Design work on a new section of waterfront trail and a link between the waterfront and Fishtown begins

Design work is beginning on a new section of the Central Delaware multi-purpose trail – which will run along Delaware Avenue and Penn Street, from the foot of Spring Garden Street to Ellen Street.

Construction is expected to start in spring or summer 2012, and take from four to six months.

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation’s executive committee voted Thursday to pay $149,344 to The RBA Group to do design and engineering work for this section of trail. That money, along with a $500,000 grant DRWC received from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and a $500,000 match from DRWC’s own coffers, will pay for both design and construction.  

Forkin, Thorp and Taylor update the board on DRWC’s ongoing projects.

Ellen Street lies at the edge of the SugarHouse Casino parking lot, said DRWC Vice President Joe Forkin. SugarHouse officials have agreed to further extend the trail across the parking lot, connecting it with the existing portion of the trail that runs through their property, Forkin said. Forkin estimates this will cost the casino between $300,000 to $400,000. “They would build to our standards,” he said.

The RBA Group, a firm of architects, engineers and planners with offices in Philadelphia, New York and elsewhere, was awarded a $175,000 contract in October to develop standards, guidelines and design concepts for the entire length of the Central Waterfront Multi-use Trail, through a competitive bidding process.

DRWC staff, under the guidance of the board’s planning committee, asked RBA to submit a proposal to do this more detailed blueprint for this section of the trail. They did not seek proposals from others.

“So you don’t feel the need to see any other bids, to see if (this price) is competitive?” Board Member Ellen Yin asked.

Staff and planning committee did not require that for two reasons: Based on experience, Forkin said, this bid is highly competitive. But beyond that, said Planning Committee Chair Marilyn Jordan Taylor, the chance to give the firm coming up with the broader design standards for the entire trail a laboratory to see how they would work in real life was too good to pass up.

“It means they are writing the guidelines, testing them, and undoubtedly by testing them and carrying them through the design, that will either validate or maybe affect slightly the guidelines,” Taylor said. “ So it’s a nice coincidence.”

DRWC President Tom Corcoran said there will be plenty of trail work that’s put out to bid, since there will still be another five miles to build, as money becomes available. He also said this location was a “great place to demonstrate the quality of the trail” because of the prominent location at Spring Garden and Columbus.
Forkin said the planning committee met with the RBA Group last month to refine expectations for the trail design guidelines. The designers were told to especially concentrate on guidelines for those sections of the trail that will be adjacent to Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard. These are the trickier sections, Forkin said, because the designers will have to deal with many nearby modes of transit – buses, cars and possible future light-rail, to name a few – and potential new lane configurations.

Board Vice Chairman Jay Goldstein, who ran the meeting in the absence of Chairman Donn Scott, voiced concerns about doing expensive things on an interim basis, and then again in the future. He also worried that if too much attention is given to a temporary trail way along the road, it might prove harder to convince land owners that space for the trail along the waterfront is crucial.

Planning Director Sarah Thorp assured Goldstein that while some modifications may have to be made later, the design will consider the future of the roadway, and care will be taken to make expensive changes – such as moving curbs – only once.

“Ideally, whatever we do, we want to do with an eye toward permanence,” added board member Alan Greenberger, who is also the city’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

Taylor explained that in some places, the only route will be at the boulevard, and so the riverside trail and roadside trail are really two separate issues.

The Master Plan makes it clear, Thorp added, that the trail will permanently run along the roadway between Washington Avenue and Penn Street. “South of Washington and north of Penn, we want a waterfront trail, separate from the boulevard,” she said.

Updates on other DRWC projects were also given at the meeting:

Pier 9

Forkin reported that the planning committee met last month with Bohlin Cywinski Jackson to discuss the feasibility study Bohlin is doing to guide the future of Pier 9. Pier 9 is the covered municipal pier between DRWC’s offices and Race Street Pier park. It is now used primarily for storage and parking, but was the site of this year’s Feastival – the huge fund-raising gala put on by Philly Fringe. Bohlin has begun compiling a list of the pier’s “deficiencies,” Forkin said. They are now starting to determine how much it would cost to fix each of them. It’s the cost estimates that will guide how much DRWC can do to revamp the space, and a timeline, he said.

Board Members have said in the past that uses they would like to see include hosting events too small for the convention center, seasonal markets, and permanent restaurants, restrooms and other amenities that would complement Race Street Pier park.

Race Street Connector, Part II

Earlier this year, DRWC opened part of the Race Street Connector project, the street improvement project designed to make the connection between Old City and Race Street Pier and the river more obvious and safer. Part I was focused on the south side of the street. DRWC staff has been in discussions with PennDOT and other agencies about hopes for the north side. The presence of the I-95 ramps, and the Port Authority offices beneath the Ben Franklin Bridge, make this section much more complicated than the other half was, Forkin and Corcoran said.

Columbia Connector

Just as the Race Street Connector links Old City to the Race Street Pier, DRWC wants Columbia Avenue to better connect Penn Treaty Park with Fishtown. Thorp said she has been working with Studio Bryan Hanes, the landscape architect firm awarded the design contract for the project, and that they are in the process of setting up a steering committee of community stakeholders to assist in the design. The steering committee will hold a meeting the second week in December. Sometime in early January, a public meeting will be held to get residents’ input on the project, Thorp said. And then in March, the final result will be presented.

The Columbia Avenue project had to go forward now because DRWC is working in conjunction with PennDOT. PennDOT is redoing the overpass and a portion of Columbia Avenue as part of the I-95 revitalization project, and will be doing the work in a way to complete some of the Connector project’s design goals, and to complement or allow for others.

The first section of the project will focus on the area beneath the underpass itself, and PennDOT will only be working from Penn Treaty Park to Delaware Avenue. But pending future funding, the DRWC hopes to  take the connector the whole way from Delaware Avenue to Girard Avenue.

Connector streets are a big part of the master plan, and Corcoran said this one will be extra special. The street is going to become very green, he said. Thorp elaborated that a series of green spaces will be connected. In addition to Penn Treaty Park, there are also two recreation centers and a pocket park between the river and Girard, she said.

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