Recently, Delaware County Council approved a proposal to create a plan to transform the 213-acre Don Guanella property in Marple Township into the largest public park in the county and its first major park in more than two decades. Guided by Delaware County’s Open Space, Recreation, and Greenway Plan, along with the concerns of its broad member base in the nearby townships and beyond, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Delaware County affiliate, urges improvements to surrounding roadways to ensure young people, families, seniors, and persons of all backgrounds and abilities can feel safe and comfortable walking or biking from their nearby homes in Marple Township, Springfield Township, and Haverford Township.
- Goal 3 of Delaware County’s Open Space, Recreation and Greenway Plan is, “Connect. Develop a greenway network that connects natural features and people to community and regional destinations.”
- Delaware County’s stated goals are aligned with the Circuit Trails goals, connecting 800 miles of regional trails so that, “Greater Philadelphia will have a trail network unlike any other in the country — connecting the urban, suburban and rural communities of one of the largest metropolitan regions in the U.S.”
- The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has witnessed increased interest in bike commuting, suburban biking, biking for groceries throughout Philadelphia’s collar counties.
- Bike and pedestrian-friendly design enhances road safety, sustainability, health, home values, and inclusive access for people of all ages and abilities.
The Don Guanella park is surrounded by roads that offer relatively easy adoption toward complete streets, with accessibility and circulation friendly to vehicle drivers, walkers, and bicyclists. However, the property does not currently feature that breadth of access and, without careful planning, the county could easily recreate a problematic pattern: a greenspace that requires a car for safe family access.
The property is situated between significant thoroughfares: Reed Road on the north side, Sproul Road on the west side, and 476, backed by Eagle Road, on the East Side. A view of the property using the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s (DVRPC) interactive Bicycle Level of Stress and Connectivity Analysis Map demonstrates that these border roads, which are rated as high to moderate traffic stress, will serve as barriers to the new park for residents of nearby communities such as Lawrence Park, Pilgrim Gardens, homes surrounding the Rolling Green Golf Club, and other nearby communities. It also bears mentioning that Eagle Road and Burmont Road are under PennDOT’s jurisdiction (as parts of Route 1006), while Reed Road is under Marple Township’s jurisdiction, and Eagle Road serves as the northern border of Springfield Township. Multiple agencies, therefore, will need to be involved in ensuring equitable, low-stress access.
The intersection of Eagle Road and Reed Road is extremely high-stress for cyclists. Turning lanes on Eagle and Reed roads narrow the cycle path, almost eliminating the shoulders and limiting options for cyclists who need to turn (or, in the case of westbound Eagle Road, go straight). Further east, a bridge over Darby Creek narrows the carriageway to the point of eliminating the shoulder. The DVRPC, wisely, has rated the improvement of the roads at this intersection in the top 10 percent of priority for improving low-stress and equity-focused network connectivity in the Philadelphia area.
DVRPC’s Interactive Map of the Circuit Trails also clarifies trail proximity to the new site:
The Darby Creek Trail, which recently received additional length and progress through a Haverford Township acquisition of additional right of way, is existing, in progress, or planned for sections less than a mile from the northwest corner of the new park site (where Reed Road passes under 476), and less than half a mile at closest point. As the roadway is currently laid out, anyone biking from the Don Guanella property to this trail would have to cross the aforementioned high-stress intersection and bridge.
The county’s Blue Route Bikeway, when finished, will run along southern edge of the park. According to the Primary Trail Network (Open Space, Recreation and Greenway Plan, p. 11) shown below, the proposed link between Smedley Park and the Darby Creek Trail (Trail 15) parallels the southern edge of the Don Guanella property. The construction of this bikeway and its connection to the circuit trails would add value to both Smedley and Don Guanella parks.
On-the-ground photo analysis indicates a significant opportunity. Photos of Reed Road and Sproul Road demonstrate wide streets with considerable shoulders and/or public and semi-public (e.g. new park site, large cemetery) rights of way. These streets, rated as high and moderate stress currently, offer opportunities for separated bike lanes, to ensure all ages and abilities access to the new park. Such infrastructure also has the benefit of accompanying improvements in major intersections and other crossings, enhancing walkability, accessibility, and safety overall.
Photos of Reed Road, off of rush hour, show shoulder space availability. This presents an opportunity for conversion to a route with protected bike space adjacent to the park.
Photos of Sproul Road demonstrate considerable space on either side of the carriage lanes, to support bike and pedestrian access robustly and for all ages and abilities.
Intersections at Sproul and 476, as well as at Burmount and Reed, require some attention to support walker, runner, and biker access to the new park.
Google Street-views at the intersection of Eagle and Reed show considerable narrowing of the space for bicycle traffic along the sides of the roads.
Eagle Road, which is marked on Google Maps is a regularly utilized bicycle route, also features significant shoulder in areas, and offers opportunity for update to include all ages and abilities.