As seen in the previous section, Lower Merion has a large and diverse inventory of open spaces, historic resources and cultural assets. Additionally, Lower Merion also has several exciting commercial areas and lies in close proximity to similar attractions right outside its borders. The Township is a very interesting place, with much to do and see; it is just not easy to get there without an automobile.
Throughout the process of preparing this Plan, the goals of increasing access and providing linkages between the multitude of recreational, cultural and economic resources of the Township and region has been consistently identified. Toward that end, the Township contracted with Campbell Thomas and Company in 2004 to prepare a Township-wide pedestrian and bike feasibility study to evaluate existing conditions, identify opportunities and develop strategies for creating a comprehensive system of trails throughout the Township. The potential trail network proposed within that plan is one of the more exciting aspects incorporated into this Open Space Plan and presents the framework for the creation of a comprehensive multi-dimensional trail network that not only connects physical resources but also will serve as an entirely new park/greenway system in itself.
With the dawn of the 21st century, inter- and intra-community trails and greenways are becoming the equivalent of the national park system in the 20th century. Now that many communities have been built out and large open spaces have been identified, the open space challenge of the new century is in turning inward and rediscovering what already exists. Trails are ideal for this purpose because they are inherently dynamic and fluid and can be designed to take advantage of local conditions and meet the needs of individual communities.
This section of the Plan presents a vision for the creation of a comprehensive trail network that includes a multi-use recreational trail along the entire 7-mile length of the Schuylkill River within the Township that will link the largest open spaces in the Township together and provide several linkages to the regional open space network. This proposed trail system will link neighborhoods across the entire Township through a series of on-road and off-road paved and unpaved surfaces. It may also include a dedicated recreational trail on the vacant R-6 line between Cynwyd Station and Manayunk.
For the purposes of this report, open space linkages are non-automotive connections between different open spaces. Linkages can take a multitude of forms, including sidewalks, bike lanes, horse trails or greenways. Linkages can occur on publicly owned land or through private land via easements. Linkages can be used for walking, bicycling, horseback riding or other forms of recreation or transportation. Linkages can be either paved or not paved, as long as they comfortably and safely allow people to transition between open spaces without conflicting with automobiles.
Linkages expand the open space experience by allowing disparate separated spaces to become an interconnected network. Linkages provide access and allow isolated spaces to be used and previously unknown resources to be experienced.
Linkages should be appropriately designed to run with the land and adjust to different conditions. For instance, in many parts of the Township installation of new sidewalks is infeasible and undesirable because of the existence of many large trees, such as along Morris Avenue between Bryn Mawr and Gladwyne. In this situation, establishment of a flat grassy path out of the roadway between sidewalk sections is more appropriate. The Bridlewild Trail Network in Gladwyne is an excellent example of open space linkages connecting parks, institutions and open spaces.
Open Space linkages provide numerous benefits and result in a higher quality of life, a healthier environment and a more livable community. An integrated network of linkages and trails can provide a first class recreation system for running, walking and biking without having to purchase large tracts of land. Properly designed trails can function as a linear park. Trails also help to build community by providing spaces where people can interact. A good example of this is in neighboring Radnor Township, where a new trail on an abandoned freight rail corridor has become the Township’s new Main Street. Throughout the day the trail is heavily used by all segments of the community for biking, walking, strolling and people watching. Finally trails provide connections to economic, cultural and recreational amenities beyond the Township’s borders and further expand opportunities for residents.
While most people in the Township immediately recognize the benefits that open space linkages can provide, many individuals, especially those who live in close proximity to planned trails, nonetheless have concerns. These concerns primarily revolve around safety on the trails, increased public access, loss of privacy and the potential government taking of private property. These concerns are understandable, and have also been faced by numerous communities across the country. Many of these concerns are the result of unfamiliarity with trails and can be addressed through communication and via successful examples from other communities.
There are numerous websites and publications available that discuss issues regarding trails. Two of the better trail informational clearinghouses are:
View of proposed R6 trail from West Laurel Hill Cemetery.
TRAIL SAFETY AND POTENTIAL CRIME
Trails are an extension of the public realm. According to national reports, trails are no more likely to experience additional crime than a surrounding neighborhood. Much like a sidewalk or park the safest public space is a well used and well designed one. Other people on the trail are the best deterrent to crime. Any trail designed within the Township will be incorporating the highest standards possible to ensure public safety. Trails are also very easy to patrol via bicycle.
INCREASED PUBLIC ACCESS
The primary public access issues involving trails usually involve the potential loss of privacy. Lower Merion has a long tradition of public transportation, however many communities have similar fears with trails that increased access will allow a bad element access to their homes. The vast majority of the proposed Township-wide trail network has been designed to provide convenient access while still respecting residents’ concern for privacy. The one trail section that passes near homes will be designed to maintain and respect privacy of existing residents to the highest degree possible.
MAINTAINING RESIDENTIAL PRIVACY
The vast majority of the proposed trail network is planned along Norfolk Southern, Schuylkill Expressway or SEPTA alignments. Because of their same footprint, trails (12 feet in width) can be squeezed between various land uses or incorporated into transportation corridors. Any proposed trail along River Road between Waverly Road and Flat Rock Park will occur on the inland side of River Road adjacent to the Norfolk Southern corridor. A river trail merely needs to be near a river to be a good trail; direct waterfront access along the entire length is not necessary.
Residents who are further concerned about trail issues should visit neighboring Radnor Township where residents with similar concerns delayed the Conestoga Rail Trail for a generation. Since it opened in the spring of 2005 there have been no reported incidents.
Currently the Township has three distinct sets of trails, the existing township-wide sidewalk network, the Bridlewild Trail Network in Gladwyne, and internal trail networks within institutions. Each of these networks work independently of each other and are used by separate groups of residents.
EXISTING TOWNSHIP PEDESTRIAN &
Because of the number of trails that cross private property a map of the Bridlewild network is not included in this document. However, formalized portions of the network on private property with easements or on public land are indicated on the Township-wide trail network map at the end of this section.
Several of the large institutions within the Township have internal trail networks that are publicly accessible. Some of these trail networks, particularly those associated with cemeteries and colleges, could potentially be incorporated into the Township-wide trail network.
Of the institutional trail networks, the one with the most significance is West Laurel Cemetery that overlooks the Schuylkill River in Bala Cynwyd. West Laurel Hill Cemetery was established in 1869 as an extension of Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia and was the first architecturally designed cemetery in the country and the second garden-type cemetery ever to incorporate Victorian rural park features. The cemetery design incorporated winding paths and scenic overlooks to encourage ‘crowds of visitors to stroll in serenity and beauty’1. Over time the cemetery added significant architectural features such as ornate mausoleums, gravestones and buildings.
Over 100 years later, West Laurel Hill Cemetery remains true to its original mission and still opens its grounds for visitors to stroll the grounds. The cemetery has prepared two separate pamphlets to self guide visitors on walking tours, The Architecture of West Laurel Hill Cemetery and The Arboretum at West Laurel Hill Cemetery.
West Laurel Hill Cemetery Receiving Vault, accessible from Righters Ferry Road.
With a total of 164 acres, West Laurel Hill Cemetery is the largest publicly accessible open space in Lower Merion Township. It contains a total of 12 miles of internal trails. The Cemetery is ideally positioned to connect to both the proposed R-6 rail trail and the West Schuylkill River Trail.
One of the many advantages to living in Lower Merion is the excellent accessibility to the regional transportation network. This network is usually thought of as roads and rails, but also includes an extensive network of existing and planned trails, just outside the Township’s borders. While a complete trail network is regional in totality, trail systems are largely developed at the County level. Lower Merion’s unique position between multiple counties positions the Township as a keystone in the emerging regional network and can connect the extensive trail systems of Montgomery County, Delaware County and Philadelphia.
STATE TRAIL INITIATIVES
The Action Plan lists four goals for greenways program based on needs identified through meetings and public surveys:
Since the publication of the document, the DCNR has been assigned the duty of overseeing greenways initiatives and grants have been established to aid this purpose. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is dedicated to seeing the fruition of the 2020 greenways initiative.
SCHUYLKILL RIVER NATIONAL AND
MONTGOMERY COUNTY TRAIL PLAN &
REGIONAL OPEN SPACE NETWORK
PHILADELPHIA TRAIL SYSTEM
Lower Merion shares a long border with the City of Philadelphia, much of it separated by the Schuylkill River. Lower Merion is located adjacent to three of the largest parks in the City, Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River east of Manayunk, Wissahickon Park running from Manayunk to Chestnut Hill and Darby-Cobbs Creek Park in West Philadelphia. Each of these park systems contains extensive networks of multi-use trails.
Connections to each of these systems is currently problematic, but can easily be addressed. It is anticipated that the former Georgia Pacific site along the Schuylkill River opposite Manayunk will be redeveloped as high-end residential housing in the future. The Township has been working with the potential developer of the site to secure a recreational trail along the waterfront and to allow public access across the Pencoyd Bridge into Manayunk and potentially the ‘Blackie’ railroad bridge to Venice Island.
The Pencoyd Bridge connects with Main Street Manayunk and is a quarter mile from both the Wissahickon Park and East River multi-use trail in Fairmount Park. The East River Trail connects with Center City Philadelphia and currently extends as far south as Spruce Street. The Schuylkill River Development Corporation plans to extend this trail back across the river south of South Street and run it past Bartram’s Garden to the John Heinz Wildlife Preserve adjacent to the Philadelphia Airport.
Detailed maps of the Philadelphia Park system and potential connections to Lower Merion can be viewed at the Fairmount Park website: http://www.regiononline.com/~parktrails/maps.htm
RADNOR TRAIL SYSTEM
Trails are an integral component of neighboring Radnor Township’s open space/recreation system. Radnor Township has a stated community goal of working with neighboring communities to explore future bicycle, greenway and multi-purpose trail connections. Currently, there are no direct linkages with Radnor and Lower Merion that have been identified, but the Township is committed to exploring possible connections with Radnor in the future.
In spring 2005, Radnor Township opened a 2.2-mile long multi-use trail along the former P&W railroad right-of-way. The trail extends from Old Sugartown Road to Radnor-Chester Road. After overcoming 20-odd years of financial, physical and educational obstacles, the trail was built with a combination of federal, state and local funds. The trail is well-designed and serves as an outstanding model for how a multi-use trail should be constructed. Since opening, the trail has been very popular and regularly draws multitudes of residents for biking, walking and running. Lower Merion residents are encouraged to explore this neighboring amenity to get ideas how a trail system can be constructed in their Township.
DELAWARE COUNTY TRAIL SYSTEM
Lower Merion shares an extensive border with Delaware County. In Spring 2005, Delaware County prepared a draft County-wide Bicycle Plan that identifies potential corridors and on road routes. This plan differs from the map created by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, which identifies bike-friendly routes. Many of the routes in the Plan are highlighted because they are particularly unsafe for the bicyclists. The document designates a network of roads for improvement because of their importance for bicycle transportation.
At the time that the Delaware County Plan was prepared the recommendations for connections to Montgomery County and Lower Merion Township in particular were unavailable. The Township staff will review this Plan in the future and is committed to identifying potential linkages and multi-municipal projects.
REGIONAL BIKE SYSTEM
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is a regional bicycle advocacy group that promotes the bicycle as an environmentally friendly, healthy, and economical form of transportation and recreation. The Bicycle Coalition has prepared an extensive bike map for the entire Delaware Valley Region that indicates bike routes and ranks them according to three classes of desirability: bike friendly, average and below average.
Only a handful of routes in Lower Merion rank as bike friendly, including, surprisingly, Mill Creek Road. The majority of routes rank as average or below average. The Coalition Bike Map indicates current bike linkages with neighboring communities. These linkages are indicated on the Regional Bike Linkages table.
The Township should work with the Bike Coalition in the establishment of its Township-wide Bicycle Network and also work with adjacent communities in improving/upgrading existing bike linkages.
DVRPC 2030 REGIONAL TRAILS NETWORK
The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission prepared a regional trails network map in February of 2005. This map depicts 47 existing, planned and proposed trails and trail corridors for the entire region. Mapped trails are eligible for disbursement of Federal Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) funds through the DVRPC.
One trail is proposed for Lower Merion: the Darby Cobbs Creek Trail extending from Flat Rock Park through Narberth to Cobbs Creek Park in Philadelphia. This Trail will eventually link up with the planned east coast Greenway in the Marcus Hook/Chester area of Delaware County.
The lack of availability of land within the Township for new open spaces combined with the growing popularity of outdoor recreation activities, such as cycling, inline skating, walking and running, has increased the need for quality recreational facilities such as multi-use trails and rail-trails. County and Municipal governments throughout the region have recognized the multitude of benefits that trails offer. Trails make sense in so many ways, particularly in 2005 with so many different entities funding design and construction.
Trails are the means to link the vast open space network within the Township together. A comprehensive and diverse trail network will provide the means to:
The following are three distinct potential trail networks in the Township:
BIKE PEDESTRIAN NETWORK
The first trail network is the Township-wide bicycle/pedestrian network detailed in the 2004 Campbell Thomas Feasibility Study (CT&C). This study presents a comprehensive framework for enhancing non-automotive travel within the Township and identifies potential connections outside the Township. A total of 46 miles of bike lanes, 68 miles of miles of pedestrian routes and 11 miles of greenway trails are identified. Of these only 23 miles of new pedestrian improvements, 7 miles of dedicated bicycle routes and 34 miles of on road (striped lanes) are recommended.
The CT&C Plan recommends different projects of different scales and is realistic in the way that many of them can be implemented. Many of these will require further study, cooperation with private landowners and implementation by the Township Staff through the land development process. Toward that end the CT&C Plan proposed network is being integrated with the Township’s Geographic Information System to identify segments of the network that may be constructed by the Township as part of regular infrastructure construction and maintenance. Linking the proposed network with the GIS will ‘red flag’ potential sections when they are addressed via land development.
The Plan recommends several general strategies and four specific projects for implementation to establish a township-wide bicycle network.
General strategies include:
"Blackie" Railroad Bridge between Manayunk and Cynwyd presents an opportunity to connect Manayunk's thriving downtown with a recreational trail system on the Lower Merion side of the Schuylkill River.
Radnor township's recently completed paved multi-use trail offers an example for Lower Merion.
SCHUYLKILL RIVER WEST TRAIL
The Harry Olsen Trail is the central segment of a potential multi-use trail paralleling the Schuylkill River from the City Avenue border with Philadelphia to the Four Falls Corporate Center in West Conshohocken. It is conceivable that this trail can become a direct extension of the multi-use trail along West River Drive, which currently terminates at the Falls Bridge, and run through the Township all the way to Valley Forge National Park. This trail will provide an alternative to the existing Schuylkill River Trail on the opposite side of the river and provide residents direct access to the Montgomery County Trail System.
Physically the proposed trail is possible, although it takes a bit of imagination to visualize. The trail can be implemented over many years and will require the cooperation of many partners to realize, including the Montgomery County Planning Commission, PennDOT, and Norfolk Southern Railroad. The trail essentially cobbles together bits and pieces of land left over from the construction of the expressway and the demise of the Pencoyd Iron Works.
A major advantage of this trail is that more than half of the proposed alignment potentially lies within the right-of-way of the Schuylkill Expressway, which is administered by PennDOT. Pennsylvania state policy encourages the establishment of greenways along state transportation corridors and instructs state agencies to assist local municipalities in their establishment.
A potential opportunity with this trail alignment is in establishing a partnership with Norfolk Southern to provide easements along unused portions of its right-of-way through the Township. Norfolk Southern currently operates the former Reading Railroad corridor through the Township along the river. This corridor formerly served the Pencoyd Iron Works and contained two significant switching yards, one at City Avenue and one at Waverly and River Roads in Gladwyne. The City Avenue yard has shrunk over the years and sections (where the proposed trail would run) have broken and vacant tracks. The main yard operations have shifted away from the river. The Waverly Road site is currently used by the Township as a leaf composting facility. With the loss of industrial activity along the river in Lower Merion, it is in the interest of Norfolk Southern to maintain a through corridor. The Township has the opportunity of assembling these left over pieces of land into a significant recreational amenity.
A major concern of the establishment of any public recreation amenity is the potential impact that it could have upon adjacent residents. The proposed 7-mile trail is fortunate to only pass by a small pocket of homes along River Road between Flat Rock Park and Waverly Road. The most desirable route past these homes is to run the trail along the rail right-of-Way on the opposite side of River Road from the homes. The cooperation of the railroad will be essential in this endeavor.
The next step is to establish a detailed feasibility study with design and implementation guidelines. This Study should be undertaken with West Conshohocken, Philadelphia, Bridgeport and Upper Merion Township to explore the construction of the entire trail. The portion of the study focusing on Lower Merion should address the following five (5) segments within the Township:
A potential additional project includes a bicycle/pedestrian bridge over the Schuylkill River at Flat Rock Park connecting both river trails.
POTENTIAL OPEN SPACE LINKAGES
One of the opportunities associated with increased recreation access to the Schuylkill River is the opportunity to repair the damage done to the river from the construction of the expressway. Respect and enhancement of the natural systems associated with the river is a fundamental principle of this project. Toward that end, the Township is undertaking developing a riparian restoration plan to remove invasive species and control erosion.
CYNWYD-MANAYUNK R-6 TRAIL
Another potential trail with both internal and external linkages is the vacant Septa R-6 Line extending from Cynwyd Station to Manayunk. This trail has the potential to be everything that the P&W trail is in Radnor. It also has the additional benefit of linking with several significant open space amenities including Bala Park, West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Westminster Cemetery and potentially the river trail.
SEPTA discontinued service along this portion of the R-6 between Cynwyd and Manayunk and removed most of the tracks in the 1980’s. The R-6 Norristown Line currently has two separate spurs, one running from Center City to Norristown through Manayunk and another running from Center City terminating at Cynwyd Station. SEPTA is considering extending regional rail service from Norristown west to Reading (Schuylkill Valley Metro or SVM). Two possible alignments are being studied: One alignment along the current R-6 route and another extending service through Lower Merion. Reactivating service through Lower Merion would require new tracks to be installed and continued maintenance of the 100-year old railroad bridge between Manayunk and Lower Merion.
Since the SVM project is years away from reality and reactivation of the Lower Merion portion is not the preferred alignment, the Township should explore converting this section to a multi-use path until the time a final decision is made. If the Lower Merion segment is reactivated the trail can be shifted to outside of the ROW and incorporated in the final design.
One final linkage associated with this trail is the possible use of the Railroad Bridge as a pedestrian/bike connection with Manayunk. This bridge is a significant architectural amenity and its reuse for recreation purposes is an interesting concept. The Township should explore this and other potential bridge linkages as part of a joint waterfront-planning project with Manayunk.
This Plan has identified several potential open space linkages with surrounding municipalities, including Philadelphia, West Conshohocken, Narberth, Radnor and Upper Merion. The Township has already had discussions with the different communities and is prepared to pursue potential projects on a multi-municipal level.
One important multi-municipal trail project involves the reopening or reconstruction of the Rockland Avenue Bridge spanning the SEPTA R5 rail cut that connects Narberth to Lower Merion. This is a vital inter municipal connection that also serves as a direct pedestrian route for children attending Merion School.
1 The Architecture at West Laurel Hill Cemetery - A Walking Tour. Guidebook prepared by West Laurel Cemetery.
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