Neighbors weigh in on design plans for Manayunk bridge trail

Lower Merion and Manayunk-area residents were invited to travel forward in time on Thursday night by the planning firm leading the design team for the proposed Manayunk bridge trail.

Inside the North Light Community Center, employees of Whitman, Requardt and Associates handed the roughly 30 area residents postcards dated June 2013 which proclaimed “Greetings from the top of the Manayunk Bridge.”

Attendees were then asked to jot down ideas on the postcards for the bridge’s as of yet undetermined design plan, so that the design team could later take public opinion into consideration when designing the trail.

In January, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation was awarded $1.3 million in federal grant money from PennDOT to construct a trail that would cross the iconic Manayunk Bridge. Owned by SEPTA, the bridge, which has remained unused since the 1980s, was leased to Lower Merion for $1 so that the project could commence. A plan for the bridge needs to be finalized by July of 2012 in order for the grant supporting construction on the bridge to be approved.

“It is very important that we find out what you want out of the bridge, but we need to figure that out relatively quickly,” said Jeffrey R. Riegner, Vice President of Whitman, Requardt and Associates, who spoke extensively at the meeting on possible design plans. “We want to ensure that it’s an excellent design. And it’s a challenge to do that within a tight time frame and still get really good public involvement.”

Riegner said that the biggest challenge facing the design team will be their need to create a “transition” between Lower Merion and Philadelphia.

“They are very different places and we want to celebrate both of those,” said Riegner.

The 32-foot wide bridge will provide a connection between Philadelphia and Montgomery County for both foot traffic and bicyclists. Scott Page, an urban designer with Interface Studio, another firm on the design team, said that the use of the trail as a means of accessibility between the two counties is representative of the “active context” of the bridge.

“This bridge needs to have the active context and the passive context,” said Page, explaining that “passive” features of a potential trail design could include stylized landscaping and other aesthetic enhancements. “It’s really that transition point between those two contexts.”

“I’m delighted because I enjoy that I can see from my window people walking by,” said Peter Brigham, a Manayunk resident who lives next to the bridge, and a self-described “PIMBY,” or “put it in my back yard” when it comes to the trail project. “I think the neighborhood is ironically safer with the trail being active as it will encourage more active foot traffic.”

Brigham said that he was especially pleased with the fact that the trail will allow for him and other residents to live more physically active lifestyles.

Other sport-enthusiasts weighed in as well, such as Sarah Clark Stuart, a Center City resident and campaign director of the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia, who said that she also was enthusiastic about the project. She said it will further connect local trails such as the Cynwyd trail and also advance a long-range campaign to create a contiguous 120 –plus mile trail from John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware County near the Airport out to Pottsville.

“I’m very excited about the project,” said Stuart. “It’s going to make this incredible connection between Lower Merion and Philadelphia and it will close gaps that deter a lot of people from biking or walking nearby trails.”

Local officials also seemed to be in favor of the addition of a trail. Chris Leswing, a Lower Merion Town Planner, said that the trail will serve as a meeting place for area residents.

“It’s a really good 21st century green infrastructure project,” said Leswing, who is also involved in the design team. “We’re trying to create civic places—new kinds of public gathering places for the 21st century.”

There will be a second public meeting later in the summer at which the design team will update residents on their findings concerning restrictions they will face in designing the trail.

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