Philly Love Note: The 5th Street tunnel is magic

     The 5th Street tunnel from Race Street to Callowhill Street bypasses the Ben Franklin Bridge approach and gives cyclists a thrill. (Emma Fried-Cassorla/for Philly Love Notes)

    The 5th Street tunnel from Race Street to Callowhill Street bypasses the Ben Franklin Bridge approach and gives cyclists a thrill. (Emma Fried-Cassorla/for Philly Love Notes)

    35 – 45 seconds. I’ve timed it. On average I spend 35 – 45 seconds in my favorite place in Philadelphia. It is consistently one of my favorite 35 – 45 seconds of the day — a 35- to 45-second experience that I love to share, bringing visiting friends and asking strangers how much they love it too. I speak about it in hushed excitement: “Have you been? Isn’t it amazing??” My favorite place in Philadelphia doesn’t have a picturesque view or historical significance — in fact its rather unremarkable to most, but I am obsessed. 

    The 5th Street tunnel. I unapologetically and enthusiastically love the 5th Street tunnel. That roughly 1200-foot roadway that takes you from Race to Callowhill while bypassing the Ben Franklin Bridge approach is one of my favorite parts of the city.

    Stick with me here.

    During my first year in Philadelphia, I lived in Center City. I walked everywhere, infrequently braving what seemed to me (a girl from a small northeastern city with minimal public transportation) to be the anxiety-inducing challenge of SEPTA.

    In year two everything changed. Perched atop my ill-fitting childhood bike, I discovered just how much I was missing. The city opened up to me in a way that I never dreamed possible, and I began to fall head over heels for it. The 5th Street tunnel was a major part of that love affair. Shooting through the tunnel was a way to reach the places and people that I had been ignorant of in my first year of acclimation.

    There is also the thrill of the whole thing. I’m not what you would call a risk-taker. My parents will tell you with great pride/embarrassment how I refused to get out of my bed without assistance well past the age where that was acceptable. However, the rush that comes from plunging into the darkness of the tunnel at high speeds, pedaling as fast as I can and shooting up the ramp at the other end, is a thrill that I anticipate every time.

    There’s the initial descent, then generating speed through the parabolic bottom, and attempting to keep that acceleration up through the ascent back into daylight, all the while dodging rogue debris and that one rough patch of pavement near the end. Add sunglasses to the experience and the rush increases — I’m on an urban rollercoaster.

    Traveling solo, the ride is a thrill. Traveling in a pack, it’s a party. My roommates and I began a tradition of yelling/singing something different every time we ride through: children’s sing-alongs, horribly catchy pop songs, our favorite song of whatever band we’re headed to Johnny Brenda’s to see, or just a good old primal scream — it’s all fair game.

    Our usual route to the tunnel takes us over on Market, where we make the final decision as to what the day’s chorus will be. When heading through the tunnel to my birthday dinner earlier in the summer, their secret quick-change from whatever we had planned to a chorus of “Happy Birthday” was the highlight of my day.

    Maybe I’m easy to please, but to me that tunnel is magic.

    Jordan Klein is a shoulder-dancing, concert-going, olympic-weightlifting, museum/culture/design obsessed new Philadelphian. She is also half of The Philadelphia Public History Truck.

    This essay was previously published in the blog Philly Love Notes.

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