The Nutter administration made the right move in retreating from a tentative plan to construct a tour-boat ramp on the Schuylkill River near the Art Museum. But the mayor’s team still seems determined to allow amphibious tours on the Schuylkill. There must be more public discussion before anyone reaches that conclusion.
Two months ago, Nutter announced that Ride the Ducks tour vehicles would be allowed to cruise the Schuylkill, starting in March. That decision followed a fatal collision between a tour boat and a city-owned barge last summer in the Delaware River, where Ride the Ducks normally operated. Turns out, the mayor spoke too soon. City officials overlooked a state law that requires any concession on city-owned land to be competitively bid. The city began accepting bids Tuesday for tour proposals. The bidding puts a halt, at least temporarily, to a proposal for Ride the Ducks to construct a trench-like boat ramp in the Schuylkill Banks park just off Martin Luther King Drive, down river from the Art Museum. The plan would have required digging under a popular bike path, or raising it, to allow the boats to reach the river.
The lack of public input and disclosure involved in moving the tours has been troubling. Deputy Managing Director Brian Abernathy worked with Ride the Ducks on a conceptual plan, but he wouldn’t release it when asked by The Inquirer a month ago. That was after the mayor announced that Ride the Ducks would move its operations to the Schuylkill. Managing Director Richard Negrin now says there may be other locations suitable for the boats to enter the Schuylkill, and that city officials value the park. He even said the city had not committed definitely to the Schuylkill.
The Nutter administration is saying it’s not a done deal, but the signs have all been pointing to the Schuylkill as the destination. Ride the Ducks hired an engineer to work out design details for a Schuylkill ramp, and announced on its website that it would begin operating its Duck boats there in March. Ride the Ducks planned to drive the vehicles from Independence Mall along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum. The amphibious vehicles would then loop around Eakins Oval and head west on King Drive. The plan called for building a new U-turn into a traffic island to gain access to the trench/ramp. It must be hoped that discussions going forward put a premium on citizen input and openness.
It was the right call not to return the tour boats to the Delaware, with its heavy shipping traffic. The Schuylkill would be safer, and its views of the city are much better than the former Duck route on the Delaware. But it still appears impractical to drive these tour vehicles more than 20 blocks across town from the spot where tourists board them, at the Independence Visitors Center on Sixth Street. In fact, in addition to considering new proposals, city officials should take another look at whether these amphibious tours are desirable anywhere in Center City.