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On July 21, ten organizations sent a letter of support for the Wissahickon Gateway Trail project to the Philadelphia Art Commission, SEPTA and the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability. This letter was sent because the trail’s fate is tied up with a separate transit project, the Wissahickon Transportation Center (WTC), which is going through various approval processes. The WTC recently was reviewed by the Philadelphia Art Commission, but the Commission did not approve the project at its July 1 meeting and delayed its approval until September.

As outlined in our letter, we called upon SEPTA and the City to advance the trail project by taking the following steps.

  1. SEPTA and the City of Philadelphia sign a lease so that the City can have access to a property necessary to design the trail; 
  2. The City of Philadelphia acquire the property it needs behind Mr. Storage; 
  3. The City of Philadelphia secure access to the property behind the Manayunk Movie Theatre for the trail; and, 
  4. The City of Philadelphia issues a contract to design the trail so that it is eligible for construction funding.

The Wissahickon Gateway Trail is a long suffering off-road multi purpose trail segment that will close one of the oldest and most difficult gaps in the Schuylkill River Trail and the Circuit. It has been identified by numerous entities, including the PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, as one of the Commonwealth’s top ten trail gaps. It is also a key segment of the Circuit and was identified as a critical gap by the Circuit Coalition’s 2019 Report Moving the Circuit Forward to Reach 500 Miles by 2025.

It makes a key connection between the end of the path at Kelley Drive and the Pencoyd Bridge and Main Street via a new bicycle/pedestrian bridge over the Wissahickon Creek and a new 15 foot wide path around PECO’s transfer station, and along the riverbank behind SEPTA’s property, Mr. Storage, the Manayunk Movie Theatre and Cadence Cycling Center. When complete, it will finally be possible to ride a bicycle from Center City to Valley Forge completely off road (except for a short distance along Main Street.)

The segment has been studied and deliberated for many years. Nevertheless, the City of Philadelphia has yet to secure all of the “rights of way” (ROW) before it can begin executing a design and raise funds to build the trail.

Between 2016 and 2018, the City Philadelphia Planning Commission conducted an in-depth planning process for both the WTC, the Trail and the entire area around it as seen below.  The result was a new plan that recommended the following:

  • Expansion of the Wissahickon Transportation Center (WTC)
  • Extension of the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT)
  • Road improvements on Ridge Avenue and Main Street for vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians
  • New development that includes shops, offices, and apartments
  • Public space and aesthetic improvements

When SEPTA purchased a significant parcel in 2018 to construct an updated Wissahickon Transportation Center, new life was breathed into the trail project. Finally, the City has the opportunity to secure most of the ROW it needed to build the trail. Moving forward with finishing the acquisition of property to build the trail, and then designing and constructing the Wissahickon Gateway is critical and must be a high priority for the City.

Our letter to SETPA’s Managing Director and the City’s Deputy Managing Director for Transportation urges them to accelerate this critical Circuit project.

Sarah Clark Stuart

Author

Sarah’s foray into trail and bicycle advocacy began in 2004 when she became involved in the “Free Schuylkill River Park” campaign to preserve public access to the Schuylkill River Trail in Center City, now known as Schuylkill Banks. Since joining the Bicycle Coalition in 2006, she has been a key player in the Bicycle Coalition’s key accomplishments: the $23 million TIGER trail-building grant; naming and building out the Circuit; lobbying successfully for legislation mandating the inclusion of bike parking in new construction projects; Philadelphia’s Complete Streets policy; and coordinating research and analysis of several reports on bicycling in Philadelphia.

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