Penn Street Trail opens

A new trail segment opened Monday on the Central Delaware River Waterfront, now linking Spring Garden Street to Ellen Street, and eventually linking the East Coast and Spring Garden greenways to the Central Delaware.

This 1,400-foot portion of the Central Delaware trail is part of a planned six-mile stretch along the Delaware that will jut close to the river itself where possible, but otherwise be contained within the Columbus/Delaware Avenue roadway, as this section does.

In fact, the Penn Street trail segment is the city’s first bicycle and pedestrian trail built on a street, but physically separated from the travel lanes. The Penn Street trail has a 12-foot-wide bikeway, with both north- and south-bound bike lanes, and a 10-foot-wide pedestrian walkway.

The new segment starts at the foot of Spring Garden Street and runs along Penn Street, ending at the SugarHouse Casino property. SugarHouse plans to build an adjoining segment through the casino parking lot this fall, attaching the new trail to an existing waterfront trail behind the casino.

More than just a path, the trail includes a pocket park, street furniture and bike racks that allow users to take a break, solar-powered lighting designed to make the trail safer and more attractive, and landscaping designed to help retain storm water and prevent overwhelming the sewer system.

While a temporary trail has snaked along the southern end of the Central Delaware, behind the big box stores to Washington Avenue Green and back out to Columbus Boulevard at the Coast Guard building, for several years, this trail segment is the first permanent portion built to design and materials standards adopted by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, the quasi-city agency that manages the city’s public land along the Delaware Riverfront and oversaw the development of the master plan for its redevelopment.

That means the Penn Street Trail shows the public what it can expect from the finished trail – one of the key components of the master plan, which aims to better connect the city to its eastern riverfront. It also is a demonstration for prospective riverfront developers of what they’ll have to do to earn a height bonus for building a portion of the trail – one of the ways they can go taller than the 100-foot height cap established under the Central Delaware Overlay, which was passed by city council last week.

Mayor Michael Nutter, Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Utilities Rina Cutler, Delaware Valley Regional Planning’s Barry Seymour and DRWC President Tom Corcoran described the open trail section as one important link in a regional effort.

Seymour spoke of the Delaware River Trail as one portion of a planned 750-mile trail network linking all parts of the Delaware Valley, one that can be used for recreation but also commuting. “Soon we will have the premier trail network in the country,” he said.

Central Delaware Advocacy Group Chairman Matt Ruben, who is also president of Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, praised officials for working hard to get the trail and other waterfront efforts done, and pledged community support for the future projects. “We will continue to fight along side you to make sure this is done,” he said.

Sugarhouse Manager Wendy Hamilton said the casino is committed to building the trail because customers, neighbors and employees all love it. “What’s good for Philadelphia is good for SugarHouse,” she said.

Developer Michael Samschick, who is building apartments and an entertainment complex from existing buildings across the street, said the new amenity makes his properties more attractive, “without question.”

He also said it was personally thrilling to see good things finally happening on the Delaware, something that has been talked about since he was a boy.

West Philadelphia resident Corey Saunders was among the first cyclists to ride on the trail after the ribbon cutting. He called it a step in the right direction, but he is more interested in the portions of this trail and other trails along major commuting routes.

Waterfront Square resident Carol Spelkoman brought her chihuahua Cece to the opening because she watched the trail being built. She said it was a huge improvement, especially on Penn Street. “It is like someone cleaned up our front yard.” She also said the nice pathway and beautified landscape would encourage her and her guests to walk and ride bikes more.

The trail was built by AP Construction Incorporated, a firm with offices on Delaware Avenue, and also in Blackwood, N.J. AP Construction has done much of the work on roadways, utilities and landscaping in the corporate center portion of the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

DRWC paid for the $1.55 million contract with a combination of grant money from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and the William Penn Foundation, and city capital dollars.

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