Thursday, February 5, 2009

Observations on Philadelphia

To escape the masses for Inauguration and to take a rare family trip, we went to Philadelphia for the 4-day weekend.  Here are some of the things I noticed on my trip:

  • If you're used to DC's megablocks, the short blocks offered by an older-style city are refreshing.  Looking at a map while planning the trip, I was disappointed by how little appeared to be in walking distance.  Once I got to Philly, I think it was that I was expecting a 7 block walk to be a long distance.  Had I checked the scale of the map, I would have figured out that the blocks are much shorter than DC's, which seemed to work really well.  Philadelphia's center city has short blocks and narrow streets, which is very pleasant for pedestrians.
  • Our microwave in the hotel had ringtones.  It played "Oh, Suzanna!", "Auld Lang Syne", and some other song I've never heard.  It's actually very annoying because it doesn't turn off when you open the door, only when the song is over.  Please, just beep when you're done.
  • Laptops with no internet are boring, but $10 per day for wifi is kind of a ripoff.  I bought one day's worth but was on the lookout for free wifi everywhere.  If you like coffee there are plenty of places.
  • 30-minute headways for buses = I'm not going to bother.  Additionally, buses are inherently harder to learn as a system.  Philadelphia, like Washington, does not use Google Transit.  10 minute headways for weekend trains = great.  Also, not decreasing service just because it's the middle of the day or a federal holiday = also great.  If WMATA weren't so strapped for funding, I'd say this was a good idea.  I don't see how they could afford it, though, with their significant funding shortfall.  I think every system should have the equivalent of LA's "12-minute map" so that people who want to get around without schedules can figure out where the best part of the system goes.
  • Our hotel, the Embassy Suites, had trilateral symmetry.  Great room, but the elevators get overwhelmed, especially when an entire high school band moves in at the same time.  I would highly recommend this hotel for tourists because it's close to the city center, the museums, and transit.  Parking was expensive; I would just take one of the Chinatown buses that run 5-6 times per day for around $15 each way.  Some of the buses even have WiFi, I've heard.
  • Much as the District's street naming system seems to "confuse" tourists, at least it's a system.  If you don't live or work here, how do you memorize the pattern of east-west street names?  (Update: you just do.  I seemed to get it after a couple of days)
  • If your transit lines on the map are designated with colors, it doesn't help to have the website have you choose between the "Market Street" line and the "Broad Street" line.  Just call them the Blue Line and the Orange Line.  At least it's better than Pittsburgh, where the light rail line had a route number and was mixed in with the bus schedules.
  • 15F is really, really cold.
  • If all you're going to do is the museums and downtown, there's no need to bring a car to Philly.  Getting to Pat's King of Steaks requires either a lot of planning to figure out the bus system or a car, though.  I guess I could have taken a cab, but do they allow two-year-olds to ride without a car seat?

In all, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Philadelphia and would definitely go back.  It's highly recommended for people who like an urban/city experience as well as some great museums (National Liberty Museum, Independence Hall, Franklin Institute).

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love this post. Don't know why nobody commented except that it says it all. Except I have a few more questions. Are Philadelphians pressing to be listed on Google Transit? Do they have a contingent of smart-growthers? How old is their zoning? How do they solve the directional issue on their subway lines, i.e. "Largo Town Center, which the hell way is that?" (I've lived here six years and only now am I confident that Shady Grove is Bethesda-ish and Glenmont is Silver Spring-ish.)