Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Future Trails Recap: Wissahickon Gateway and Bartram's Mile

Over the past few days, Philadelphia's Department of Parks and Recreation (PPR) has unveiled information about the future of three important gaps in the Schuylkill River Trail.

Wissahickon Gateway
First, on November 1st, the final results of a preliminary engineering study of the Wissahickon Gateway were presented to the public for the first time at the Gustine Rec. Center. PPR, along with their consultants Baker Inc. and Toole Design, have been negotiating with multiple landowners to figure out a way to thread a trail between East Falls and Manayunk (from the trail on Kelly Drive that ends at Ridge Avenue over to the Pencoyd Bridge on Main Street.)
3 possible ways to close the gap (click for bigger view)
The main success of this effort has been PECO and SEPTA's agreement to move their fence lines to allow an 8-foot trail to weave its way behind SEPTA's Wissahickon Transportation Center and PECO's substation. By building a new bridge over the Wissahickon Creek and directing trail users behind the bus depot, a significant obstacle in the Schuylkill River Trail will be overcome.

Another property owner involved in the trail planning, the Steinberg family, has not reached an understanding with Parks and Recreation. The Steinberg family owns the Duron Paint Store, Restaurant Depot, and Mr. Storage parcels, and have not agreed to allow a trail behind their buildings. That trail, if allowed, would connect with the existing easement behind Bart Blatstein's Movie Theater and Diner complex.
The Parks & Rec Dept's preferred route to close the gap (click for bigger view) 
Lacking this section, PPR announced its preference for a sidepath trail along Ridge Avenue and Main Street that will go from the Duron Paint building over to the Pencoyd Bridge. This roadside trail could be constructed by moving the curbline out and using a shoulder that currently exists on the two roads. The downside is that it is next to heavy traffic and crosses seven driveways; the upside is that it is much more feasible in the short term, easier to implement, and less expensive than a riverfront trail. At the public meeting, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia asked PPR to consider it a short term proposal and keep the riverfront option as a long term goal, allowing the possibility that the parcels could be sold and redeveloped in the future. The Bicycle Coalition also asked that the trail be made 12-14 feet wide where possible; a 10-foot path is not wide enough.

Bartram's Mile
The second and third important gaps in the Schuylkill River Trail were made open to the public this past Saturday. This past weekend, Parks and Recreation, PennPraxis, Schuylkill River Development Corp and Bartram's Garden led the first of four civic engagement activities; a bike tour of two parcels lying north and south of Bartram's Garden (Bartram's Mile North and South). Both sites are currently vacant industrial land owned by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC). This was the first time that members of the public were allowed to tour these two parcels and they were fascinating! The tour included a visit to a Streets Department Maintenance Facility that lies in between the old National Heat and Power site and Bartram's Garden. The Streets Department facility is the site of a former garbage reduction plant and is a wonderful representative of Philadelphia's hidden industrial history.

Bartram's Mile North includes both the Streets Dept site and the former National Heat and Power site, a brownfield requiring considerable environmental clean up. The parcel ends at 51st and Botanic Avenue, where the Bartram's Garden property begins on the other side of an active freight railway bridge. The National Heat and Power site is a hodgepodge of foundations and retaining walls and was a popular short dumping site until PIDC put up surrounding fencing. A Community Design Collaborative Infill Philadelphia project has already made a proposal on how to develop the land. This site will ultimately connect to the Gray's Ferry Crescent via a new bike/ped Crossing (using an abandoned truss) that is being planned and designed by Schuylkill River Development Corporation.
Tour participants check out the waterfront in Bartram's Mile South
Bartram's Mile South, the former Gypsum/Transmontaigne plant, will start where the end of the Bartram's Garden driveway (next to its Community Farm) where it meets 56th Street and will travel along the river to 58th Street. A connection will be needed to link it to the 58th Street Greenway at 58th and Elmwood St.

Parks and Recreation has been negotiating with PIDC for a frontage of at least 50 feet from the river's edge to create two riverfront trails.

PennPraxis has an online survey seeking input on Bartram's Miles North and South, or you can send your ideas to praxis@design.upenn.edu. See this Flickr set for more photos from the Bartram's Mile tour, and this PlanPhilly article for more coverage.