In August, the Circuit Trail Network
got an important new link -- a piece of infrastructure vital to bikers and pedestrians. The new Sullivan’s Bridge, a 14-foot-wide, 602-foot-long bridge trail (running over the river on the west side of the Route 422 Bridge) connects the Schuylkill River Trail and the trails in Valley Forge National Historic Park.
It’s an important link between Chester and Montgomery Counties, and another exciting piece of the ever-developing Circuit throughout the Greater Philadelphia region.
The project was a very long time coming, explains Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia
and Circuit Trails Coalition Chair Sarah Clark Stuart. The Betzwood Bridge, a metal structure built in the 1800s, originally spanned the Schuylkill near that spot. But by 1991, it had deteriorated so much that PennDOT decided to close and eventually demolish it a few years later. Local cyclists didn’t take kindly to the plan, especially since PennDOT had no apparent plans to replace the span: The organization suggested walkers and cyclists divert three miles to cross at another point, or join the auto traffic on Route 422.
In 1993, passions ran so high that the Bicycle Coalition led a protest at the site of the closed bridge, cutting the chain link fence that had been installed at its entrance. The organization’s board president and executive director at the time were arrested and briefly jailed.
PennDOT's accommodations over the next several years failed to satisfy locals. A shuttle service sputtered and a narrow cantilever catwalk for bikers and pedestrians on the Route 422 Bridge proved too crowded to be safe.
“It was very clear that the lack of a dedicated bicycle/pedestrian bridge was hindering the flow of bike/pedestrian traffic between the Schuylkill River Trail and Valley Forge Historic Park," recalls Stuart.
The decision to build a whole new bridge coincided with the recent rehabilitation of the Route 422 Bridge. Back as far as the 1990s, "it was clearly policy that if you’re going to do any kind of work on a piece of road infrastructure, it has to be a complete project -- it has to accommodate all users…The most economic way to do that was to build a bike/pedestrian-only bridge."
In 2011, open house discussions began on a design.
The August 19 ribbon-cutting
for the bridge drew supporters including PennDOT Secretary of Transportation Leslie S. Richards, U.S. Representative Brendan Boyle, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, and hundreds of eager cyclists.
"This is enhancing the Schuylkill River trail network throughout the Greater Philadelphia region," adds Stuart. "It’s going to make the region a stronger and more sustainable place to live and work. When you have a high-quality piece of infrastructure like this, it communicates a lot about how important trails and safe bicycling and walking is to the region at large."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Clark Stuart, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia