Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy trails: more riverfront access

For years, joggers, walkers, cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts have had a tough time reaching Schuylkill River Park. Not any more.

Happy trails: more riverfront access

David Bershad, 8, of Philadelphia, was determined to be the first personto walk across the new pedestrian bridge above the CSX railroad tracks, which opened on time and under budget.
David Bershad, 8, of Philadelphia, was determined to be the first personto walk across the new pedestrian bridge above the CSX railroad tracks, which opened on time and under budget.

For years, joggers, walkers, cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts have had a tough time reaching Schuylkill River Park. Not any more.

A 680-foot pedestrian bridge now connects the park to the riverfront trail known as Schuylkill Banks in Center City.

The safe passageway should give users some peace of mind, in that they no longer have to put themselves in harm’s way to ride their bikes or head out for a hike. That is, no more dodging freight trains or crossing CSX railroad tracks to get to the popular waterfront spot at 25th and Spruce Streets, where thousands flock daily.

Built only with federal dollars, the $5.6 million Schuylkill River Parks Connector Bridge at Locust took 15 months to complete. The legal path to last Saturday’s dedication was even longer. There was plenty of opposition from park users and pet owners who were concerned that the bridge would compromise a dog park.

Should it be city policy to pursue greater recreational access along riverfronts?
Yes, long fight to bridge rail line along the Schuylkill trail shows the public benefit
No, what's in place along Kelly Drive is enough, given funding constraints
Yes, should assure that central Delaware River development provides better access there
No, would rather see parks improved with city funds

The city was forced to build the steel bridge after CSX sued, saying the park’s two street-level entrances were unsafe because they forced visitors to cross its tracks to reach the trail.

CSX had tried to fix the potentially dangerous situation by fencing off the right-of-way, entirely cutting off the trail. Eventually, a compromise was reached that made more sense.

Along with adding the bridge, the project included an expansion of the dog park and improvements to the park, with lights, a lawn, and repaving.

Safe access to the Schuylkill Banks provides a strong link to nearby neighborhoods, and boosts plans in progress to make the waterfront a more thriving recreational attraction.

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