New Philly area trails show 2016 wasn’t all bad

New Philly area trails show 2016 wasn’t all bad
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2016 is over, but its place as the worst year in recent history has become one of those viral internet memes. Some beloved celebrities died, the global refugee crisis hit a boiling point (and became a horrible point of contention in the West), and American and Russian internet trolls teamed up to help a guy who argues with teenagers on the internet become the leader of the free world.

Yikes. Well, I’m here to let you know that 2016 wasn’t all bad — at least for those of us willing to unplug for a while and enjoy all the scenery our region has to offer.

That’s right: This is a happy bike column.

Contrary to popular opinion, politics is not completely divided. Local and national political leaders of all stripes, nonprofit leadership and private organizations managed to come together throughout 2016 and build out the region’s Circuit Trails, making bicycling, running and every healthy recreational activity better for the Delaware Valley.

The Circuit Trails are the Greater Philadelphia region’s interconnected series of multiuse paved trails. Through advocacy, federal, state and local grants and private funding, the Greater Philadelphia region saw its extensive trail network hit 320 miles last year, with some awesome connections and a record-setting number of people using those trails.

Financing can be raised when we all agree something is awesome. The Circuit Trail network managed to receive more than $19 million for the planning, design and construction of those trails — including $4 million from the William Penn Foundation, a long-time supporter of trails in the Greater Philadelphia region.

People love using their recreational infrastructure. The Schuylkill Banks, the part of the Schuylkill River Trail that cuts through Philly along the Schuylkill River, was named Best Urban Trail by USA Today in 2015. In 2016, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s counter along the trail recorded more than 3 million uses on the Schuylkill River Trail around the region — 1.7 million of which were along the Schuylkill Banks.

And hard work pays off. Sullivan’s Bridge, connecting the Schuylkill River Trail and Valley Forge National Park, was set for a long-overdue opening. Long story short: An original one-lane bridge, called the Betzwood Bridge, was built in West Norriton in the 1800s and had always been a nice connection for cyclists getting into Valley Forge National Historic Park.

In 1991, PennDOT decided it had to tear down the bridge due to “severe metal corrosion.” They closed it. No replacement was ever planned. It took 25 years, but after fierce advocacy from the Delaware Valley’s bicycling community, Sullivan’s Bridge, a brand new bike/ped bridge, opened in the summer of 2016, connecting the Schuylkill River Trail to Valley Forge National Park.

Sullivan’s Bridge may have been the most dramatic opening, but we also saw 2.5 new miles along the Kinkora Trail in South Jersey, 2.8 new miles of the first phase of the Chester Creek Trail, 0.1 miles of the Sugarhouse Casino Trail Extension (small but useful), 0.5 miles of the Pencoyd Trail and plenty of others, totaling 11.85 new miles. We’re chipping away at what will eventually become 750 miles of trails throughout the region.

So don’t fret. Put on some gloves and a jacket, hop on your bike and take a day to explore the hundreds of miles of trails in your backyard. You’ll be happy you did. And maybe it will help you forget about all that other stuff that happened in 2016.

Randy LoBasso is communications manager for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.