With the bulk of construction completed on the Nixon Street bike path along the Schuylkill River Trail, City of Philadelphia employees discussed with residents what's next for the bike path.
Constructed over the summer, the bike path behind homes on Nixon Street begins at an uphill climb at Shawmont Avenue and continues the trail from the Manayunk Canal Towpath. Vegetation in the area was removed to build the path and a retaining wall. Residents got their chance to help plan the area's future at a Thursday meeting.
Project manager Rob Armstrong, from Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, answered questions on the retaining wall, replanting, parking and safety the Residents of Shawmont Valley Association pitched to him, and promised action items going forward.
Retaining Wall and Replanting
Although other topics came up, the meeting's primary purpose revolved around replanting the area and what to do with the retaining wall.
Beginning at the Shawmont Street intersection and climbing the hill toward Montgomery County, the retaining wall is comprised of cinder blocks. Armstrong said gravel above the wall prevents trees or shrubs from being planted, and ivy or other hanging plants would damage it.
Still, the look bothered neighbors.
"The aesthetics of the wall are somewhat garish. It's no one's fault. It's a (functional) object," civic President David Cellini said. "The only way to address it, because we can't plant it, is to paint it."
A consensus existed to enroll the bike path wall in the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Even though graffiti can be a problem in that area, it seems the mural would solve the issue.
"Even in rougher neighborhoods, you'll see graffiti everywhere and they'll leave the mural alone," Armstrong said.
In the replanting effort, the city plans for 31 trees and 76 shrubs interspersed on both sides of the bike path.
On the whole, neighbors appreciated the plan, but wanted to have a say. Because several oak trees were lost, residents wanted them in the plan. Currently, the department proposes the hackberry tree, American holy, crab apple and Virginia sweetspire.
Resident Judy Stepenaskie asked for a few days to review the plan and make revisions.
"I'd like to see, if possible, more oak trees... Oak really is the best for warblers migration," she said, adding butterfly friendly shrubs would be preferred, as well.
Armstrong intended on plating the trees this fall, so they could bloom for the spring. At this point in the year, it's unclear if oaks, and other plants, are available.
Safety an Issue
The bike path declines sharply as it intersects with vehicular traffic at Shawmont Avenue. Neighbors fear cyclists' speed approaching oncoming traffic is dangerous, despite the fact that a stop sign exists.
Armstrong said several steps would be taken to ensure safety at both Shawmont and Port Royal Avenues.
For one, signage to both motorists and cyclists will alert them to the intersection.
Additionally, the city plans on installing gates that cyclists will have to navigate.
"These will be user friendly, so they don't have to dismount, but it should slow them down," he said.
At Shawmont, bollards will also be erected.
Residents feared this work won't occur until the spring—leaving ample time for accidents—but Armstrong said it should arrive in coming weeks.
During peak season, Nixon Street residents said more than 30 cars—sometimes closer to 50—park up Shawmont Avenue. They leave their vehicles on both sides of the street, making it hard for two-way traffic to pass.
As one potential solution, Armstrong said the city had entered into negotiations with SEPTA to allow cyclists to park in a transit-owned lot during the day.
"We feel that all trail users will benefit from access to this SEPTA lot," Armstrong said.
That could yield 10 spaces. Residents also suggested removing curbs from Shawmont Avenue, which would widen the street for cars to pass through.
Armstrong walked away with a list of request from the residents. He promised to: query residents for a revised planting plan, see if additional signage was available, facilitate a meeting with the Streets Department, and get the retaining wall on the Mural Arts Program's radar.