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SEPTA RAIL TRANSIT

Instructor: 

Carrie Long,
Leslie Richards

Students:

 Liyu Chen,

Zirui Chen,

Ben Dodson,

Kedi Fu,

Yiming Jin,

Elina Nikoleri,

Ji Qi,

Xinyi Qiu,

Haida Xu,

Shepard Yi,

Jiehao Zhu

SEPTA has begun working towards a long-term goal of transitioning both its internal work as well as its regional work toward thinking of SEPTA’s services as a connected network, rather than disparate modal systems. This has the long-term benefit of getting potential riders to consider the full range of SEPTA options, not just the service they are most familiar with when choosing a transportation mode. In working towards this goal, SEPTA is advancing both programmatic projects, like the upcoming Rail Transit Wayfinding Master Plan, as well as expansion projects like the King of Prussia Rail extension. 

These projects are instrumental in reorienting the region’s perceptions and mobility habits towards a network-minded SEPTA. It is imperative to have robust connection points in place throughout the network, as this is how passengers will move throughout the region. A negative or difficult connection experience can turn off riders to utilizing services outside of their primary route. The studio examined what is possible at these connection points, both within SEPTA’s realm and the larger community. 

Our studio decided to explore one specific connection point: Norristown Transportation Center in the heart of Montgomery County. This is a suburban multimodal hub located in the heart of Norristown along the Schuylkill River. It combines Regional Rail, the Norristown High Speed Line light rail service, and eight bus routes. It will also serve as a connection point for the proposed King of Prussia Rail project. This is a legacy station that has been transformed over the decades. It is located just one block south of Norristown’s Main Street and one block north of the Schuylkill River. It includes direct access to the Schuylkill River Trail and a future Chester Valley Trail. We believe the Norristown Transportation Center, under the right vision, has the potential to be a strategic hub for multimodal transportation and development. 

After examining the existing conditions through each of our own perspectives, our team identified four areas we wanted to explore further through our personal research interests. These visions were developed independently, so there will be some overlap but also some incongruency. Our goal would be for these visions to start conversations and lead to further exploration of these ideas.

The future of rail transit will have to balance the priorities of the greater region, Philadelphia, and smaller communities like Norristown, which can sometimes conflict. Any future service expansions or restorations should be evaluated at these different scales to determine which alternative achieves the most robust set of goals among stakeholders. Two expansion opportunities are currently being explored in this area including the King of Prussia extension of the Norristown High Speed Line and a northwest extension of the Manayunk-Norristown Regional Rail line. To best capture the new vision of SEPTA as a modal-agnostic network of transit connections, this studio explored how each expansion alternative would increase connectivity, rather than ridership, by way of two-seat rides. 

The analysis of expansion scenarios determined how many more residents and jobs would be accessible by a rail transit trip that requires at most one transfer. Ultimately, the greatest connections for the cost are for the full expansion: rapid transit to the Valley Forge area and Regional Rail to Reading. However, each stakeholder may prioritize different connections or analysis and it is ultimately up to the stakeholders contributing the most funding to determine which types of growth in connectivity are the most important. 

The future of rail transit should be more equitable to maximize the potential connectivity the Regional Rail system provides. To maximize the value of this system, SEPTA should prioritize high-frequency (trains every 15 minutes or less), establish a flat universal fare for all SEPTA services, and expand the free transfer program to include Regional Rail. This will be key to growing ridership post-pandemic as the 9–5 commuter ridership base will likely never return in kind. The region needs to look for a new ridership base by offering a service that works for every commute and every trip generator. 

All of these improvements to rail transit would have a significant impact on the Southeastern Pennsylvania mega-region and the Northwest Schuylkill Valley micro-region. The overarching theme is that any improvements SEPTA makes to the system should be universal, consistent across all modes, and evaluated through a lens that balances the priorities of all of its local stakeholders.
 

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The Dekalb Street redesign looks to revitalize the shops and street businesses with functional and safe crossings, green infrastructure, drop-off and pick-up stops

Lafayette Street serves as a critical aggregator in the transportation network.

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