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Post War Transportation Changes on the Streets Philadelphia

Today’s image taken in 1953 on a street in downtown Philadelphia, PA, shows the results of the controversial changeover from streetcars to buses in cities across the country between the 1930s and the 1950s. Here in “The City of Brotherly Love,” which ranks as having the fifth largest population of the nation’s cities the changes are quite evident.

The buses that replaced the streetcars are clearly visible in the photo as are the overhead electric lines that powered the older form of mass transport. The middle of the street in this view where the trolley cars traveled was then converted into automobile parking spaces.

This street scene contains a wide variety cars that date from the late-1930s to the early-1950s for you to peruse along with the buses. Tell us what you find of interest in the expandable photograph below courtesy of PhillyHistory.

27 responses to “Post War Transportation Changes on the Streets Philadelphia

  1. I can still smell the air of that scene. We moved to the city in ’56. Not 100% but feels like south Broad st. If you will note the cement islands were for trolley riders to safely wait for the next pickup. To the left one can see a metal barrier rail that I believe to be the stair access to the subway. Thanks for the memory. The Ford on the right, following the bus is just like one I took to my first driver’s test. The air today is much cleaner looking.

    You may not know but the feature of ‘expandable photo’ does not perform as it used to. I was away for many moons and can’t say when, but I notice when I click on an ‘expandable photo’ it merely shows a smaller version.

    I Love this site. Tom

    • Tom, Thanks, the expandable photo option does in fact work but you need a screen large enough to view it, the photo is actually 1500 pixels wide were as the lead photo is only 1080 wide.

    • It behaves the same on my Macs, screen size notwithstanding. I found that if you disable ‘Java Script’ in the security settings of your browser the picture will be zoomable. Disable it before clicking the picture. Didn’t try it on a Windows type machine, but should work about the same there too.

      • Easy on my desktop PC running Windows 10. Might work for you? Click on the expandable photo. Then hold down the Ctrl key while using the scroll wheel on your mouse. Can zoom to 500%. Good luck!

        • Ctrl-Scroll (Windows) increases the zoom level of the browser, so that everything, text and all, becomes huge. For me to view the expandable picture I have to click on the picture (same sized pic is shown as stated above), then right-click on the image and select View Image.

    • This is definitely Market Street between 11th & 12th. I remember standing in front of Boyd’s & Flagg Bros. waiting for the bus back to Camden.

  2. Interesting how a car parked behind the chain could only back into traffic. Great opportunity for the local body shop……


  3. An odd, but interesting parking solution, for sure. I have to wonder about the acrobatic moves it took to stop, and reverse into one of those spots! Traffic behind you must’ve gone ballistic at anyone trying to park there. Up front, closest to the camera I spot one of my favorites from the `30s; a `38 Oldsmobile with it’s high-mounted taillamps. The light-colored `50 Chrysler Newport hardtop sure stands out against the veritable sea of drab, boxy black sedans, and it even has white walls!

  4. Everything checks out for 1952..a couple of the cars and both of the movies playing..and again we see how differently we viewed our transportation by the state of the vehicles. My dad drove his ’49 Ford for three years with a dent in the door that would have cost $50 to repair, and traded it in in ’53 , still there…

  5. Far left facing lane,a 1950 Chrysler(maybe an Imperial)2 door hardtop,a ’51 Buick Super Riviera,then a ’41 Olds,then possibly a ’41 Ford.Center row:’38 Olds,’49 or ’50 Nash,’49 Chevy,’47 or ’48 Dodge,’49 Chevy,’47 or’48 Ford,’39 Packard.Next lane,behind the bus,a ’52 Ford Mainline,behind that a ’51 Ford .Next lane a possible ’49/’50 Chevy.

    • Hello, Peter, I agree with your list with on possible exception. There is something, perhaps gut instinct, that makes me want to believe the car past the second ’49 Chevy may be a Mercury rather than a Ford. Just something about the chrome and hood ornament that is creating that doubt. I wish I could see more of that front end.

  6. I wonder how they were able to park those front autos behind the chain and sidewalk in the opposite direction of the traffic flow? Airdrop?

  7. I’m not sue we can say those Public Service (of New Jersey) GM buses on the left replaced the trolleys in Philly. I do know trolleys went over the Ben Franlkin bridge at one time but I thought they were Philadelphia based. The first GM is a very early post war version, a city transit bus with standee windows. The second one looks to be a slightly later model 4509 whose production ended in 1952, and it’s a suburban model with all forward facing seats and no standee windows. The Mack on the right might be a private bus transporting residents of Park View , apartments or housing development.

    • It’s true that the Public Service buses didn’t replace any local trolleys, they were serving South Jersey via the Ben Franklin Bridge. The bridge never had trolleys on it, though provision was made for them in the original bridge design. There was track space outside the roadway, not to be confused with the Bridge Line and today’s PATCO tracks. An underground terminal was built on the Philly side and there were stations in both towers with access to the surface via elevators. Much of this infrastructure is still there, though changed by expansion of the roadway. It was intended that Camden, NJ trolleys, also operated by public Service would serve the bridge; this never happened since Camden trolleys ceased operation about the time the bridge opened. It was never intended that the Philadelphia and Camden systems would share the trackage as their gages were different.

      • Thanks, John Shea!!
        Al, a city type bus has fixed windows above the normal widow sashes. These can be used by the standing passengers to see where along the route the bus is so as to see when their stop is coming . During busy times, rush hours, the capacity of these buses is as many people as would fit inside. Only the first 45 or so had seats, the rest are “standees” , this could be another 30 or 40 passengers. Some city type buses had only perimeter seating against the walls to hold more standees.

  8. Well, despite all their faults, buses were a bit more practical at that time. You could change routes along with demographic changes much easier since there was not much infrastructure to build, overall maintenance was less, problems with rails in the roadway and right of way were eliminated, and I imagine overall costs were much less. Much as I love trolleys and miss the Red Line in the LA area, it was probably inevitable that buses took over. There are still a number of cities in Japan that still have them, including a line here in Tokyo.

    • Speaking of trolleys makes me have to tell this tidbit. During the sixties a trolley, left unattended at the turn-around lot, was stolen by a young lad for a joy ride. A little over a mile later the tracks turned left at 63rd street and Girard ave. The apparent speed of operation sent the trolley off the track. It left the turn at about 45 degrees and sailed into the building on the corner.

  9. It is established fact that GM embarked on a campaign to lie,cheat,steal,bribe-whatever it took to get cities to changeover from streetcars to buses.

  10. Your description is not correct. Cars were permitted to park this way due to a transit strike by the Philadelphia Transportation Company strike (PTC). This strike cut off all buses, trolleys and subways in the city of Philadelphia. The buses shown on the street are Public Service of New Jersey buses, which ran normal service from New Jersey to Philadelphia. They were not on strike at that time.

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