Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Examining the Wissahickon Gap in the Schuylkill River Trail

Note: this was originally posted in the Crossing Paths Blog on May 8, 2013

Within Philadelphia, the most critical gap in the Schuylkill River Trail is the Wissahickon Gateway. Located between Kelly Drive and the Penncoyd Bridge on Main Street in Manayunk, the gap's total distance is about 1 mile. To build a trail here, one must thread between and around a complicated set of parcels owned by multiple owners.
Artist's rendering of what one solution could look like
Currently, most recreational riders bicycling up from Center City turn around where the path on Kelly Drive ends at Ridge Avenue. Beyond that corner is an inhospitable set of barriers that deter a significant portion of riders who might otherwise be willing to ride further. These barriers include a narrow sidewalk along Ridge Avenue over the Wissahickon Creek, a SEPTA transportation center with many people standing on the sidewalk waiting for buses, and constant bus, truck, and motor vehicle traffic in multiple driveways along Ridge Avenue. The area is considered one of the City's most dangerous intersections for crashes.

This befuddling section of the SRT has resisted development for years. Finally, however, the possible ways to close the gap are coming into focus. In 2010, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation (PPR) won a federal grant to conduct an engineering study. They hired Michael Baker Jr. Inc to conduct a "preliminary" engineering study of the area. It was the first study since the Schuylkill Project developed a conceptual plan in 2008. A stakeholder committee was established and met three times with the consultants and PPR staff.   One public meetings was held on November 1, 2012.

The result was evaluations of three alignment options. In each case, a new bridge crossing over the Wissahickon Creek is required. See the three alignments below:

  • Alternative #1 – Riverside Trail with Downstream Bridge Crossing (in red)
  • Alternative #2 - Riverside Trail with Upstream Bridge Crossing (in yellow)
  • Alternative #3 – Ridge Avenue Trail with Upstream Bridge Crossing (in green)
The produced study and appendices detail the advantages and challenges of each of the three alignments. Alternative #3 has the challenge of weaving between the SEPTA bus transportation center and the PECO site. Alternative #2 was met with resistance from both the Canoe Club and PECO. Alternative #2 and #1 also has considerable physical obstructions that would require building a boardwalk. The owner of the parcels (and buildings that housed the old Duron paint store, Restaurant Depot and Mr. Store-It) was approached to determine if they would allow their land to be acquired or go into an easement for either the #2 or #1 alignment. The owner, the Steinberg family (MBS Associates), was not interested.

As of this spring, PPR has settled on a separate short term (green) and long term (dashed yellow) alignment (see below).

Once it works out agreements with SETPA and PECO to move their fence lines, it will go forward with designing the green alignment, which includes a new bike/ped bridge over the Wissahickon Creek. In the future, if/when the MBS Associates parcels are put up for sale, the City will attempt to implement the long term alignment (in dashed yellow). The short term alignment is estimated to cost around $2.5 million.


Gary B. Steinberg said...

I don't know the derivation of this characterization of our willingness to provide access/easement on our property, but it is far from accurate. Since, 1996, after ICETEA money was to fund a parallel bridge over the Wissahickon, our lease with Restaurant Depot specifically excludes the riverbank from their use. This was done to facilitate passage along the river for a river trail. Now, 17 years later, nothing has changed - and the money still isn't there.
The parks department has been invited to cantilever, or other ways to situate a trail along our riverfront but, in an environment where Venice Island gets rebuilt for $53M, and the Lower Schuylkill has elaborate pilings in the river for trail installation, PPR can't find the funds, and is choosing to but bikers in harms way, alongside a roadway carrying 38,000 cars daily!
Amazing how facts get distorted.

Gary B. Steinberg
MBS Associates/
Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors
336 Conshohocken State Road
Gladwyne, PA 19035
610.642.6533 - Direct
610.896.7400 - Office Email

philadelphia bicycle journal said...

In other words unless Mr. Steinberg gets $53 million dollar to fund his commercial development that he he will profit from. No one else will be allowed to install any kind of infrastructure. Sounds like he is the one jeopardizing cyclists who have no option than to ride on a road with 38,000 cars per day.