Philadelphia is almost surrounded by rivers. The Delaware River flows between Philadelphia and New Jersey. The Schuylkill River runs south through the city and joins the Delaware River in the Delaware Bay. The word Schuylkill (in addition to offering a spelling challenge) has its origins as "schuyl kil" from the Dutch, means "hidden creek." When Arendt Corssen, who explored the area for the Dutch East Indies Company, first saw it, the river was hidden by vegetation. The rivers needed to be bridged
At the time of the American Revolution there were two floating bridges across the Schuylkill River. By 1810 many bridges were built throughout the city, and the major pikes had structured bridges. Now, I-95 crosses the Schuylkill on the Girard Point Bridge. It was this bridge that was clogged with Philadelphia Eagles fans which was our first bottleneck when we visited Philadelphia in October 2004
The Delaware River Port Authority Bridge, also known as the Benjamin Franklin, was completed in 1926 with a span of nearly two miles. It was renamed for Benjamin Franklin in 1956. The bridge was designed by Paul Philippe Cret, and is painted blue. By the early 50s the Benjamin Franklin Bridge was carrying more than 75,000 vehicles per day and had reached capacity.
A new crossing was to be called the Walt Whitman Bridge, after the nineteenth-century poet who spent the last 19 years of his life in nearby Camden. The Catholic Diocese of Camden and local officials in South Jersey objected to this name because of Whitman's homosexuality. The bridge was designed by Othmar Ammann, and construction was started in 1952. Construction was delayed by the Korean War and then by a prolonged steel strike. On August 15, 1957, the governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey dedicated the bridge, and one day later, the DRPA opened the bridge to traffic. So when I took the first picture, the bridge was only 12 years old.
Another very important bridge built over the Delaware River is the Betsy Ross Bridge - the first bridge named after a woman.
Philadelphia is one of the few US cities well serviced by train as well as being an international air hub. More surprisingly, it's one big city that you can drive around with not too much stress. Not ready for that? Philly does have a limited subway system and extensive buses for locals but most tourists use the Phlash tourist bus that runs a loop around all of the city's main attractions. An all day pass is only $4 and if you plan to do the Art Museum area as well as the historical district, it's certainly the easiest way to do it and you get the added bonus of never getting lost. All that said, the truly energetic or those with more time, can walk to all of these stops and soak in the great electric feel that is the streets of Philadelphia.
For those with cars, Philly is the rare big city where you can find free parking if you are willing to walk just a bit. Just north of the Art Museum is a nice residential section and with a quarter mile stroll, your car is completely safe, and you are right in the prettiest part of town. On Sundays, Philly is particularly easy to get around, and you can pretty much get away with parking in the employees parking lot in front of the Art Museum if you go late afternoon. Great for those not wanting to visit, but to just jog up the steps ala Rocky. Notice the ole Civic parked illegally just past the statue.
If you are driving into Philadelphia from the East, you will have to cross one of two bridges (unless you plan on swimming because the Delaware River separates NJ & PA.) The Walt Whitman Bridge (which is green) is located on route 76 (the Schuykill Expressway). Route 76 winds through Philadelphia and is an exited highway that is heavily traveled. The blue bridge- the Ben Franklin, via Route 676 through Camden, is the quickest way to reach the heart of Philadelphia without wending through miles of highway traffic. The Ben Franklin Bridge dumps ABRUPTLY into the heart of the city.
There are many major highways which lead into and around Philadelphia, and Philly is easily accesible by car from many major northeast cities.
Highways leading directly into Philadelphia:
-Delaware Expressway (I-95) - I-95 enters the city in the north from Bucks County and NJ. I-95 (Delaware Expressway in the city) follows the Delaware River through the northern part of the city through downtown and then into south Philadelphia, with airport access. This road gets very congested.
-Sckukyll Expressway (I-76) - I-76 enters the city in the nothwest from the PA Turnpike, and then follows the Sc. River through West Philly, through western downtown, and then through South Philadelphia and into NJ.
-Vine St. Expressway (I-676) - I-676 enters the city from NJ via the Ben Franklin Bridge, intersecting I-95 and then winding through the northern section of downtown, finally ending just north of 30th St. Rail station at I-76.
-Roosevelt Expressway (US-1) - US-1 enters the city from the north as an expressway from Bucks County. At the northern border of the city, the highway becomes a massive road; 6 lanes and 2 sections in each direction, with both local and express lanes. This road has many unsyncronized lights, and heading into town can be very slow. Once the highway enters North Philadelphia, it once again becomes an expressway, joining with I-76 and following it into downtown, just north of the Vine St. Expressway.
By car take I-95 into Philadelphia, from New Jersey(Camden) take Rt.30 to the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia, from the west take the Pa. Turnpike to rt.476( or something like it ie,676) that goes into Philly( as most native Philadelphians call it.
You can also take AMTRAK right in to 30th Street Station and a short cab ride or bus ride about 15 blocks to the center of the city. From southern NJ a great option is to take the PATCO high speed-line (elevated/subway)
Car is fairly easy if you can avoid6:30-9:00 am and 4:00-6:00pm
We drove from Boston across the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike to Philly. It took 4-5 hours. The traffic was not too bad, but I strongly suggest bringing a New York City map even if you're not going to NYC. The roads around NYC are really confusing, and just following 95 through the City was a challenge. We somehow got sidetracked somewhere in the Bronx, and didn't have a NY map!
Parking is pretty difficult downtown and boy, do they give out parking tickets. And remember to pay the ticket within 8 calendar days, or the penalty is like double ($15 for ticket and $23 for penalty, so you pay $38 for not paying within 8 calendar days).
The public transportation is very good and efficient, but also expensive. $2 for a one-way trip on the subway. There's a commuter rail line also, and sometimes they're in the same station, so be careful not to board the wrong train. You cannot get the unlimited pass for the subway at the subway station. You have to get it at a commuter rail station. And the unlimited day pass only entitles you to take the subway and the city buses, not the Phlash buses that take you from Independence Hall to the Art Museum. You must pay for the Phlash buses (they are purple colored) individually and they are $2 for a one-way trip. There's a city bus line near the Art Museum, but not right there.
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