Renderings of the potential Rising Sun Station for the proposed Roosevelt Boulevard Subway line. (Courtesy Jay Arzu)

Construction of the Roosevelt Boulevard Subway has been delayed in Philadelphia for the past 110 years. As the revived campaign to construct the projected 15-mile route gains steam, a lot of people have raised questions about the cost, fearing it will place an undue load on SEPTA.

One of the important factors to consider is the amount of money it costs to construct stations.

That’s becoming a big issue for a parallel project in New York City, where residents are trying to make sense of why the price tag for the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway project has risen to an astounding $7.7 billion.

Every train that services the Second Avenue line is 600 feet long, but stations built during phase 1 and phase 2 are expected to be 1,000 feet long or more. It is anticipated that the cost of these stations will range anywhere from $633 million to $794 million each. 

That sum would discourage the construction of new subway lines in almost any U.S. city. 

The Roosevelt Boulevard Subway movement’s latest graphics address this, suggesting a design for streamlined stations intended for efficiency and effectiveness in moving passengers.

New station designs for the proposed Roosevelt Boulevard Subway line. (Courtesy Jay Arzu)

They’re the result of public town halls that were held to discuss the subway, where many members of the community voiced their hope that the subway would serve as the impetus to make Roosevelt Boulevard safer and more navigable for pedestrians and cyclists. 

Information at those meetings, convened by a coalition of community residents, business owners, and transit activists, contributed to the new station renderings.

One important takeaway was that the public preferred shallow “cut-and-cover” construction over tunnel boring machines. The rationale provided by the community was that Roosevelt Boulevard is wide enough to accommodate rapid transit due to its twelve lanes and its 80-foot median. 

Station-level interior rendering of the potential Rising Sun Station for the proposed Roosevelt Boulevard Subway line. (Courtesy Jay Arzu)

Additionally, cut-and-cover construction in the median would reduce traffic disturbances and provide stations without the need for mezzanines — which helps reduce their cost, as seen in NYC. To address concerns about the expense of the Second Avenue Subway’s second phase, the MTA recently requested authorization from the Federal Transit Administration to reduce the mezzanines at two proposed stations. 

The latest Roosevelt Boulevard Subway designs replace enormous, multi-story subway stations with station houses that are flooded with natural light. They allow passengers to descend straight from the street level to the platform below.

Instead of spending money on the hard infrastructure, more would be spent on passenger amenities like real-time train displays and improved wayfinding. All stations would be built in prefabricated circular tunnel sections, allowing for column-free platforms, and, depending on the context, platforms could include station houses on both ends of the platform. 

Station-level interior rendering of the potential Rising Sun Station for the proposed Roosevelt Boulevard Subway line. (Courtesy Jay Arzu)

And following the completion of the cut-and-cover construction, the stations would serve as the focal point of a new linear park. 

Residents of these park-starved neighborhoods along Roosevelt Boulevard voiced their support for the development of this new public space, which would incorporate both active and sedentary forms of recreation, as well as artwork. 

Finally, multi-modal and active transportation should be improved so that individuals can walk, cycle, or drive to stations. In the new renderings, bike shares are positioned just feet away from station entrances, and new bi-directional cycle lanes would run on both sides of the Boulevard. 

Crossing the multi-lane thoroughfare would also be improved and made safer with median build outs, transforming one of America’s most dangerous roads into a unique public space and destination. 

A map of Philly transit including the proposed Roosevelt Boulevard Subway line. (Courtesy Jay Arzu)

Despite their differences, the Second Avenue Subway and the Roosevelt Boulevard Subway are sometimes compared due to the length of time each city has been waiting for the completion of the lines. In truth, Second Avenue is one-quarter the width of Roosevelt Boulevard, giving us significantly more room to build. 

Philadelphia can’t copy New York in terms of subway construction, but soon New York and the rest of America can learn from Philly about designing a cost-effective subway line.  

Jay Arzu, a graduate of Marist College, began his Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design in Fall 2021. Jay is the cofounder of the Collective...