MLK Drive Trail wins $500,000 grant for restoration

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) approved a $500,000 grant to restore nearly four miles of trail running along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at its monthly board meeting Thursday.

The grant, part of a William Penn Foundation funding initiative for trails administered by the DVRPC, will be matched by Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The city is also seeking another $500,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to pay for the $1.5 million project. The DCNR grant decision should be announced sometime in October, said Chris Linn, environmental planning manager at DVRPC.

The trail, which runs between MLK Drive and the Schuylkill River, has seen better days. It can feel more like an obstacle course to cyclists thanks to numerous sharp bumps created by growing tree roots, which have pushed up the asphalt.

The rebuild will rip up the asphalt and dig a deeper bed for the trail. The bed will be filled with stone, and then asphalt will be added on top. The deeper stone bed should prevent the root-caused protuberances from popping up in the future.

On weekends from April to October, the city shuts down MLK Drive, formerly known as West River Drive, to automobile traffic, creating a popular cycling and rollerblading loop including the Schuylkill Banks, the Schuylkill River Trail next to Kelly Drive (formerly East River Drive), and linked by the Falls Bridge.

During the week, the trail is a bit too bumpy for serious cyclists or casual commuters, requiring an arduous amount of attention on the surface for deceptively large ridges and bulges. At night, it can be downright treacherous, even for pedestrians and joggers. Fast moving car traffic makes riding on MLK Drive itself unsafe for most cyclists.

According to Linn, Parks and Recreation looked at a few different ways of restoring the popular trail, including the idea of replacing it with bike lanes on the street itself. Ultimately, simply rebuilding the trail made the most sense.

Once rebuilt, the MLK Drive Trail will provide a more attractive commuting route for cyclists travelling to West Philly or from Lower Merion, said Linn.

Should the project win DCNR grant funds, work could begin as early as spring 2017. Linn was unable to provide an estimated construction timeline. Representatives from the Parks and Recreation department did not respond to requests for comment.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal