Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Underground Pedestrian Concourse

My topic today is: The Underground Pedestrian Concourse.

I am still researching this nifty little Philadelphia secret. The above picture is one of the few pictures of its maps I was able to locate on the internet. Once we move in, I will try to photograph the maps myself. There are 2 or 3 that I know of. They are in the tunnels themselves, and most of those are not in good shape. SEPTA apparently doesn't like to advertise them too much.

Here's a little bit of history. From what I have been able to discover, these tunnels were created as part of Edmund Bacon's rennovation plan in 1963. Here is an excerpt from the written materials I found on-line at http://www.prrths.com/Downloads/Philly:


Written Material to Accompany a Mostly-Underground Tourfrom 30th Street Station to Market East Station

By Harry Kyriakodis (hkyriakodis@ali.org)


I have compiled and edited the following material from a variety of sources and from personal investigations to serve as an introduction and guide to Center City Philadelphia's transit infrastructure. The text contains a wealth of interesting information and little-known facts about how these rail systems and stations came to be, what happened to them subsequently, and what will happen to them in the near future. I've included several photographs showing how they appeared in the past, plus a few recent newspaper stories about them. This material can be used in conjunction with a tour of the rail networks described. I think this stuff is fascinating.


Almost all Penn Center buildings and nearby subway and commuter rail stations are linked together by the vast underground pedestrian concourse network running under J.F.K. Boulevard, Market Street, and most area cross streets, walkways and courtyards. Edmund Bacon's concept of a hidden, weather-protected concourse connecting urban office, transportation and retail facilities was innovative at the time and influenced other cities, as well as Philadelphia's subsequent Market East Redevelopment. Furthermore, the Penn Center complex includes an underground roadway that trucks use to service and supply the buildings. This significantly reduces the number of trucks traveling over and loading/unloading on the streets above. The entrance to this no-outlet road (called Commerce Street) is on 19th Street between Market Street and J.F.K. Boulevard.

Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Railroad significantly compromised Bacon's plan—with enlarged buildings and less open space—to be more economically rewarding to the company. Thus, Penn Center and the underground concourse network became less pedestrian friendly and less attractive overall. Legitimate concerns about crime and homelessness in the area became evident as the years passed. And this type of overwhelmingly bold city-sculpting has been somewhat discredited since the Center's construction. In fact, Penn Center has been cited as an example of poor city planning, lamentable in the spare geometry of its boxy buildings and its disregard for the traditional street's vitality. However, there are plans to improve and enhance Penn Center and its concourse system. This should help make getting around the complex more appealing to downtown workers.

I have found the underground tunnels fascinating. I first discovered them during the summer of 2004. I found that if I took the PATCO subway into 12th & Locust, I could actually make it past City Hall entirely underground. The way is not intuitive, the tunnels don’t always go where they seem to go, and the maps are very hard to figure out. But after a few weeks of trial and error I figured it out. This was especially nice in the rain, when all I had to do was cross the street, and the rest was underground.

For my new job, the tunnels actually connect to the building I will work in. Further, an entrance to the tunnels is right around the corner from my new home.

The tunnels are delightful. They are fairly clean and well lit. At certain points, they are incredibly wide (more than the width of a 4 lane road). I don’t know how they are at night (I am sure the homeless use them for shelter in the winter), but they appear safe. They pretty much mirror the RED, GREEN, and BLUE subway lines underneath Center City.

I’ll post some pictures once I get settled.

[update: More on tunnels]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pedestrian concourse isn't a secret... you'll learn soon enough, we don't use it cause it smells like pee.

11/11/2005 04:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone found a good map yet. The concourse seems like a good alternative to walking in the elements.

11/27/2005 07:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also enjoy the pedestrian concourse as an alternative to cold and/or rain, as well as an underused public space.

I recently pieced together a map of the concourse; a friend later pointed out that you can also get to the PATCO stop at 8th and Chestnut without going outside.

12/12/2005 09:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It actually used to go even further north than that, IIRC. You used to be able to walk at least as far as the Inquirer building underground. It was closed after a lawsuit-- the local head of the newspaper guild was murdered on his way to work (this was the early 70s), and it came out that there was almost no patrol of the tunnels that far north.

12/15/2005 01:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The concourse used to serve as a fallout shelter. There are all sorts of old canned goods etc in the rooms off that hallway. A long time ago after they closed it off it was only sectioned off by a fence that you could see through.

8/17/2011 11:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Linfan said...

I am a graduate student at Penn, and we are doing a design project to propose a better use of the concourse walkways underneath the city hall. We would like the proposal to contribute part of DesignPhiladelphia Festival. I came across your blog online and found your opinions about urban life in Philadelphia very interesting. Are you still in the area? Would you mind if I ask you some questions about this specific subjects and include your comments in our project? My email is linfanl@design.upenn.edu. Thank you in advance :)

9/16/2012 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although the Center City District does an admirable job of keeping the concourse clean, it's still stuffy and smelly. Nonetheless, it's a great way to get around in bad weather, especially if you get off at the subways or the PATCO line. Rainy or extremely cold days are the only times I use the concourse.

4/23/2013 05:38:00 PM  

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