon Ave or Kings Highway on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, and you’ll see tons of people coming out of cars with plates from states like Pennsylvania, New York, or Maryland. Collingswood has gotten a lot of press for its restaurants over the past few years, but Haddonfield, Westmont, and Cherry Hill can all hold their own in this category.

Something I’ve only recently started paying attention to is the idea of a restaurant week, where restaurants in an entire city, town, or just in a neighborhood will offer set menus at set prices. It’s a great way to get out to places you might not have gone to before, especially if a place usually has much higher prices. It’s usually major cities that make a big deal out of it, with at least moderate-budget marketing campaigns around them. I’ve been happy though to see South Jersey towns and counties putting together weeks for discovering what restaurants in the area have to offer. Here’re a few upcoming events to check out, and some recently-passed ones to give a try next time.

Collingswood Restaurant Week, March 23rd-28th

Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, April 4th-18th

Bordentown Restaurant Week on Farnsworth Avenue, April 13th-18th

Cherry Hill Mall Restaurant Week (Seriously), July

Unfortunately, I was too late to include the general South Jersey week, which features a ton of area restaurants across multiple counties and which ends today, and Atlantic City’s, which ran earlier this month. If you know of any others in South Jersey, let me know!


South Jersey’s Sustainable Businesses

The other day I was looking through the website of the Sustainable Business Network’s Philadelphia branch, which has a directory for all of their member businesses. I noticed there was a spot where you could filter not only by neighborhoods like Center City, Mount Airy, or West Philly, but also larger areas like Montgomery or Delaware Counties. I saw New Jersey on the list, so I clicked it, but got nothing back. I was definitely confused; I know there’s at least on SBN network member in the area that I’ve actually used. So I shot them a tweet to ask what was up. They quickly responded with a list of area businesses, and it was even more than I realized. Check out the list below to find out where you can go in South Jersey to support local environmentally and socially responsible businesses.

Organic Home, Collingswood — Offering “a unique service providing green cleaning, organizing, design and consultation for home or office”.

Verde Salon, Collingswood — An environmentally conscious hair salon from Kevin Gatto.

Thomas Lift, Camden — Artist and clothing designer who runs Camden’s 3rd Thursday arts crawl.

Magnum Computer Recycling, Pennsauken — Offering “eco-friendly methods for reusing and recycling electronic parts and devices.”

Wu & Associates, Cherry Hill — A general contracting firm “specializing in LEED sustainable building, historic preservation, institutional and residential projects.”

EP Henry, Woodbury — Providing sustainable hardscaping services.

Animo Juice Bar, Haddonfield — A juice bar that believes “all natural, organic, whole foods that taste great and nourish the body.”


Getting South Jersey some Attention from NJTransit

Earlier this month, Ronnie Hakim, formerly the head of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, took over executive direction of NJ Transit from Jim Weinstein, the guy in charge during the Super Bowl mess. Sounds boringly administrative, I know, but I decided to write an editorial on what this might mean for South Jersey. There’re a few reasons for this. The first is that PATCO is basically imploding. It’s one of two lonely direct rail links from South Jersey into Philadelphia (i.e. where a lot of the jobs are), and used by  a few tens of thousands of people everyday. But decades of deferred maintenance and a miserably executed track reconstruction schedule on the Ben Franklin Bridge have resulted in breakdowns, overcrowding, and a general bad vibe from the once-stellar rail line.

The other reason is because the “N” in NJ Transit means New and not North. We might not have as many people as North Jersey, but South Jersey’s got over 2 million people who need access to good public transit. Considering that Philadelphia is becoming a huge job center at the same time that ridership is up to 60-year highs, we could use some attention from the statewide transit agency to make sure we can intelligently provide those transit options. Think better coordination with PATCO and NJ Transit’s River Line, Atlantic City line, and bus assets.

You can read the full article on the Courier Post’s website or below, since they usually archive content after 30 days.


A change is coming at the top of New Jersey’s statewide transit agency that represents an opportunity for South Jersey’s public transportation assets to gain some much-needed attention.

On Feb. 18, the executive director of NJ Transit, Jim Weinstein, announced he would be stepping down. Taking over his position is Ronnie Hakim, previously executive director at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. This presents a massive opportunity to address transportation woes in New Jersey. Even more, this is an opportunity to address transportation issues specific to South Jersey.

Hakim is held in high regard for her work at the turnpike authority. As the head of an organization whose responsibilities include overseeing the turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, two highly used roadways that span the entire length of the state, she is already familiar with transportation issues that face South Jersey. During her tenure, she oversaw two parkway projects in South Jersey: widening the road south of Toms River and removing traffic lights at exits 9, 10 and 11.

Moving from roadways to railways, Hakim will encounter a different transit landscape in South Jersey than North Jersey. NJ Transit currently operates only two lines south of Trenton: the Atlantic City Line, which runs between the shore resort and Philly’s 30th Street Station, and the River LINE, which runs between Camden and Trenton. Each has its issues.

The Atlantic City Line offers no trains between 8:10 and 10:42 a.m., a large window during the morning rush. Meanwhile, the River LINE, which serves nearly 10,000 riders daily, makes its last full runs at 9 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends, hampering the line’s usefulness to second- and third-shift workers as well as those making late-night trips.

The only other rail option is PATCO, run by the Delaware River Port Authority. Once a trusty mainstay of the South Jersey commuting experience, the line has declined deeply in quality over the past few years. From an ill-advised construction schedule that has left riders stranded at stations during rush hour to motor failures that caused the evacuation of two trains in a single day, PATCO is in desperate need of help. As the only frequent, direct rail link into Philadelphia from New Jersey, it is used by more than 36,000 riders daily. Unfortunately, issues of maintenance and waning reliability threaten its popularity, which, after a decade of yearly ridership increases, saw its first decline in 2013 of nearly 2 percent.

South Jersey may have a smaller population than the counties up north, which have historically received the lion’s share of attention from NJ Transit, but we still have a need for efficient public transportation to and from the heart of our metropolitan area.

Philadelphia is increasingly becoming a job center for companies and institutions whose employees are much more transit-minded than the generation before them, and older suburbs connected to public transportation are consequently seeing a renaissance. This trend is so solid that there has already been talk of creating a light-rail line from Glassboro to Camden along old freight tracks in the style of the River LINE. The need for good public transportation in South Jersey is only going to grow in the future, so I hope that Hakim can work with us to offer South Jerseyans the best possible alternatives to traffic and gridlock.