DRWC continues work on the waterfront trail and green space, development areas the trail will connect

The Penn Street Trail – a section of the Central Delaware waterfront trail that will connect Spring Garden Street with SugarHouse Casino’s portion of the trail – is expected to open next spring.

Design work by the RBA Group, a firm of architects, engineers and planners with offices in Philadelphia, New York and elsewhere, continues, said Delaware River Waterfront Corporation Vice President for Operations Joe Forkin. “We’ve talked with residents and business in the area, and the recommendation is to have as much room for pedestrians as possible,” he said. Preliminary plans also call for a 12-foot, two-directional bicycle portion, to be separated from vehicular traffic by rain gardens and other plantings.

Designers are questioning a change in vehicular traffic: Potentially changing Penn Street, which now runs both north and south, to a one-way, northbound street only. Such a step would require a city council ordinance, Forkin said.

The design and construction work is funded by a $500,000 grant from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. The DRWC matched that money with an additional $500,000. SugarHouse will spend about $300,000 to build the portion of the trail that will run through their parking lot, and connect with the finished section that already runs behind the casino.

“It will make the existing, beautiful SugarHouse trail more accessible,” said DRWC Planning Director Sarah Thorp.

RBA Group is also designing trail standards, outlining how the Delaware River Waterfront Trail should be built along its entire length. The Penn Street portion will bring those concepts to life, which is a very powerful thing, said DRWC President Tom Corcoran. When they see the completed portion, people will say, “’My God, this is what they were talking about!’” Corcoran said at a recent DRWC board meeting. “This will be the full monty of trails. It will be the Cadillac.”

Thorp said RBA has done much work on the schematic designs for the trail, which is set to eventually stretch the entire length of the Central Delaware waterfront, from Oregon to Allegheny avenues.

They are doing the design in two pieces, she said. South of Washington Avenue and north of Penn Street, the design is 50-feet wide. RBA is planning the lighting, the pavement style and the landscaping and plantings in a “full-blown design guideline” for this section.

One benefit of the full design of the waterfront section: it will give both DRWC and private developers an approximate idea of the cost of creating the trail.

Between Washington Avenue and Spring Garden, where conditions are less uniform and more constrained, RBA is doing two sets of plans – one for the long-term, one that can be completed more quickly.

Long term, this section is to be 38-feet wide, but in many cases, doing this will require shifting the roadway into the median, or acquiring extra property, or using some of DRWC’s property and moving fences around, Thorp said. This all takes time and money, so RBA is also designing an interim solution. Here, a portion of the current roadway can be used for cyclists and pedestrians by using modified concrete barriers to separate them from vehicles. These barriers may contain space for plants, does not require relocation of curbs, and could be achieved within two-to-five years, Thorp said. She showed an example from another city where the sidewalk was left for pedestrians, and a bike path was created in the existing roadway, between the current curb and a modified concrete barrier.

Thorp said the designs would be presented in a public meeting in June or July.

The Central Delaware Master Plan calls for the trail to link a set of parks and green space, and for those spaces to complement – and prompt – development.

One of those parks is Washington Avenue Green, at the foot of Washington Avenue. A one-acre upland park already exists, and DRWC is now determining improvements for the pier itself, including a self-supporting boardwalk, a rubble reef, floating wetlands and living shoreline for improved fish habitat, and a kayak launch.

The plans will be guided in part by input from a technical advisory committee, which is now reviewing the RFP. The committee includes the city water department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Forkin said. The hope is to develop plans that are so beneficial as habitat that the Corps will allow other entities who must to wetlands mitigation to help fund work on the pier and throughout the areas the master plan has identified for wetland parks. Potential example: A planned airport expansion will destroy some wetlands. If the DRWC projects qualify for credits, the airport could fund waterfront wetland projects to make up for the habitat lost in its project. Certification takes time – after the park was built, there would be monitoring for a year, Forkin said.

The Army Corp will be doing some other investigations for DRWC at the Festival Pier site. A $250,000 grant from the corp will cover “diving on every structure” at Festival Pier at the foot of Spring Garden Street to investigate the conditions of the wood and metal piles and mud fill that holds up the site.

Top-side, DRWC is using a $50,000 grant from the Department of Environmental Protection to do further environmental study there. The site was once home to an impound lot and a city incinerator. The incinerator portion – 7 acres of the 11.5 acre total – is “environmentally challenged,” Forkin said. Previous work gave permission for modified industrial re-use – which is why cars can be parked there. But the master plan calls for mixed-use residential development. The last round of study did not go far enough to determine if that could be granted. This study would show what, if any work, would need to be done. Corcoran said he has a “high level of confidence” that the site will get residential use certification.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal