City prioritizes 105 trail miles, other trail updates

A new plan guiding Philadelphia’s bike and recreation trail expansion could be in place as early as this June. That’s when the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) will likely vote on adopting the Philadelphia Trails Master Plan.

Like the Philadelphia Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan, which now guides road-facility changes, the Philadelphia Trails Master Plan will guide off-road trail developments.  It will also prioritize the construction of proposed trails.

At the Greater Philadelphia Pedestrian and Bicycle Summit early this week, Jeannette Brugger of PCPC shed some light on the plan. 

The Trails Master Plan proposes the city add 75 trails, roughly 105 trail miles, to the existing network of more than 200 miles of trails. Today the existing trails are comprised of 150 miles of soft surfaces and 60 miles of hard, “bikeable” surfaces. Most of the existing and proposed miles are on Parks and Recreation Department land. 

In draft form, the Philadelphia Trails Master Plan prioritizes the proposed trails based on existing commitments, demand, feasibility, connectivity and cost, Brugger said. At the moment 19 miles of trail have first priority. Forty-one miles of trails are listed as second priority, and another 40 miles have third priority ranking. 

Brugger said this city-led prioritization of trail development will help to ensure funding is used appropriately and that the city is meetings its trail expansion goals. 

Some of the proposed 75 trails are already in the works. Just seven miles of trail are under construction or renovation. Eight-and-a-half miles of trail are in design, and 13.5 miles of trail are in the planning stage. 

According to the PCPC blog, the Trails Master Plan will pay close attention to “on-road connectivity and an integrated system.” Among other benefits, this focus is meant to ensure that neighborhoods far “inland” from the trails will be able to access off-road trails via existing or proposed on-road bike facilities.

Brugger said PCPC is developing a Philadelphia Trail Committee with partner organizations who will oversee Trail Master Plan implementation. 

Philadelphia Trail Master Plan Draft Priority Map
(City of Philadelphia Planning Commission)

Connecting the Circuit

Just as Philadelphia is looking to expand its own trail network, The Circuit, a coalition of regional leaders, is working to strengthen and expand the network of trails throughout the Greater Philadelphia region. 

In a sum of the parts is greater than the whole scenario, Philadelphia’s trails stand to benefit from being part of The Circuit, a larger, interconnected, regional trail network, said Chris Linn, senior environmental planner at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. As in Philadelphia, the region’s trails provide outdoor green space, connect neighborhoods and continue to be the number one recreation facility desired by city residents. 

Linn and other Circuit leaders hope to grow the network by 450 miles. This is in addition to the 250 miles already completed and the 50 miles currently under construction. The estimated cost of those 450 miles – $250 million or $12.5 million over 20 years – drew a quiet but audible gasp from Pedestrian and Bicycle Summit attendees. 

When complete the network will boast 750-miles of connected trails. The Circuit will tie into other, even larger networks like the East Coast Greenway, a continuous greenway from Maine to Florida that is currently being development. 

As Philadelphia continues to expand its on and off road bicycle and recreation facilities, Linn said he hopes groups building just a mile or two of trail or bike infrastructure will start to realize that they are part of a larger effort. 

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