The Newtown Rail Trail in Bucks County, an extension of the Pennypack Trail, has been approved by four out of five Bucks County municipalities.

Bike Bucks County, a county affiliate of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, has been advocating for a rail-to-trail project in Northampton Township for a while now, a tough job some might say.

After several meetings and continued advocacy for the project, the trail — which would provide healthy, recreational access for hikers, joggers, cyclists and others — is stuck in a bureaucratic mess. If you’re interested in helping make this new trail a reality, keep reading.

No trains have run on the train line through the township since 1983 and in 2009 SEPTA made the final decision to not reactivate rail service. A few years later in 2012 the Penn-Tammany Greenway Coalition, a local non-profit, took up this cause to use the rail line for a cross county recreational trail.

Small glimmers of hope for this proposed trail have been occurring over the past 20 years. Just recently Montgomery County finished converting the same rail line 4 miles south into the Pennypack Trail. There was also local resistance there along the trail but now that it is built there is overwhelming support and pride for the trail as a community asset.

Progress that seemed to be going well with four of the five municipalities involved has now been stalled. It was announced in early April that the Northampton Township Planning Commission cancelled a presentation on the trail by Penn Tammany and Bike Bucks County. For a short while they considered a presentation by the County Planning Commission for their May meeting but then announced a permanent postponement.

The Board of Supervisors have their reasons though. The main one: they say they can’t get the information from the County.

In a recent article written by Jeff Werner for Bucks Local News, Supervisor Chairman Larry Weinstein states his reasons.

“The county has not given the township nearly sufficient information to even begin considering the plan,” he said. “There has been no indication of cost allocation. Hypothetically speaking, were this trail to become a reality, there’s no indication from the county who would pay for it. There’s no indication from the county on pre- and post-construction cost. Until there are further answers, which I don’t think will be forthcoming in the near future, there’s no reason for the issue to come before any meeting.”

There has also been opposition from neighbors who live along the 4.5 mile planned trail. The potential for an increase in crime has been a big concern, as well as the potential for increased litter and tax hikes needed for increased law enforcement.

On the other side of this issue are the Penn Tammany Greenway Coalition and Bike Bucks County, a volunteer group working to promote the county’s bicycle and pedestrian trail network. BBC is affiliated with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. BCGP works in the nine county region in SE PA and NJ including Bucks. Ken Boyle, BBC Chair and his colleagues are staunch supporters of the building of this trail and are working with local citizens. Boyle explains how they are all baffled by the situation.

“The Northampton Board of Supervisors continue to state they don’t have enough information from the County to be able to invite the County in to present the information on the trail. It just doesn’t make sense. In every other municipality the Supervisors listened to the formal presentation and asked all their questions in a public format. After they got the answers, they voted. That’s it”, said Boyle.

The County does not have the detailed answers like exact cost and road crossing information. They need the non-binding resolution to secure funds to do the design work to answer these questions. The Supervisors know this is not a request for approval to build the trail.

At the Northampton Township’s Board of Supervisors meeting on March 23rd meeting board member Eileen Silver made the following announcement:

“The Rails to Trails project is moving forward in our surrounding municipalities and Northampton Township should be proactive by forming a committee to get the facts about the program and start a process on how to move forward. Upper Southampton has been already well into the process.”

Responding to the safety concerns of the residents along the proposed trail, Boyle says that the best way to study its potential impact is to look at the crime rate in the surrounding area.

“Is it likely that the trail will have a higher crime rate than the surrounding areas?” Boyle asked, rhetorically.

The most obvious answer is no, it will not. The data supports this conclusion.

If there are concerns about safety, he feels it’s best to look at the other townships in the surrounding areas which have had these types of trails already established and see if their crime rates or cost of policing have gone up on trails. It is as easy as calling the police leadership there.

So what’s next? Northampton Township seems to be the last holdout in an area getting ready to fully embrace Rails to Trails and happy to continue connecting the Delaware Valley’s 750 miles of trails. The information is ready be presented by the interested parties but the right invitations don’t yet appear to be in the mail.

What can you do?

The Northampton Township The Northampton Township Supervisors need to hear and see your support at their upcoming meeting this week on May 25, 2016 at 7:30pm at the Administration Building, 55 Township Road, Richboro, PA 18954. Before you go, we suggest signing up for the free webinar “Newtown Rail Trail – Getting the Facts” hosted by Bike Bucks County and the Penn Tammany Greenway Coalition on Tuesday May 24th at 8PM. You can sign up for the Webinar here.

-Zach Mentzer

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