Thanks to a plan released by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the city is one step closer to building the South Broad Sidepath - a 1.1-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail adjacent to Broad Street from Oregon Ave to The Navy Yard. The idea is to create a safe bicycle right of way that will connect South Philadelphia neighborhoods with public space like FDR Park and employment, recreation and entertainment at The Navy Yard and Philadelphia Stadium District.
"It's already a route that's really used by the neighborhood … but the trail improvements as part of the sidepath would really improve the safety of the facility," said Jeannette Brugger of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.
The sidepath was first considered as part of the Philadelphia Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan, but the city felt it deserved additional analysis. For that, it turned to DVRPC. Over the course of a little more than a year, DVRPC and a stakeholder steering committee developed the "South Broad Sidepath Concept Plan."
The plan, released last month, confirms that a sidepath is the best option for this stretch of Broad Street and rules out buffered bike lanes or a bicycle trail in the median, both of which would have reduced vehicle travel lanes.
"The big thing that came out, of course, was the issue of taking away any of the right of way from any of the vehicles, especially because of the stadium events," said Cassidy Boulan, a transportation planner at DVRPC. "There's a lot of concern about impeding traffic on event days."
The sidepath will essentially reconfigure sidewalks on the west side of Broad Street to look something like the 58th Street Greenway - a wide trail with a buffer between the roadway, clear paint and signage, lighting and landscaping.
Brugger, who led the creation of the Philadelphia Trails Master Plan which ranks the South Broad Sidepath as a medium level priority, is especially excited about this project.
"It's such a driver for the community," she said. "The communities of South Philly and Center City really need to get to FDR [Park] in a safe way, and they need to get to The Navy Yard and the Sports Complex in a safe way, and I really think this project would make that happen."
Right now, the other options for traveling south of Oregon Ave. are 20th Street and 10th Street. On 20th Street there is a particularly difficult intersection at Moyamensing Ave., and 10th Street is farther from some of the Lower South assets like FDR Park.
Two sections along the sidepath will likely pose some added challenge. The first is the point where the sidepath will cross the uncontrolled on and off ramps of I-76.
"That's probably one of the most serious safety concerns and where you'd potentially have to work with PennDOT to maybe take additional space from the roadway," Boulan said.
The sidepath segment from Bigler Street to Packer Avenue poses another challenge because it could involve the greatest roadway and sidewalk reconstruction. In that section the trail builders will have to work closely with the nearby gas station, car repair shop and cheesesteak place.
With the completion of the "South Broad Sidepath Concept Plan," the conceptual design phase for the sidepath is officially complete.
"The next step is to have the city take ownership of the project," Brugger said. "That means actually looking for funding and designating this as a project that we're going to move forward on."
Boulan said under general guidelines a sidepath is about $500,000 per mile. On the one hand this sidepath might be on the lower scale of costs since it is, more in some areas than in others, essentially improving the sidewalk. On the other hand, costs might be higher since there are a number of intersection improvements tied to the project.
Brugger said it is not clear whether the city will complete this project internally or if it will work with outside partners, and while there is no concrete timeline, Brugger said the project will happen sooner rather than later.
So far there has not been any community outreach regarding the project, but that will change as the project advances. It will be included in PCPC’s South District Plan, and that planning process could give residents the first opportunity to voice feedback.
"If the community supports this we'd love to hear about it," Brugger said. "We will be reaching out, but public displays of support are always welcome."