Bicyclists rejoice! 11th and 12th Street rail lines to be paved over [Update: No they won't]

marketrailsTalk to any bicyclist who regularly travels through Center City, and they’ll give you a horror story. Not just about drivers hogging the road, or pedestrians jaywalking in front of them, or seemingly endless potholes—but of the unused hazardous rail track up and down 11th and 12th streets, from Spring Garden to all the way down in South Philadelphia.

While researching a previous cover story on bicycling in Philadelphia, almost every cyclist I came across had a problem with the metal street columns.

Those unused tracks all over Philadelphia are mostly the byproduct of a time when Philly’s public transportation was above-ground rail lines. Most of these lines are gone today, but the rail line remains, and it’s dangerous as hell for bicyclists, most of whom, including me, have at least one instance of catching their tires in between the metal columns, then flipping over the handlebars alongside car and bus-laden street traffic. That they remain unused sort of adds insult to literal injury.


That said: bicyclists, your prayers have been answered. Sort of. Because according to the Philadelphia Streets Department, those lines will be partially paved over this fall. [Update: As detailed here, the Streets spokesperson now says she relayed incorrect information and the tracks will not be paved over, as originally stated.]

“The Streets Department will be resurfacing 11th and 12th St. from Market St. to South St. this fall,” says Keisha McCarty-Skelton, Public Relations Supervisor at the Philadelphia Streets Department.

She adds: “The tracks will be paved over unless it is determined that they are too advanced that they cannot be buried and will affect the smooth overlay in the street.”

Last year, the rail lines on Fourth Street in Old City and Society Hill were paved over. The project on 11th and 12th Streets will be similar: The rails will be paved, but not ripped out completely.

This is a temporary solution. When rail remains below pavement, the pavement around eventually gets worn down and the track begins to resurface. But according to McCarty-Skelton, ripping out a single block of rail lines can cost as much as $400,000—which is not money the city has to spend.

At that, both trolley tracks and areas within 18 inches on either side are the responsibility of SEPTA, according to the Streets Dept. And we assume you must’ve heard about their financial woes at this point.

The rail columns between Market and South represent just two miles of the 30-plus mile-plus circuitous route of rail from Chestnut Hill to Oregon Ave. and back.

Once in Center City (where the majority of bicyclists complained about the route), it heads from 12th and Spring Garden all the way down to South Marvine St. in South Philly, a left onto Bigler, a left onto 10th, another left onto Oregon, where it makes its final turn to complete the loop onto 11th St., and back into Center City. All above ground. That’s about seven miles of unused rail track from Spring Garden to South Philly. And doesn’t include the sections of North Philadelphia or Gemantown (mostly outside Center City) which still has connecting railtrack on it, too.

Many of Philadelphia’s rail lines, if you can believe it, were built back in the late 1800s. Route 23, for example—now Bus Route 23—was built “sometime prior to 1877” and was originally referred to as the Germantown Avenue Line, running from the Germantown Depot, near what’s today Musgrave Street and E. Phil Ellena St., to 8th and Dauphin in North Philly.


After being combined with another line in the early 1900s, more track was added and the 23 soon became the “Germantown, 10th and 11th Streets Line.”

Now ask yourself: When was the last time you regularly saw a trolley on Germantown Ave., or 11th Street? If the answer was 1992, then congratulations! You have quite a memory (and are old-ish.)

Today, trolleys are still a staple of Baltimore Ave. in West Philly; Lancaster Ave.; and Girard Ave, from 63rd Street to Richmond and Westmoreland in Port Richmond.

Almost every cyclist PW spoke for the August story with had terrible experiences with train tracks, but none were life-threatening.

One cyclist I spoke with, a former Temple student named Bryan Donovan, says he’s never been hit by cars. He’s never gotten into a spat with a pedestrian and has been mostly successful staying on his wheels on the road.

“I’ve never been hit by a car. If I crashed it’s been my own fault,” he said.

I asked if by “my own fault,” he meant he’d been caught in tracks. “That was it,” he laughed. “It was on 12th street by Spring Garden. I usually try to cross it at as deep an angle that you can. But I hit the rail.”

The station the 11th and 12th Street trolleys ran to was just demolished last year, though the tracks are still considered in use, as it happens. And real pavement over trolley tracks: It gets worn down over time. So this is a temporary, half-solution. But hey, it’s something.

Note: This story has been updated to include the word ‘regularly’ and correct a typo.

Another note: As noted above, the Streets Dept. now says the lines will NOT BE PAVED OVER. That is detailed here.]

Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyLoBasso

21 Responses to “ Bicyclists rejoice! 11th and 12th Street rail lines to be paved over [Update: No they won't] ”

  1. Daye says:

    Here’s a thought, why don’t you just stay the hell off of 11th & 12th St???

  2. dave says:

    That’s not much of a thought.

  3. William says:

    Bicyclists should be ticketed to the hilt for driving the wrong way down the street, blowing red lights and stop signs and driving on the pavement. Ban the bastards.

  4. Kristin says:

    I just recently had a HORRIBLE accident due to these tracks about 3 weeks ago. I can say that this is a HUGE bonus for anyone i know who needs to use these two streets to get to and from work.

    I only wish it had come sooner!!!

  5. Ray Kerstetter says:

    …. helping to kill any chance of bringing back Rt 23 as a trolley.
    The bicyclists should use the shoulder like any other street instead of using the middle anyway. Trolleys and bicylists can share the road.
    Trolleys have been around much longer than you have! Center City has always been congested anyway.

  6. Jessica says:

    William- they’ve already begun ticketing for those sort of things. Lack of bike bells too.
    Ray- the problem is that depending on the type of car parked on the street, there isn’t always space to ride. There’s also the issue of people swinging their doors open.. you can dodge the door but still flip over the bars from getting snagged in the rail.

  7. RockyK says:

    There are just as many bikers who are jerks as there are drivers who are jerks. I too get annoyed with many of these bikers, and biking is how I commute to work! But until we get a dedicated bike lane, you’re stuck seeing idiots zig-zag between the intersections, between cars, and overall doing dangerous things while every other biker is just trying to get home in peace.

  8. Hillary says:

    Just a couple notes on bike laws in Philadelphia:

    What does “A Bike is a Legal Vehicle” mean?
    This means that bicycles legally have all the same privileges, and responsibilities, as cars and other vehicles.

    The law says that it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk? Why?
    Yes, if you are 12 years or older, in the City of Philadelphia it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk.

    Is it true that you’re allowed to ride in the center of the street? Isn’t that dangerous?
    The general rule for riding in the streets is ‘Ride as far to the right as practicable for your own safety’. Often, taking enough space in the road for your own safety means ‘taking the lane’, or riding in the middle like a car. Bicycles are legal vehicles, and therefore are legally allowed to ride in the middle of the road.

    I can’t speak for the cyclists that don’t obey traffic laws, but please respect cyclists on the road and treat us with the same care and caution as you would any other vehicle.

  9. Mikey says:

    Why can’t the city Streets Department and SEPTA commit to an active trolley route and retire the noisy, polluting buses? There has recently been renewed interest in bicycle routes; why not mass transit? “Sharing the road” should not be solely about making streets safer for cyclists.
    The last time I saw trolleys run on 11th and 12th was not in 1994 but just a few years ago; the holiday shoppers’ run has been very popular.
    PS: PW should proofread its articles more closely for typos, errors of fact, and errors of logic. Instead of “metal street columns,” do you mean to say “rails?”

  10. Ray Kerstetter says:

    well- Bicyclists should share the road with public transportation, be it bus or trolley- maybe parking should be banned along such streets. They could have bike lanes instead of parking. Trolleys have been on 12th street for generations, and should be the preferred method to get about INSTEAD of cars! Plus bicyclists are very lucky nowadays to have paved roads. A lot of streets for years had cobblestones.

  11. The Duke says:

    I am a huge advocate for biker’s rights in this city. That being said bicyclists need to start following the laws: if you ride in the street you are part of traffic and must obey the same laws as other vehicles. If you are on the sidewalk, crosswalk, etc. you better get off your bike and walk because now you are a pedestrian. I am sick of irresponsible biker’s blowing through stop signs and red lights, almost causing accident’s, and then flipping me off for following the laws of the road. If you can’t follow the rules of the road you will be paying your own medical bills when we driver’s hit you.

  12. Fabricio Rodriguez says:

    The tracks go much farther north than Spring Garden. I don’t even know where they end on 11th. They keep going past Diamond though. I hope that they pave the entire track over.

  13. Sick Transit says:

    SEPTA has a long history of destroying its electric lines in favor of diesel buses through everything from pure neglect to overt vandalism. Other cities around the world are paying HUGE bucks to restore their rail systems while the infrastructure in Philly is (well, WAS) still in place. They’ve promised for years to restore service to several lines (23, 56, and 29/79 trolleybuses) but no one has the will to hold them to their word.

    And for the record, I’m also a life-long, serious cyclist but I also know I can’t tangle with vehicles that weigh 100 times what I do.

  14. Ferit says:

    staying the hell out of roads that are between your two points of travel makes biking obsolete. it’s like telling a pedestrian to make a detour of 4 blocks everytime they walk from home to work. also, riding slowly on the sidewalk should cause no problems to the pedestrians, but some like to get mad for the heck of it. we wouldn’t do it if as someone pointed out, cars respected our right to use the whole lane.

  15. Ross says:

    “GARDEN GARDEN”!!!!!

  16. Myc says:

    Great cities (like Toronto, like the great cities in Europe) have clean attractive electric streetcar systems, AND thousands of bicyclists in the streets. Philadelphia so badly wants to be great, it always feels like we’re “almost” a great city but can’t quite get there. Playing trolleys against cyclists is another way that we (Philadlephians) keep blowing it. Almost great. Fact is that SEPTA management is infected with lazy bureaucrats who have convinced one another that electric streetcars are a waste. Philadelphians are supposed to ride over-weight, diesel-burning Hybrid buses, supposed to thank SEPTA for being “green.” In a great city, a transit authority trying to pull that one would be called on it. Not here.

  17. Myc says:

    The real shame of it is that this mayor has bought SEPTA’s excuses hook, line and sinker. Nutter SAYS he wants Philadelphia to be “The Greenest City in America.” Green cities (more than forty of them at last count — all across America) are finding ways to bring electric streetcars back into their neighborhoods. ONE city continues to scrap electric trolleys and pave over rails. ONE city pretends that Hybrid Diesel buses are green. Sad to say Philadelphia sticks out like sore thumb.

  18. Paladin says:

    Actually, it turns out this story is NOT true.
    The city is repaving 11th and 12th, but NOT paving over the tracks.
    Apparently, the author and the Streets Department misunderstood each other.

  19. Interurbans says:

    Just return the streetcars to theses long dormant lines. Just think of the idea of using clean non polluting quiet electricity to efficiently move people. Philadelphia can add on to the Toronto new streetcar order for the cars to restore service.

  20. Joe Mac says:

    OMG! Let’s NOT make ANY MORE a fool of ourselves people?! There are trolleys ALL OVER THE WORLD! I grew-up in Philly and in fact, PURPOSELY rode on the streets WITh trolley tracks! I NEVER ONCE had a problem! Hence, MOST of the Major and even smaller cities and towns ARE RESTORING Trolley service (thus, tracks) on City public street! LEARN HOW TO RIDE A BIKE! Gripe about IMPORTANT issues! Like HEALTH CARE? EDUCATION? DUH!

  21. Mark says:

    According to the article, the block pictured is not included in the project…

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