Bicycle Coalition concerned with Schuylkill River Development Corp.’s West Philly trail

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is concerned that a proposed trail for the western bank of the Schuylkill River wouldn’t serve residents’ needs.

Sarah Clark Stuart, the coalition’s campaign director, criticized the proposed trail, which would run 4.6 miles from Bartram’s Garden to the Philadelphia Zoo, at a Wednesday night public meeting held at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

She was upset that the proposed route doesn’t more directly connect to the existing Schuylkill River trail on the eastern bank, as well as important landmarks like Penn Park and the South Street Bridge.

These connections are “much more difficult than it needs to be,” she told Paul Vernon of KSK Architects, which is developing the plan for the Schuylkill River Development Corp.

Vernon said at the outset that the plan was meant to “set the bar pretty high” and make him feel safe enough to allow his 8-year-old son to ride the route with him.

Clark Stuart also told the design team that many of its proposed long-term interventions would be costly and could delay the implementation of the project.

“I’m more interested with short- and long-term” solutions, she said, calling the plan “much more difficult than it needs to be.”

Many of the design team’s proposals involve the reconstruction of roadbeds to allow for cycle tracks and would involve reconfiguring traffic flows. At one point, it would involve the city resurrecting a currently abandoned street for bicycle traffic.

The team has yet to release cost estimates for its plan, which is subject to change.

“We can’t wait” for better bicycle connections to Bartram’s Garden, Clark Stuart said.

At least some of that lack of connectivity comes from Penn, which wants to steer bicyclists away from the entrance to Penn Park because of dangers it perceives are posed by a nearby interchange with Interstate 76.

Clark Stuart suggested using River Drive to access the university’s new park, though Penn officials present also said that sporting events at on-campus arenas could make access to the road difficult.

“We aren’t excluding anything,” Vernon said in defense of his proposals, noting that the final feasibility study, which should be released in the next month or two, will provide different types of interventions that could bring the cost of the project down.

Separately, Schuylkill River Development Corp. president Joseph Syrnick briefly discussed  a plan to connect the Grays Ferry Crescent ― a new section of river trail that is being completed on a former DuPont site ― to the west bank and down to Bartram’s Garden involving the use of an abandoned railroad swing bridge.

The city would like to see the bridge closed and elevated to allow boat traffic to travel underneath.

Syrnick said that rehab of the bridge could cost $1 million, but that elevating it and building proper approaches to it could cost an additional $5 million.

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