Monday, September 19, 2011

Penn Park Is A Bicycling Destination, Not A Bicycling Park

Penn Park held its ribbon cutting with fanfare, free hot dogs, and speechifying in a dreary mist on Thursday, September 15th. We stopped by to check out the park that increases UPenn's green space by 20% (according to the Penn Alumni Relations Office). We took some photos, which are available here. Penn Park is a sleek and impressive addition to the neighborhood, but is a disappointment for anyone hoping to explore the West side of the Schuylkill via bicycle.

Built atop a reclaimed brownfield, Penn Park is attractive, filled with amenities, and sure to become a primary stop for undergraduate tour guides. Penn Park boasts tennis and softball facilities, plus two lighted turf fields with terrific views of the Center City skyline across the river. (The athletic facilities are only for Penn-affiliated users). Several grassy fields and a network of winding paths are available for public use. A handful of U-rack arrays are scattered around the park.
UPenn's promo literature says that the park will help connect the UPenn campus and Center City. It will help, but more needs to be done. The park doesn't improve walking or bicycling access across the Schuylkill River, Schuylkill Expressway, or the Amtrak train tracks. It only provides an incentive to do so. While the Park and new bridges help lay the groundwork for a connection between West Philly and Center City, additional work is needed. (More information on the Complete The Trail Campaign here, and information on the West Bank Connector here).

We were disappointed to see that Penn Park presents physical and regulatory barriers to bicycling. The park is currently accessible by three bridges: one coming off the Walnut Street Bridge, the Paley Bridge leading to the stadium to the west, and the Weave Bridge across the tracks to the south. Posted signs instruct bicyclists to walk their bikes on all three bridges, but bike riding is allowed on other park paths. A UPenn security officer at the opening confirmed this policy.

Strollers and little red wagons are, presumably, allowed on the bridge
Forcing bicyclists to dismount to enter the park disincentives riders from using the park as a thoroughfare. The bridges and paths appear to meet AASHTO design guidelines for a shared use path, and if that is the case, the decision is an arbitrary one. It is somewhat of a moot point, however, because the park's paths are too winding and (likely to be) crowded with pedestrians to make bicycle riding satisfying.

It should be noted, however, that the smooth paths and (currently) lush adjacent grass make Penn Park an excellent place to take a child learning how to ride a bicycle.

In all, UPenn has created a park to bicycle to, but not through.


Anonymous said...

This entry is similar to the remark I posted on the Inquirer article. This park is not directly integrated with the existing street network nor adjacent to shops and offices. Many users will arrive by car and park in the provided lot, which the website's FAQ eagerly promotes.

A poorly integrated park like this needs many attractions to compensate for its geographical isolation. While the recreational facilities may be helpful, they will not increase secondary uses to the degree that proper bicycling facilities would.

What's worse is that the press information even encourages use of the park for cycling, which will only create conflict on the too-narrow pedestrian paths. MUPs simply aren't ideal, and future allowance of bicycles on the under-designed bridges could be a poor compromise.

I appreciate Penn's gratitude, but our city doesn't need another manicured front lawn. By the way, when is the Coalition going to bring in the ThinkBike people?

Andrew J. Besold said...

I rode through this park on the day of Bike Philly after getting lost on my way to the South Street Bridge (BTW, the final design of the South St Bridge was functional but FAR from revolutionary as I hoped it would be).

The signs about walking bikes over the bridges in Penn Park are WAY too small and I totally missed them but I purposely ignored them once I did see them. Do any of these park planners know anything about the existence of the MUTCD?!?! I agree that the bridges clearly appear to meet AASHTO design standards.