With planning and design work well underway and most funding in hand, construction work on a park and trail path across the iconic Manayunk train bridge could begin by the end of the year, project officials say.
Jeff Riegner, of Whitman, Requardt and Associates, led a workshop Monday night at North Light Community Center to share options for design and aesthetics for bike and pedestrian trails and connections to the Manayunk Towpath, in four areas along the former SEPTA route between the Lower Merion border and the Ivy Ridge train station.
The plans show four phases — the bridge work, the area between Umbria and Canton streets, the Fountain Street steps area, and near the Ivy Ridge train station.
“Eventually, someday, the goal is to expand all the way up to Shawmont [Avenue],” Riegner said. Plans are to select preferred design choices for each location by May, with another public workshop to follow in June, and a final report prepared in August.
The Manayunk trail portion will also link with already-completed work on the Montgomery County side of the river, joining the Cynwyd Heritage Trail at the bridge’s far end. Lower Merion Township kick-started the bridge project in 2011, securing a $1.3 million PennDOT grant for early design work. Chris Leswing, Lower Merion’s assistant director for building and planning, attended the Monday meeting, pointing out how several area bike paths and trails all converge in Manayunk.
The Manayunk bridge
SEPTA has owned the bridge since the 1970s, but train service stopped in the ’80s and the tracks were removed. The local group Ivy Ridge Green formed in 2008 and began cleanups of the trail areas, from the bridge to the area around the Ivy Ridge train station. They also adopted the Fountain Street steps, which lead to the Towpath along the Manayunk Canal.
“There’s a lot going on in trails in Philadelphia,” Riegner said, calling the Manayunk bridge effort “the signature project that is going forward right now.”
In the other three locations, planned work would create improved paths and bike lanes, aimed at getting some bike traffic off the narrow parts of Umbria Street until they can link back up with bike lanes beyond the Ivy Ridge Station.
Sarah Clark Stuart, policy director of the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia, said the trails could provide some students in Manayunk a way to more easily bike to the St. Joseph’s campus, by giving them an easy route out of the neighborhood and across the river.
“This is increasing the connections between Philadelphia and Lower Merion Township,” she said.
Canton Street lot
Along Canton Street, where nearby neighbors have for years parked in an ad hoc lot on SEPTA property that can hold about 80 vehicles, the planned work would formalize those parking spots and create a paved connection to the trail. Three versions were offered, all of which would slightly affect the number of spots.
“We’re not ripping out parking to create the trail,” Riegner said.
Karen Smith, one of a trio of Canton Street residents who discussed that portion with Riegner, said she worried that legitimizing the now-random parking there by creating a lot will draw even more cars.
“My fear is that word gets out that there’s 75 legal parking spaces there, and 150 will come,” she said.
Fountain Street and Ivy Ridge train station
At Fountain Street, options were shown for a path or stairs connecting to the new trail, and also to the towpath. Marlene Schleifer, a member of both the Ridge Park Civic Association and Ivy Ridge Green, said the steep grade made her wary of stairs, and she preferred a paved ramp.
Parking is also at a premium in the area of the Ivy Ridge train station, where the trail improvements would result in a loss of three parking spots, with a ramp from the lot down to the trail area.
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