Trail Blazer

The 202 Parkway Trail, part of The Circuit connects three towns—Montgomery, Warrington, and Doylestown—on its 9-mile route paralleling the scenic byway. | Photo courtesy the Philadelphia Environmental Council

Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s Patrick Starr works to expand network of bicycle and pedestrian system

If you’ve ever ridden a bike in Philadelphia then chances are you’ve been on The Circuit, a network of bicycle and pedestrian trails within the nine-county Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) region that connects to jobs, parks, green spaces and other destinations. The project, Connect the Circuit, started two years ago and since then about 300 miles of trail have been completed, with plans to expand to 750 miles by 2040, but additional funding is needed. The project is run by more than 50 foundations, nonprofits and agencies known as The Circuit Coalition. The Pennsylvania Environmental Council is one of those groups and Senior Vice President of the PEC, Patrick Starr, spoke with Grid about the trail system.

What are some of the priorities The Circuit Coalition is working on?

In the city of Philadelphia, the Schuylkill River Trail has a gap that is known as the Manayunk or Main Street Gap. You come out to a point at the Wissahickon Creek Trail and you’re dumped onto Ridge Avenue before you can get on the trail again. [Trail users] don’t know that if you just go two miles that they can get back on the trail and the trail then goes for many, many miles. That’s an important gap that’s getting resolved.

What are the next trails to be completed?

There are two really notable projects coming in the not-too-distant future. The Boardwalk on the Schuylkill Banks in Center City [is one.] There’s an extension of the Banks that goes out over the Schuylkill from where the trail has ended and takes you out to the South Street Bridge. They’re currently in the final stages of construction—it is a really exciting project, it’s going to make a really great connection. Also we’re going to break ground on the fantastic Manayunk Bridge Connection. The Manayunk Bridge is going to become a trail to connect Montgomery County to Philadelphia.

Are there signs for The Circuit or do you just have to be in the know?

The Circuit coalition is looking at directional signage to better mark existing trails so that [users] know they’re on The Circuit. Right now it’s like a secret handshake—you have to kind of know what to do.

Right now only one percent of the region’s transportation capital dollars are used to help build 13 Circuit trail segments over the next four years. Where else does funding come from?

A big portion of funding comes from Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and transportation funds, which we often think of as federal highway dollars, and there’s county dollars. There is no question if we want to build The Circuit we need a real commitment of transportation dollars for funds.

How do you get that real commitment?

We started in the fall of 2013 and sat down with county commissioners and explained what The Circuit was and what it could do for them and explained that at the DVRPC. I’m pleased to report that resulted in the DVRPC committing an additional $1 million in 2016 for building The Circuit, and we estimate that we need more than $200 million to build it. Funds are coming from many different places, and $1 million is just a little step in the right direction. It shows that people heard us, and we’ve definitely increased the understanding among elected officials that there’s tremendous benefit and great demand among their constituents to build these trails.

The Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk will open in early October, the Baxter Trail Groundbreaking will be Oct. 14, and the Manayunk Bridge Groundbreaking will take place Oct. 28. To support The Circuit and find out about trails in your area, visit connectthecircuit.org