Riverfront bike path, not a fast and easy project
Friday, March 12th, 2010
A new era for Philadelphia's Delaware riverfront was supposed to begin with a few small, simple things. Last year a bike trail was built to encourage people to use the area for recreation. It was supposed to be a fast and easy project. WHYY's Peter Crimmins reports, it's been anything but.
I'm riding a bicycle toward the Delaware River along Pier 70
Boulevard, just behind the Home Depot. This is close to where a bike trail begins, headed north to Penn's Landing. It was built by the Center City District, whose president is Paul Levy.
Levy: The William Penn Foundation put up funding for design and construction. Mayor Michael Nutter matched that with a half million dollars. We began construction. It offers extraordinary views of the river, of Camden, and great industrial ruins.
Industrial ruins is right. It's surrounded by fallow fields, there are rotting piers jutting out into the river. Here at the entrance to the trail is a homeless camp with lots of feral cats.
The bike path opened last September, but nobody announced it. The management responsibilities were transferred to the new Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, but now the path is closed.
Waterfront Corporation Vice President Joe Forkin says somebody thought he'd found a safety problem near Reed Street.
Forkin: A user climbed the fence and went to the pier – there's a four-foot hole – that's a safety concern and the user lodged a complaint with the city. We closed the trail to mitigate the problem.
But safety concerns are only part of the problem. When the trail was constructed, easement agreements had been negotiated with the owners of the private properties through which the trail cuts. But Forkin says two entities have demanded re-negotiations: the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust and Liberty Landing, a condominium tower project planned by the Sheet Metal Workers Union.
Forkin: We're hoping to have this in spring of 2010…late spring, maybe May.
Urban designer Harris Steinberg of PennPraxis said this bike trail is an important first step in carrying out the civic vision for the riverfront that he helped craft in 2007.
Steinberg: It was really to demonstrate to the public and policy makers and to developers that this is an amenity that will create value to the public and private sector. By getting people out there it demonstrates the importance of recreation and access to the city at large.
The Waterfront Corporation is appealing to city residents to think of the Delaware River trail as a bookend to Schuylkill Banks, the popular jogging and biking path along Center City's other river. And some day it may be, if it ever opens.