Watershed Protection

Region’s Trail Network, The Circuit, Gets Major Boost

Posted: Monday, December 15, 2014
Source: William Penn Foundation

The region’s trail network, known as the Circuit, has received a significant boost toward further trail completion, awareness-building and bettering public access to Philadelphia’s waterways with new funding from the William Penn Foundation. The grants, totaling $8.6 million, will leverage the work of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), which are members of the Circuit Coalition. When complete, the Circuit will include 750 miles of bicycle and pedestrian trails connecting people to jobs, communities, waterways and parks in the Greater Philadelphia region. To date, more than 300 miles of the network have been built.

"The Circuit’s hundreds of miles of trails create vital opportunities to dramatically increase public access to Greater Philadelphia’s waterways and will serve as key elements for engaging and connecting urban communities to these natural resources," said Andrew Johnson, director of the Watershed Protection Program for the Foundation. Johnson added that most of the unbuilt trail miles in urban corridors follow abandoned rail lines and cross contaminated industrial lands, including trails on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Camden, Chester and Trenton and on the Schuylkill River. These trails are typically expensive and complicated to complete but are essential as urban hubs for the network. "These trails increase scarce public access to our rivers, particularly in underserved neighborhoods that have been cut off from waterways for generations, and they also literally connect people to visible examples of stream restoration projects for ongoing environmental protection efforts," he said.

DVRPC will receive $7 million over three years from the Foundation to support final design and engineering work for trail projects, ensuring that selected trails are shovel-ready for construction. The DVRPC grant will also include some construction capital and will leverage millions of dollars of available public infrastructure funding for trail completion. RTC’s $1.6 million grant, also over three years, is designed to implement a communications program to build awareness of this significant regional amenity. The campaign will emphasize how and where people can connect to the Circuit for recreation, commuting and fitness use and how they can support the completion of the overall system through advocacy and giving.

"We are so grateful to the William Penn Foundation for sharing in and supporting our vision of how a fully connected Circuit will bring environmental, economic, health, community and quality of life benefits to residents and visitors throughout greater Philadelphia," said Sarah Clark Stuart, chairperson of the Circuit Coalition, a collaboration of nearly 70 non-profit organizations, foundations and public agencies. "This funding underscores the Foundation’s long-term commitment to powering public-private partnerships for the good of the region. For a significant number of people, the Circuit is their commuting route, town square, gym and playground. Catalyzing further progress toward completing the Circuit in new communities expands the Circuit’s benefits to many more people who currently lack access to green space and riverfronts. We are also fortunate that our Coalition members engage at such a significant advocacy level – identifying opportunities to move the effort forward and providing constituents with opportunities to make their priorities known to decision makers," Stuart said.

"We have made tremendous progress toward completion of the Circuit, and this $7 million grant from the William Penn Foundation will advance development of key segments of this emerging regional trail network with a focus on urban communities," said Barry Seymour, DVRPC Executive Director. "Specifically, new funding will provide support to trails at key planning, engineering, and construction stages, leveraging and maximizing regional investment in these facilities. We will identify the high-priority trail projects and help make them happen."

According to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy President Keith Laughlin, when completed the Circuit will be the most comprehensive regional trail network in the country. "As we have seen in cities like Atlanta, Indianapolis and Seattle, active transportation networks like this are about much more than just a nice place to walk or ride; they are about how cities position themselves as great places to live, work and do business," Laughlin said. "The Circuit would be without parallel. This is what the transportation and recreation systems of the future will look like, and the Circuit will be the Greater Philadelphia region’s competitive advantage."

About the Circuit

The Circuit is a multi-use trail network that connects 300 miles of trails throughout the Greater Philadelphia area in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with plans to add 450 additional miles to the system. When fully complete, the Circuit will help connect people to jobs, recreational opportunities, public transportation and other neighborhoods, and will serve as a gateway to open green space. Support of the Circuit is being led by the Circuit Coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations, foundations and agencies working together to raise the profile of this regional trail network, and educate people about the benefits an increased trail network will bring to the region. For more information please visit www.connectthecircuit.org.

About Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) is dedicated to uniting the region's elected officials, planning professionals and the public with the common vision of making a great region even greater. Shaping the way we live, work and play, DVRPC builds consensus on improving transportation, promoting smart growth, protecting the environment, and enhancing the economy. We serve a diverse region of nine counties: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania; and Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Mercer in New Jersey. DVRPC is the official metropolitan planning organization for the Greater Philadelphia Region - leading the way to a better future. For more information, visit www.dvrpc.org.

About Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), a nonprofit organization with more than 160,000 members and supporters, represents a national community of more than 850,000 trail users. Founded in 1986, RTC is America’s largest trails organization dedicated to connecting people and communities by creating a nationwide network of public trails, many from former rail lines. For more information, visit railstotrails.org.

About William Penn Foundation

The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region. In partnership with others, the Foundation works to advance opportunity, ensure sustainability, and enable effective solutions. Since inception, the Foundation has made nearly 10,000 grants totaling over $1.6 billion. The Foundation’s assets exceed $2.3 billion as of Nov. 30, 2014.