Government planners fanned out along Spring Garden Street on Thursday to consider replacing its median with a bicycle pathway.
Armed with clipboards and checklists, the federal, state, and local planners were taking the first step toward creating an $8 million, 2.2-mile-long "Spring Garden Greenway" that would connect to paths along the Schuylkill and the Delaware River.
Thursday's assessment "will really help to lift this project and give it momentum," said Patrick Starr, executive vice president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, which is seeking a $900,000 grant from the state to advance the project.
The proposed project would replace the concrete median with a paved bike path landscaped with trees and flowers. It would link the Schuylkill River and Delaware River Trails and close a gap in the 2,900-mile East Coast Greenway that is being developed to eventually permit an uninterrupted ride from Maine to Florida.
Spring Garden is a popular route for crosstown cyclists, who use bike lanes painted on the pavement next to the parking lane on each side of the street. It's one of the most heavily used routes by cyclists, officials said Thursday, and one of the five most dangerous streets in Philadelphia for cyclists and pedestrians.
Increasing safety for bike riders and walkers is a national concern for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said Terry Garcia Crews, regional administrator in Philadelphia for the Federal Transit Administration.
She said that nationwide, about 700 cyclists and 5,000 pedestrians were killed by vehicles in 2012, an increase of more than 15 percent from 2009.
"Because of this, Secretary [Anthony] Foxx has declared pedestrian and bicyclist safety as a top priority," she said.
Just Wednesday, a star player on Temple University's women's lacrosse team was critically injured when the bicycle she was riding was struck by a hit-and-run driver at Park Avenue and Diamond Street.
Designing, planning, and building the proposed path could take five or six years, if funding is forthcoming, officials said Thursday.
Starr said he was assured by top Streets Department staffers that "funding won't be a problem."
Asked about funding Thursday, Streets Department Deputy Commissioner Michael Carroll said through a spokeswoman that the department "is happy that funding at all levels of government now exists for projects like Spring Garden, and the city is excited to help pursue funding for great projects like these."
A more ambitious and expensive plan would make other improvements to Spring Garden, including better storm water drainage and improved intersections for vehicles. That could push the cost to $20 million to $30 million, officials said.
"Right now, it doesn't function very well for anyone," said Andrew Hamilton, mid-Atlantic coordinator for the East Coast Greenway Alliance.