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Philadelphians can follow the dream of the city’s most famous urban planner and travel across the street grid without emerging from underground.
In his 1967 book Design of Cities, Edmund Bacon opined that below-ground tunnels would be an urban success story. They’d allow pedestrians to get from point A to point B without getting bogged down in surface traffic. They’d connect your office to public transit and shopping, all inside a weather-protected portal.
City planner Bacon (yes, Kevin’s dad) would be proud today. Thanks to the 2016 revamp of the City Hall concourse and the more recent reopening of the old Gallery mall, people can walk along Market all the way from 8th to 18th Street.
But you’ve got to know what you’re doing. Missed turns and errant choices will take you up against fences, turnstiles and other impassable obstacles.
Good news: we’ve mapped out the successful path.
It wasn’t easy, and took a bunch of trial and error — including disregarding a SEPTA staffer’s definitive (but incorrect) answer that it just wasn’t possible. Along with step-by-step instructions at the end of this post, plus a map and photos, we’ve provided here the story of our travels.
Read on for this reporter’s account of the exploratory trek from the Gallery to the Comcast Technology Center.
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Hunger, fatigue and underground adventure
My journey begins when I descend the steps to the Market-Frankford Line, on the southeast corner of 8th and Market. Here we go.
It takes me an entire seven minutes to find the actual Gallery entrance from the subway concourse.
Pro tip for other newbies: the underground portal to the emporium is between the fare kiosks and the PATCO line. You’ll know it by the tall glass doors that give way to an all-white hallway.
Immediately on my right I see Burlington and fixate on an Eagles cap in the window. I now understand how having a shopping mall in the middle of your commute could be a problem.
$19.99 for Eagles sweatpants! Did I mention I entered Burlington? Well I entered Burlington. It takes me four minutes to realize that I am literally at work right now, and I need to leave.
Like any mall worth anything, the Fashion District has a bathroom at its midpoint. My bladder is grateful.
Sidetracked as I am by almost all the merchandise here, I am decidedly not feeling the urge to go into a store called the Beef Jerky Experience.
I marvel at the fact that even though my childhood ended, GameStop is still open. I wonder if they ever managed to sell the used copy of Nintendogs I unloaded to them in 2009.
As I wax poetic on my childhood gaming experience I realize, holy crap, I’ve already made it to the 12th Street exit connected to Jefferson Station. Was that 4 blocks? It felt like nothing.
The problem is I’ve also reached the food court and I’m much more incentivized to get crab fries than continue journeying.
Another problem: The connection I’m supposed to find to further my concourse journey is anything but obvious. All I can see are exits back up to the above-ground world. I wander around aimlessly looking for some hallway that I must be missing — checking nearly every exit for a pathway, even down to the Regional Rail tracks.
I must look lost. A SEPTA employee asks me if I need any help. I tell her I’m looking for the walkable connection that stretches all the way to 18th Street — and she tells me there’s no such thing.
“You’d have to take the train,” the well-meaning transit staffer informs me.
Dejected, I take this as an opportunity to sit down. I wonder if I’ve totally misunderstood this assignment, since obviously the 8th-to-18th tunnel is a fable, as confirmed by a SEPTA employee herself.
I text Billy Penn political editor Max Marin to see if he’s got any tips.
Me: I think this is supposed to be hard
Max: It will certainly make a better story, the struggle.
Knowing my suffering will one day satisfy millions of curious minds throughout the Philadelphia region — and the world — I give myself a pep talk.
Back at it, I try a random set of stairs, and it brings me…to the inside of the Market Street side of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Fail No. 1.
I backtrack to the Gallery, which I have grown to resent. I figure I must’ve missed something along the way.
I notice that next to the Philly Pretzel Factory, there’s an unassuming corridor. In my heart I believe it is fruitless, and I’ll return to the office with nothing to show for my endeavors. But I try it anyway.
Approaching the end of the hallway, I realize a sign above the doorway reads Market-Frankford Line. This looks promising.
Still 12:42 p.m.
I step into a regular subway concourse, and the refreshing Fashion District air conditioning comes to an end. I realize the rest of this journey will be decidedly less corporate and more urine-scented.
I make a right and before me is a seemingly endless hallway going west. Bingo.
I bump into the Broad Street Line’s City Hall stop, with the only way forward requiring payment at a turnstile. This whole trip is supposed to be free of fare, so I know I’ve erred. Fail No. 2.
I decide to turn back and look for the free connection I must have missed.
As I venture back east for the second time, it occurs to me that I don’t even mind the time-consuming errors. This route includes noticeably less traffic congestion and no pounding sun or drizzling rain.
I spend an entire seven minutes checking around for the next passageway.
Turns out it was all the way back at 11th Street. About 30 feet from the Fashion District exit, there are three metal tunnels on your left. I take the middle one, and yes, it does feel like I’m inside a microwave. Also: It’s got a pretty low ceiling. Watch your head.
Back on my westward route, I encounter a burst of fresh air from the stairway at the southwest corner of 11th and Market. I see buildings and hear a honking car horn. Outside world, how I’ve missed thee.
I’m greeted by a Ben Franklin portrait! Hey buddy!
Unfortunately, the bald-headed intellectual pioneer is accompanied by a fork in the road — with a path going left and a path going right. I have to make a decision, which my therapist will happily tell you is not my strongest skill.
I try my luck at turning right, knowing that I have failed before.
How’s that saying go again? It’s not about how many times you fall but how many times you get back up again? Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars? You miss a hundred percent of the shots you don’t take? I say all this to tell you that my right turn was a mistake — I hit another turnstile/fence combo and have to turn back.
I walk backwards after fail No. 3. This time, I go left.
I’m greeted by all-white hallways with bright advertisements and letters spelling out Juniper Street painted into the wall. The vibe is like the Gallery all over again.
The hallway starts to curve, and I take this as a good sign. It feels like I’m bearing south around City Hall.
Footloose is playing over speakers somewhere that I can’t see, and I am tired. Shhh.
A map with a “You are here” label alerts me that I have made it to Broad Street.
I emerge from the corridor into a big, open space: the familiar Walnut-Locust concourse. Mild panic sets in, because I don’t want to accidentally start going south instead of west. I concentrate on bearing right. I meet another passage that’s the mirror image of the last one, and I charge on.
I’m alone on my westward journey. I’m not ashamed to admit that in the second hallway, when Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” comes on, I dance my way through the hall. Don’t judge.
Anyway then there was a convex mirror and dudes in construction vests saw me and laughed in my face.
I come to the end of the hallway and find another cursed, three-pronged fork in the road. Luckily this one has wayfinding signs. I figure the “Market St West” direction is my best bet, and I bear left.
Suddenly I’m passing through the 15th Street MFL stop, and I fear I’ve made another grave error. But I walk left alongside all the turnstiles and eventually make it to another location of Tiffany’s Bakery, the Gallery mall classic that’s still going strong. Is this good?
I am tempted by a pizza place that would require I turn right, away from my path. I steel myself and move on.
I follow a blocks-long hallway packed with Chinese food and more pizza options, plus a wig store and clothing outposts. My willpower, surprisingly, prevails and I charge forward until I see SEPTA maps and a navigation board on my right.
On my left, I see a sign for 18th and Market.
I pass Concourse Dance Bar on my left. I shudder at the thought of a germy adult ball pit.
There are tall glass doors ahead, and I fear they will lead me into a fancy office building. But they’re my only choice. I pass through and go up a few steps.
Suddenly I hear running water and feel the sun on my deprived skin. On my left there’s a seating area, and the ceiling is all glass. Does it count as cheating if I take a break in view of sunlight?
It’s a public service, I argue with my editor in my head, for me to stop and put on deodorant. I take a break and apply it because hygiene is a social construct and on this journey, there are no rules.
Newly scented and back on mission, and I make a left to follow the hallway forward. I pass a few underground cafes and fantasize about sandwiches.
In my notebook, this time is marked with just: “WOW.”
I am done. The concourse ends at 18th. I climb my last flight of stairs and emerge victorious onto Market Street.
Count of things
Time elapsed: 1 hr., 42 min. if you’re winging it (likely around 30+ minutes if you know the route and don’t deviate from the map)
Distance traveled: 2.42 miles
Items purchased: 0, if you can believe it
- Bathrooms along the way
- Tons of snacks
- That victorious feeling at the end when you’ve hacked the route
- No sun or humans
- You need willpower to avoid buying stuff
- It can be confusing to find your way
- The distinct pee smell for the second half of the journey
- No sun or humans
How to walk from 8th to 18th and Market entirely underground
- Head downstairs into the 8th and Market MFL stop.
- Walk toward the PATCO entrance. You’ll find the doors to the Fashion District between that and the fare kiosks.
- Follow the mall nearly to its end.
- Make a left at the hallway immediately after the Philly Pretzel Factory. That’ll take you back to the north side of the Market Frankford Line at 11th Street.
- Make a right and go about 30 feet until you see three metal walkways on your left.
- Make a left onto one of those walkways to cross over to the MFL’s southern tracks.
- Make a right, then walk straight until the path ends. You’ll know you made it when you see a portrait of Ben Franklin and a fork in the road.
- Turn left at the fork.
- Follow this pathway as it bends south around City Hall. It’ll plop you out at Broad Street in the Walnut Locust concourse.
- Bear right and follow the mirror image of the pathway you just took.
- That will let you out to a three-pronged fork in the road. Bear left, taking the pathway labeled “Market St West.”
- Follow that path straight for awhile. You’ll know you’re doing it right when you see the 15th Street MFL stop and turnstiles on your right.
- Continue straight. More landmarks to watch for: Tiffany’s Bakery, a pizza shop, a Chinese food place, clothing and wig stores.
- After a while you’ll see a sign for 18th and Market, directing you to continue straight.
- That path will take you through glass double doors, then up a couple steps. Don’t be alarmed.
- Go straight for a bit. You’ll see a sunbathed seating area with a fountain on your left — great for taking a break, even though you’re nearing the end of your journey.
- Past the seating area, there’s a sandwich shop on your right. Keep going straight.
- Follow the corridor to its end, when your only option left is to go up a staircase.
- Go up the stairs.
- You did it!
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