When the new Bakers Centre shopping plaza, anchored by a Brown’s Super Stores Inc. ShopRite, opens at Roberts Ave. and Fox Street this Friday, SEPTA bus service will provide direct access into the plaza.
On August 1, the Route R, which already runs past the shopping plaza, will begin passing directly through the plaza’s parking lot. In September, SEPTA will extend the Route 56 bus from the Venango Bus Loop at 23rd and Venango streets to Bakers Centre. These route changes are made possible by collaboration between SEPTA and the project developers that started almost two years ago.
It was important for SEPTA to be involved early on in the shopping center’s development. In the past, SEPTA has run into trouble where private developers planned and built large scale developments without taking bus service into consideration. Then, when the completed shopping center requests bus service, there are complications that could have been avoided if the shopping center was planned with bus service in mind.
“When we’ve, in the past, been asked to go into private shopping centers … and turn buses around frequently, the paving is not up to our standards and buses quickly eat up asphalt that’s not up to our weight limits,” said SEPTA’s Charles Webb, chief officer of service planning.
In the case of the Park West shopping center, a similar large-scale plaza anchored by a ShopRite at 52nd and Parkside Avenue, SEPTA was asked after the plaza was built to provide bus service. Because of grade issues, however, SEPTA was unable to do so.
“In that case, there was no way to fix it after the fact, and that’s why we’re not in there, and we have a grocery store that people are carrying a lot of bags [from],” Webb said. “That’s not an ideal situation.”
To avoid complications like this at the Bakers Centre, SEPTA got in touch with the developer, US Realty Associates Inc., early on in the process and worked closely with engineering and architecture firm Gilmore & Associates.
Now not only will the route R and 56 buses provide direct access to the stores, the buses will have a designated island for loading and unloading in the middle of the parking lot. US Realty Associates, Inc. is paying for that feature.
The island will add convenience for the shoppers, and it will also provide an additional level of safety because shoppers using public transit will not have to cross the busy streets that run along the plaza, explained Steven Dantonio, manager of city service planning at SEPTA.
Routing and ridership
Route R buses traveling from the Wissahickon Transportation Center toward the Venango Bus Loop will drop passengers off on Fox Street, at the corner of a main driveway into the shopping plaza. Those passengers will not have to cross any streets to access the plaza. Route R buses traveling from the Venango Bus Loop will run through the plaza and stop at the new bus stop island. They will exit the parking lot onto Roberts Ave.
The Route 56 buses, rather than layover at the Venango Bus Loop, will turn onto Fox Street, enter the parking lot and stop at the new bus stop island. The buses will loop around and regroup near the Wendy’s rather than at the Vengango Bus Loop. Route 56 buses will stop at the plaza’s entrance on Fox Street before continuing back toward 23rd and Venango streets.
All Route R buses will follow this new path. On weekdays during shopping hours, every other Route 56 bus will extend to the shopping plaza, with a frequency of about one bus every 15 to 20 minutes. On weekends during shopping hours, every Route 56 bus will extend to the shopping plaza, with a frequency of about 30 minutes.
The new routing will not add any time or cost to the Route R schedule. For the Route 56, the new routing will add six minutes and cost an estimated $160,000 annually.
However, “The revenue from those two routes, at least when we do the math, comes very close to recovering the expenses for extending the 56,” Dantonio said.
SEPTA is modeling its ridership projections for the new stops off of the ridership at stops near the Park West shopping center.
“We are predicting about half of the ridership that we have at that center, and so that’s roughly about 400 boards and leaves on the 56 and about 120 on the R,” Dantonio said.
Though the changes have not been made yet, SEPTA service planners are using this as an example of how collaborating on bus service early in the planning process can be beneficial for everyone involved.
“If more developers were able to get us involved [earlier] in the process, it makes it easier for everybody,” Webb said. “We can be more accommodating, and the finished project is up to everybody’s standards.”