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Delaware River Trail extension planning is underway to connect Penn Treaty Park to Graffiti Pier

Delaware River Trail extension planning is underway to connect Penn Treaty Park to Graffiti Pier

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation is seeking public input on trail uses and access points for seamless riverfront access.

Initial planning has begun for an extension of the northern end of the Delaware River Trail that would connect Fishtown’s Penn Treaty Park to the future Graffiti Pier park in Port Richmond.

The completed end of the river trail, which runs 3.3 miles from Pier 68 in South Philadelphia to Columbia Avenue in Fishtown, has been a game-changer for an estimated 340,000 bicyclists, runners, and pedestrians who have traveled its path since it opened in spring 2022.

Crucially, the trail offers access to the Delaware River — the city’s unique ecological resource that had been cut off from neighborhoods since Interstate 95 opened in 1979.

“I-95 is both a psychological and physical barrier,” said Christopher Dougherty, senior planner and project manager of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC).

DRWC is the nonprofit that designs, develops, and manages the Delaware River waterfront between Oregon and Allegheny Avenues. The next phase of the trail extension is part of the organization’s “Master Plan” to transform the six-mile stretch along the central waterfront into “an authentic extension of the thriving city and vibrant neighborhoods immediately to its west.”

As part of the planning process, DRWC invited Philadelphians to an open house on Saturday to weigh in on how and where they’re envisioning using and accessing the next phase of the trail, which will close the gap between Columbia and Lehigh Avenues.

The next phase of planning for the Delaware River Trail, highlighted in orange, will connect Columbia Avenue to Lehigh Avenue. Credit: DRWC

In the basement of the Bedrock Church in Fishtown, community members followed a marked “trail” on the floor, stopping at stations along the way, where they were greeted by planners with design firm NV5 Inc., which is guiding planning of the project in partnership with DRWC. Public suggestions included everything from adding bathrooms and lighting along the trail to a dock for kayak launching, swing sets, and “nature education.”

Suggestions for the Delaware River Trail Photo: Lauren Ingeno

The study portion of the project is considering improvements to pedestrian access to the waterfront and examining ways to better integrate the I-95 trail segment into on-road and off-road bicycle networks.

“We don’t want to build something in isolation along the river,” said Matt Ludwig, of NV5. “We want to work with our partners at PennDOT and the Streets Department to make it safe for people to walk and bike across the hurdle of I-95. We’re trying to get people to imagine, once the full trail is built out, how they’d be getting to and from the riverfront.”

According to DRWC, the organization will be taking over the stewardship and maintenance of the trail under I-95, which is currently operated by PennDOT. DRWC is developing plans for its operations, including regular trash and graffiti removal. DRWC and NV5 are also examining a potential connection between the planned 1.8-mile Richmond Industrial Trail at the Lehigh Viaduct and the Delaware River Trail.

Photo: Lauren Ingeno

What residents want to see from the Delaware River Trail expansion

At Saturday’s open house, locals were particularly interested in learning more about plans for Graffiti Pier — Philadelphia’s unofficial park and worst kept secret along the Delaware River in Port Richmond. The six-acre space is privately owned by Conrail, but DRWC announced in 2019 that it is planning to acquire and transform it into an official public park.

“We have a memorandum of understanding with Conrail for its purchase, and we have funding for through a grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, but it’s an ongoing negotiation before we’re actually able to close and own it outright,” said Lizzie Woods, DRWC’s senior vice president of strategic planning and real estate development.

Unable to put a time frame on when construction of the park would begin or end, Woods said there is “light at the end of the tunnel” for the sale to go through.

“We’ve been at this for a while now, and we’re at a place where both we and Conrail are eager to get it finalized,” she said.

Janneken Smucker, who has lived in Fishtown since 2005, attended Saturday’s open house in anticipation of what she says will be a massive safety improvement to Fishtown’s existing infrastructure. She bikes daily on the completed parts of the Delaware River Trail — both its southern end and the northern extension from Aramingo Avenue.

“I would love to see it all connected so I don’t have to ride on a highway,” Smucker said. “I live by Penn Treaty Park, and that is a six-lane highway where traffic is operating at highway speeds. The bike trail is so lovely, but if you don’t have a safe way to get there, what’s the point?”

The public can provide online feedback about the trail extension project. Once public and stakeholder feedback is collected, DRWC will host another public event where the design team will present their construction priorities and a timeline for completion. DRWC will then pursue funding and begin the final design and construction. For questions about the extension, you can contact the planning team at


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Lauren Ingeno is a Philly-based freelance writer and editor who covers science, health, and humans. She is a mother to one mischievous tabby cat, and in her spare time enjoys dancing, finding the best sandwiches in Philadelphia, and being in and around water. Follow her on Twitter (@laureningeno) and subscribe to her newsletter: View all posts by Lauren Ingeno
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