Creating a new trail is about more than just drawing up an idea and laying down the surface, says Chris Linn, who manages the Office of Environmental Planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
(DVRPC). But a grant from the William Penn Foundation
-- $7 million over three years -- will enable DVRPC and its partners at the Circuit Coalition
, a consortium of almost 70 organizations, including non-profits, foundations and various public agencies in the greater Philadelphia region, to move forward with ambitious plans for local public space.
Launched in 2012, the Circuit Coalition, which has already worked to build 300 miles of multi-use trails connecting urban and suburban centers to nearby parks and waterways, hopes to complete 450 more miles by the year 2040. (For a map of Circuit trails and their status, click here
According to a DVRPC statement
, $1.6 million over three years from the William Penn Foundation will also go to Circuit partner Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
, raising public awareness for the Circuit’s network of trails, which, when completed, will be "the most comprehensive regional trail network in the country," says Conservancy president Keith Laughlin.
Most of the DVRPC William Penn dollars will go toward engineering and design of new trails.
"Before any trail project can be constructed, you have to prepare engineering drawings, and they’re not cheap," says Linn.
They include things like grading, retaining walls and bridges -- and these are just a few of the issues trail designers in our region contend with.
Does the trail meet a road? The Circuit needs to interface with PennDOT
on proper signage, crossings and lights. Does it follow a disused railroad or cross a former industrial site? You have to check with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
, and deal with soil contamination from things like coal, heavy metals, PCBs or other toxins.
And who owns the land?
"You can’t just walk out and build a trail on land that’s owned by a private person or a company or a railroad, so you have to secure the right-of-way," explains Linn.
These are all issues that are anticipated, met and resolved in the design and engineering phase of a trail, which Linn estimates at about 20 percent of the total cost of any given project. So the Penn Foundation grant is no small thing for the Circuit’s vision. With so many miles of Circuit trails throughout nearby counties vying for design or completion, it’s pretty competitive when it comes to funding.
"When we have money in hand, we want to fund projects that we know aren’t going to get hung up on problems, and if a project is designed, we know what we’re dealing with," Linn insists. "[A well-designed trail] basically moves to the front of the pack in terms of being eligible or being desirable for any kind of construction funding."
"Philadelphia is blessed with some great parks," he adds, but it’s "glass half empty" in some ways, because many parts of the city don’t have easy access to large parks or trails.
DVRPC and the Circuit want to change that within 25 years.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chris Linn, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission