By: Tom Beck and Grace Maiorano
At Cherry Street Pier Wednesday evening, The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation unveiled renderings of what the Delaware River Trail will look like from Washington Avenue to Spring Garden Street, highlighting the most recent section of the trail that is set to be completed.
Renderings for the Delaware River Trail show both a concrete walking path for pedestrians and a two-way asphalt biking lane adjacent to it. For the entire length of the trail, which runs adjacent to Christopher Columbus Boulevard, an 8-foot planting buffer will be placed between the bike lane and the boulevard. Additionally, there will be a five-foot buffer between the bike lane and the concrete sidewalk. Officials at the DRWC expect the trail to begin construction next year and be finished by the end of 2021.
“This provides an on-road protected facility [for bicyclists] that we don’t have a lot of in the city,” said Karen Thompson, director of planning at DRWC. “I think the whole trail is important, but I think this creates something that because it’s on road and adjacent to traffic, having a real trail there with separation makes it, I think, really important.”
“I think it’s great,” said Randy LoBasso, spokesperson for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. “I think anytime you have more infrastructure that’s off the street, that’s protected, that anybody – whether they’re eight years old or eighty years old – feels comfortable using, that’s the infrastructure you want and that’s the infrastructure Philadelphia should be installing everywhere.”
The design was mostly positively received by those in attendance. Fishtown resident Denis Devine called it “the Cadillac” of bike lanes.
“We need this stuff in the works and getting built now for when our kids are older and on their own,” said Devine. “My kids are 7 and 6 and they’re both riding their own bikes, but mostly they’re biking with me. I’m looking forward to a time when I want them to explore the city. I want them biking around the city and going places, but there’s no way I trust any age bicyclists with drivers. Getting some protection from regular traffic – especially [with the] 60 mph ridiculous nonsense that Columbus [Boulevard] is, that’s really our only hope for safety.”
Germantown resident Drew McMeil agreed.
“It’s definitely helping people remain safe, especially on bikes,” he said. “It’s definitely a great idea and a step in a better direction and a safer direction because Delaware Avenue is a very busy street. It’s hard for bikers.”
Neighbors also appreciated the DRWC’s transparency.
“I’m glad that they’re being open about this process and not just waiting until the orange cones come out,” said Queen Village resident Ulysses Vance.
Chris Dougherty, DRWC’s planner and project manager for the trail effort, said that he hopes the trail will one day extend all the way up to the Bucks County Line (DRWC oversees the waterfront only up to Allegheny Avenue, however. North of Allegheny’s Delaware River properties are managed by Riverfront North, formerly known as the Delaware River City Corporation).
“This central section is a real crucial element of bike network and particularly for our Central Delaware Master Plan,” he said. “One of the key findings, I think, of a lot of public engagement was that people want to be close to the water. The dimensions of the space being what they are – admitting that we don’t have a ton of space, but acknowledging that we know people want to be close to the water, we had to work on this eastern side of Columbus Boulevard, which is a state route.”
The southernmost point of the trail is at Pier 70, near the Walmart on the river in Pennsport.
Plans for the Delaware River Trail came out of DRWC’s master plan, which was adopted by the city circa 2011.
“That basically lays out the public realm framework that you see us implementing here,” Dougherty said.
The ultimate goal is to create a waterfront presence for Philadelphia similar to what other major cities have, like New York’s Battery Park or Chicago’s Grant Park. A big reason why Philadelphia never had a similar riverfront presence is due to the obstruction of I-95, which acts as a physical and psychological barrier to residents who live on the western side of the freeway. To combat this, DRWC set out “activation sites” along the riverfront such as Cherry Street Pier, Spruce Street Harbor Park, Washington Avenue Green and Pier 68 to have destinations for residents to go to. From there, they created “connector streets,” which are streets decked out in decorations and signs that inform residents of the river’s proximity.
Examples of connector streets are Spring Garden Street and Race Street. DRWC’s plans include making Frankford Avenue, Columbia Avenue and Washington Avenue connector streets as well.
The central segment of the Delaware River Trail will eventually connect to the Washington Avenue Connector project, a major plan to revamp Washington Avenue from Columbus Boulevard to 4th Street.
The major facelift, which does not currently have an end date, aims to “humanize and harmonize” Washington Avenue with designated lanes for various modes of transportation, improved traffic signals and timing as well as several pockets of greenery leading up the Delaware River waterfront.
“We recognized, and the city has recognized, that Washington Avenue is really more of an industrial roadway than it should be, honestly,” Dougherty said. “The needs around it have changed.”
Starting at 4th Street, the master plan is comprised of pocket parks – an extension of Jefferson Park – connected by a new stretch of transportation flow, including distinct lanes for buses and cars, protected lanes for bikers and a multi-use trail for pedestrians and runners.
Doughtery says in the upcoming years, the ultimate goal is to bridge these disconnects along the Delaware River.
“I’m really glad that (the Washington Avenue Connector’s) connecting the rest of the trail line,” Vance said. “ I think there’s a big disconnect between the trail to the north of the city and the trail to the south on the other side of the (U.S.) Coast Guard.”