SEPTA may add bus service to Navy Yard to ease traffic jams
Different types of bus service are being explored at the South Philly jobs hub. Expansion of the Broad Street subway would be costly and take years.
Philadelphia’s Navy Yard lies at the southernmost edge of the city, a sprawling complex of offices with landscaping and layout that could be mistaken for a high end suburban office park.
Despite being next door to the dense rowhouse neighborhoods of South Philadelphia, the Navy Yard doesn’t feel remotely urban. It is divided from the rest of the city — and even the cluster of sports stadiums right next door — by a tangle of roadways. Immediately outside its neatly kept lawns, the sidewalks are crumbling and bike infrastructure is practically nonexistent.
There is little SEPTA service, although there is a private shuttle service with two routes paid for by the businesses in the Navy Yard. One goes to Center City and the other to the southernmost stop on the Broad Street Line.
The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC), the master developer for the Navy Yard, calculates that 93% of commuters to the area’s 15,000 jobs choose to drive.
“Usually I’ll drive,” said Elise Nichols, who lives off Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia and works at Urban Outfitters’ headquarters in the Navy Yard. “It’s not really logical because it’s slower than biking. I’m sitting in traffic watching bikers go by me, and I’m thinking I should just risk it. But it feels really dangerous.”
SEPTA is working with PIDC on new transportation options for the Navy Yard. Earlier this month, the transit agency sent out surveys to businesses and other stakeholder groups in the area to get a sense of their future workforce requirements, remote work policies, and residential development plans. Responses were due back by Thursday.
A future of traffic jams
PIDC is concerned about environmental sustainability and a future of traffic jams as the office park diversifies and grows denser. The goal is to bring SEPTA into the Navy Yard and diversify transportation options because the Navy Yard is expected to expand dramatically in the years to come.
PIDC is working with Mosaic Development Partners and Ensemble Real Estate Investments on 109 acres of new development, which they expect will bring a further 12,000 jobs, 235,000 square feet of retail, and 4,000 housing units to the area.
“We need to have some kind of more expansive system [than the private shuttle],” said Kate McNamara, PIDC’s vice president of development and planning at the Navy Yard. “As development comes online, and we have more employees, and more residents down here, we’re just going to need expanded transit service that connects the Navy Yard more effectively to the rest of the city.”
For years there has been talk about extending the Broad Street Line into the former military base, instead of the current terminus about a mile to the north. Although SEPTA insists it hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a new subway station, the current initiative is focused on faster turnaround options.
“If we want to do something that’s not going to take a very long time, that’s not going to take decades potentially, we need to focus on buses as what’s providing that service,” said Daniel Nemiroff, a transit planner with SEPTA working on the Navy Yard expansion. “We’re willing to consider anything that’s built off of bus service at this point.”
Why buses are the best option
Actual bus rapid transit, with a separate, protected lane and its own stations, is not under consideration because it would duplicate subway service and be politically difficult to pull off. Instead, options under consideration include traditional fixed route buses, express bus services akin to the route on Roosevelt Boulevard, and a shuttle jointly run by the Navy Yard and SEPTA (like University City’s LUCY service).
Bringing bus service of one kind or another to the Navy Yard would also offer greater flexibility than rail service. Many people who work in the Navy Yard live in South Jersey, Delaware County, and other locations where they would be unlikely to choose to commute into the city and switch to a subway over just driving. With buses, service could be tailored to locations in the suburbs to pick up workers near their homes.
“We need to figure out really where people are coming from, what their propensity to take transit is, and what model of transit would lure them and make it an attractive option,” Nemiroff said.
Within Philadelphia, priorities would include connections to Center City and, especially as life sciences uses emerge in the Navy Yard, to the medical complexes in University City. According to PIDC, there is unused railroad right of way that could be used to connect the former base to the West Philadelphia education and medical centers, and 26th Street would be ideal for an express bus.
At this point, however, conversations are preliminary. For commuters like Nichols and her coworkers at Urban Outfitters, change can’t come fast enough.
She hopes that while policymakers are at it, they make travel safer for bikers and pedestrians, too.
“If they can extend the Broad Street Line to the Navy Yard, that would be the most ideal, or make more buses,” Nichols said. “But I would definitely bike a lot more if it were safer. I can’t gamble with that sort of thing every single day. So that really deters me from biking to work.”