An eight year saga is coming to an end this month. In 2004, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia joined a campaign to "Free Schuylkill River Park." The goal was keeping open two railroad track crossings providing river access at Race and Locust Streets in Philadelphia. Eight years later, the campaign is culminating with the finishing touches being placed on a new Connector Bridge crossing the tracks into an improved Schuylkill River Park. The ribbon cutting for the work is happening on Saturday, October 20th at 1:00pm (rain or shine) with Mayor Michael Nutter.
The saga began as a pitched battle between Center City West residents wanting access to a long-awaited riverfront park, and a huge corporation refusing to complicate its operations. It is concluding as an optimistic tale of how good things can happen when residents get organized, elected officials listen and are supportive, and corporations decide to find a way to be good neighbors.
History of the Campaign
The campaign to Free Schuylkill River Park involved organizing a diverse coalition of civic organizations and user groups (including bicyclists) to take advantage of the unprecedented popularity of a one mile stretch of new park and trail. It was complemented by the hard work of a huge array of elected officials and government agencies: Governor Rendell, State Senator Vince Fumo, State Rep. Babette Josephs, Mayors Street and Nutter, many City Council members, the Law Department, the Streets Department, Parks and Recreation, the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities, and Schuylkill River Development Corporation.
The 2005 legal skirmish between the City of Philadelphia and CSX (which owns the tracks and right-of-way) included many rounds of negotiations. A settlement was ultimately reached in 2007 which allowed for the two street level crossings plus an bike/ped bridge over the tracks. Funding to cover most of the costs of implementing the agreement came from an earmark from U.S. Senator Arlen Specter during the era of congressional earmarks, a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and a federal TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation during the era of stimulus funding. The campaign evolved into the Schuylkill River Park Alliance (SRPA), which monitored the implementation of the settlement agreement to make sure it didn't get derailed.
The Finishing Touches
In 2011, the Race and Locust streets crossings were protected with automatic gates and fencing. The last pieces are being completed this fall: the Connector Bridge, a new dog park, major landscaping improvements, and new lighting within the park. After many years of patience and persistence, the October 20th ribbon cutting will mark the culmination of a tremendous effort on the part of many to make the Schuylkill River Park Trail on Schuylkill Banks safe and accessible for all.
Parallel with the festivities, SRPA is hosting the 7th annual Runnin on the River 5K
that same morning on October 20th. The race will start from the bottom of the new bridge, allowing the 5K runners to be first among those to cross it.