In about a week, crews will begin work on a $1.1 million expansion of the Schuylkill River bike trail, connecting Falls Bridge with Ridge Avenue and filling one of the most strategic gaps in the city’s trail system.
Bike enthusiasts hope the project, to be completed in June, will inaugurate a busy year of constructing bike lanes and trails, including two more extensions of the Schuylkill River Trail.
Falls Bridge to Ridge Avenue is a particularly important piece. The crumbling narrow sidewalk there now often discourages bikers from continuing into Manayunk, or pushes them into an unfriendly high-speed section of road.
Many bikers assume the path ends at a pump house just west of the bridge, said Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
“Every one of us who had ridden this trail has made that mistake,” he said.
The project calls for the existing sidewalk to be removed and an eight- to 10-foot-wide path to be constructed, with new retaining walls and guide rails, and a new parking lot at the foot of Falls Bridge.
Mayor Nutter and other city officials broke ground on the project during a ceremony Monday.
“The only thing better than a groundbreaking is a ribbon-cutting,” Nutter said. “In a couple months we’re going to come back to you. . . . We’re going to cut a ribbon and get a bunch of cyclists out here.”
Gina Snyder, director of the East Falls Development Corp., said the trail along Kelly Drive has about 15,000 visitors a month, but those numbers “drop significantly when you head up toward Manayunk because of a lack of a connection.”
“We see this trail as an important economic driver,” she said. “We’ll have folks coming in from Lower Merion and all those suburbs, and the trail will work for them.”
The extension also will connect the Schuylkill trail with the lower Wissahickon trail, which wends through the Wissahickon Valley to the city line.
Once the extension is completed, bikers will be able to travel 16 miles from LOVE Park near City Hall to the city boundary at Northwestern Avenue on “a continuous, well-maintained, and well-built trail,” said Park and Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis.
Recreation officials and bikers hope one day to see trails extending from Philadelphia to Pottsville, 130 miles away.
Completion of the Philadelphia portion of the Schuylkill trail could take several other big steps this year, said Sarah Clark Stuart, the Bicycle Coalition’s campaign director.
As many as seven trail projects could be started with $17.2 million in federal grant money the city received last year.
Six of the projects are related to the Schuylkill trail, including a boardwalk from Locust Street to South Street and a connection from the Manayunk Canal to the Montgomery County line.
Recreation officials also are studying a way to connect the trail from Ridge Avenue to the Manayunk towpath, perhaps the biggest missing piece of the Schuylkill River Trail in the city.
“We’re in this for the long haul, and we’re going to keep at this until it’s completed,” Stuart said. “We got to the moon. We can do this.”
Article originally posted by Troy Graham to Philly.com on March 15th 2011