By Karen Thompson, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation
You might know the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) as the organization that brought you ice skating at Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest. Or maybe you’ve heard about a little place called Spruce Street Harbor Park, where DRWC brings the shore to Philly every summer. In addition to our seasonal parks, attractions, and programming, DRWC is also hard at work implementing the Master Plan for the Central Delaware, project by project. I recently presented on the progress of the Master Plan at BCGP’s last “Supporter Social.” We’ve opened parks like the Race Street Pier and Washington Avenue Pier and connected neighborhoods to the river with our Race Street and Spring Garden Street Connector projects.
A major part of our master plan, adopted by the City of Philadelphia in 2012, is a park on the river approximately every half mile connected by a multi-modal path called the Delaware River Trail. This trail would run along the river’s edge south of Washington Avenue and north of Spring Garden Street but be on-road between Washington Avenue and Spring Garden and is part of the larger Circuit trail system as well.
Building a trail takes time. The vast majority of the waterfront within DRWC’s planning area (Oregon Avenue to Allegheny Avenue, I-95 to the Delaware River) is privately owned, with DRWC controlling less than 15% of the land along the river. This means that while we’ve been working with our design team to fully design multiple trail segments, we’ve also been working to acquire the land on which the trail will be constructed along the river. Even where land acquisition isn’t an issue, such as between Washington Avenue and Spring Garden Street where the trail will be constructed entirely within the public right-of-way, it still takes time to design, coordinate, and fundraise for projects like this.
As our first step towards building the Delaware River trail, DRWC and its consultant NV5 (then called the RBA Group) developed a conceptual alignment and design standards for the entire trail from Pier 70 Boulevard in the south to Allegheny Avenue in the north. This study helped DRWC and its trail designers understand the conditions on the ground and identified areas where the trail would have to address issues like loading zones and tight pinch points, as well as identify any potential bulkhead issues or places with the room to become ideal viewing or rest areas.
While working on the trail conceptual plan, DRWC and its designers also fully designed and constructed a small segment of the trail, called the Penn Street Trail. This segment, which opened in 2013, runs from Spring Garden Street to Sugarhouse Casino and was the first fully protected cycletrack in Philadelphia. While only 1400 feet long, this segment is popular and allowed DRWC to showcase its core trail design: a protected two-way bicycle path and a separate pedestrian path, solar lighting, and planted buffers where ever possible.
Since opening the Penn Street Trail segment in 2013, DRWC has been busy designing several miles of both on and off-road trail segments and laying the groundwork for construction of the Delaware River Trail.
The southern off-road trail segment is fully designed and funded. DRWC plans to begin construction of a segment between Pier 70 Blvd and Tasker Street in early 2018, on property DRWC acquired in 2014 through a partnership with the Natural Lands Trust and with a grant from the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The complete southern segment will be a dramatic upgrade to the existing road and simple asphalt path that already exists along this part of the south Philadelphia waterfront.
In the north, DRWC is expecting to start construction this fall on a trail segment that will connect the existing Sugarhouse Casino trail through Penn Treaty Park. This segment will feature a shared-use promenade through the park, with seating and river views and is expected to open in 2018. DRWC’s ultimate goal is to continue to extend the trail north along the river but for now this segment will allow users to exit Penn Treaty Park at Beach Street and connect to other existing bicycle lanes.
The design of the on-road trail segment from Washington Ave. to Spring Garden is also well underway. In many ways this segment is the most complicated and requires a far greater deal of coordination with various city agencies and property owners. Our designers are about 60% complete on the construction documents for this segment now. This segment has been wrapped into DRWC’s larger Penn’s Landing project, which will reconnect Old City and the river through an 11-acre cap that will be built over I-95 and Columbus Blvd, along with a new South Street Bridge. The good news is that this Penn’s Landing project is funded! DRWC continues to advance this trail segment to 100% construction documents and begin construction in the next couple of years.
Visit www.delawareriverwaterfront.org and sign up for our mailing lists to get the latest updates on trail construction progress and public meeting dates.