“If you’re a native Philadelphian, you’ve played at Smith,” said Aissia Richardson, chair of SEPTA’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). Like many Philadelphians, three generations of Richardson’s family have fond memories of playing at Smith Memorial Playground, but until recently, getting to Smith Playground via public transit was not exactly conducive for those coming from other parts of the city or traveling with small children.
Smith Memorial Playground, located on six-and-a-half acres in East Fairmount Park, has been a local treasure since the purpose-built Playhouse mansion was designed by prominent Philadelphia architect James H. Windrim in the late 19th century. This summer, upon the recommendations of Smith Playground supporters and SEPTA’s CAC, the authority agreed to extend weekend service of the Route 3 bus directly to the playground.
Typically the Route 3 stops at 33rd Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, where it loops around and heads east. From there the walk to Smith Playground is a little more than one-third of a mile.
“People are coming with little kids and strollers, and it’s not that big a deal for one adult to walk there, but it can get a little more complicated with all that baggage that you carry around with children,” said Courtney Kupersmith, communications manager at Smith Playground.
Smith Playground has always wanted public transit service, so when SEPTA put out a call for service requests, Smith Playground asked its supporters to write to SEPTA. About 70 people did so, and the CAC advocated for the extension as well.
“What we proposed at first was an initial extension to see if people would actually use it,” Richardson said.
SEPTA agreed to extend the Route 3 to Smith Playground on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the playground’s peak hours, from early June until September.
“Everyone was really happy for us and happy with SEPTA for extending service,” Kupersmith said. “I don’t know if anyone expected SEPTA to listen to them, but it was really great that they did.”
In addition to convenience, the extension will make the route safer for people who would have walked from 33rd and Cecil B. Moore Ave and, ideally, promote exercise through play by bringing more people into the park.
“We’re hoping to really reach more families in Fishtown and Kensington,” Kupersmith said. “A lot of our visitors come from the North Philly area, right around where we’re located so we’re hoping to pull from those neighborhoods in the Northeast a little bit.”
The Route 3 is ideal for that as it extends from the Frankford Transportation Center to 33rd and Cecil B. Moore. In between, major transit routes intersect with the Route 3, including the Broad Street Line, where riders can transfer at Cecil B. Moore Station.
“We wanted to be able to advertise transit as an option rather than driving or rather than taking a cab,” Richardson said.
The extension also has potential to draw more North Philly residents just beyond the playground’s immediate vicinity.
“Within half a mile even, a lot of people have transit passes, so they will certainly take the opportunity to get on the bus and make that trip a little easier for themselves,” Kupersmith said.
For SEPTA the extension adds five minutes to the Route 3 and costs $19,000 annually. Because the service is so new, SEPTA is still collecting ridership data.
“The service is meant to be year-round if ridership warrants,” said SEPTA spokesperson Heather Redfern in an email.
“Normally, it is determined whether or not routes will be extended permanently after one year. In the case of the Route 3, that will most likely be decided after the second summer.”