Much thought and planning go into the design of our cities and environments. While we only see the projects that reach completion, it is important to note that many designs and plans have come and gone before them. More often than imagined, major projects are started and never finished; they are left to be forgotten, holding secrets of the past and sharing insights into what could have been. This is the second post in a series about projects that share the same fate of abandonment and the bitter forgetfulness of the passing of time. These “ghost stories” provide a glimpse of just how different our nation’s built environment could have been if they had seen completion.
Construction on the iconic Ben Franklin Bridge (formerly the Delaware River Bridge) began in January of 1922, and was completed and opened to traffic on July 1, 1926. The 8,300-foot-bridge spans the Delaware River, connecting the cities of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Camden, New Jersey, for drivers, PATCO rail commuters, and pedestrians. With seven vehicular lanes flanked by two rail tracks and elevated pedestrian walkways, the bridge sees well over 140,000 individuals traverse its length each day. What many of these travelers don’t know is that the bridge was originally designed with an additional transit line in mind – two trolley lines were to run along the outermost lanes of the road deck, accessible by two stations built into the anchorages of the bridge.
The stations remain closed to this day to the public, and it is highly unlikely that they will ever be used as trolley stations as envisioned in 1922. The rise of busses and the automobile are the main reason as to why these stations were never opened. The bridge had been originally designed with pedestrians and mass transit in mind. In the early 1900s, many used public transportation to get around. In response to this, the Ben Franklin Bridge was designed to carry both a trolley line and a rail line. By the time the bridge had opened in 1926, demographics had changed. The popularity of busses and the rise of the automobile resulted in the stations and trolley lines to never be opened to the public or even utilized, and the space for the trolley tracks remained on the bridge until they were replaced by two additional roadway lanes for car traffic in 1950.