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Why the 15th Street Station along the Market-Frankford Line isn’t just called City Hall

“If it’s common enough that everybody is getting off and doing the same thing pretty much, why not just call them both City Hall?” said Dan Levy, 29, of South Philadelphia.

Commuters wait on the 15th Street Market-Frankford Line platform.
Commuters wait on the 15th Street Market-Frankford Line platform.Read more--- David Maialetti / File Photograph

At least the mix-up didn’t happen on the way to the job interview.

Dan Levy, 29, lives in South Philadelphia, but doesn’t take the subway much. He usually walks or takes an Uber.

But a recent career opportunity called him to West Philly, steps from the Market-Frankford Line — “convenient and cheaper,” he said.

Getting there was fine, but confusion set in on the way back, when Levy was looking for the free interchange to the Broad Street Line’s City Hall stop. But he missed his chance, because on the Market-Frankford Line, the stop connected to the interchange is called 15th Street Station, not City Hall.

“If it’s common enough that everybody is getting off and doing the same thing pretty much, why not just call them both City Hall?” Levy said.

He texted his friend Scott Krzywonos, 30, of Graduate Hospital, which prompted Krzywonos to submit an inquiry about why the stops have different names to Curious Philly, a platform where readers can ask our journalists questions.

Looking back into history

Andrew Busch, a spokesperson for SEPTA, said that SEPTA’s customer service wasn’t aware of any formal complaints concerning the naming.

“We’re always open to having a discussion and if somebody has ideas for different ways that we can help bring clarity if they think that something isn’t clear, but the names are obviously very long established and there’s a lot tied into that and there’s no plan to move on from that," he said.

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Simply put, 15th Street and City Hall are two different stops on two different subway lines, Busch said. The names were there when SEPTA was formed in the 1960s, Busch said, taking over Philadelphia’s transit system from private ownership.

The western part of what’s now known as the Market-Frankford Line opened in 1905, according to SEPTA, but the subway “screeched and rumbled around the stone foundations of City Hall” for two decades until the line was straightened under City Hall in the mid-1930s in an effort to cut travel time, according to Inquirer archives. The Broad Street Line opened in 1928, and the underground concourse opened in 1936.

Busch said no one knew for sure why the City Hall name was picked, but "... the thought is that they wouldn’t have wanted to name it Market Street because then that would potentially confuse people with the stop on the Market-Frankford Line,” he said. "So that’s kind of how it has existed for a century.”

Today’s interchange

So still today, the Broad Street Line stops at City Hall, while 15th Street is where riders catch both the Market-Frankford Line and trolleys.

Perhaps the confusion lies in the two lines’ only interchange being in the same sprawling concourse in the city’s underbelly.

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Taking into account bus connections at 13th Street, 15th Street, and City Hall, “if you had kind of one uniform name for all those stops, that could create confusion for a new rider and then also for our everyday riders,” Busch said.

For Levy, it still doesn’t make much sense — a handful of stops along both lines do share names. Take Spring Garden or Girard. But he learned quickly — even if he doesn’t fully understand the reasoning.

“If the 15th Street stop and the City Hall stop are in the same spot basically, sure, it’s a block away, but if everyone’s using them to transfer to each other, more or less in the same spot, then those should be the ones that are called the same name," he said.