In late 2014, the Planning Commission and County Commissioners of Bucks County identified two unused SEPTA rails for conversion to cross county trails to promote walking, running, biking, and healthy living. An affiliate of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Bike Bucks County has been working with local residents to convert the rails to trails. The first trail is the Upper Bucks Rail trail, which received concept approval and is now underway with the designing and engineering of the trail. It is predicted it could be built in 2017.
The second trail, called the Newtown Rail Trail, has been more tricky. To begin studying the proposed area and to secure funds for the design & engineering of the trail, the municipalities that the trail runs through must give non-binding conceptual approval to the county. The Newtown Rail trail runs through five municipalities and each is needed to give concept approval. Four did but Northampton Township postponed inviting the County to present the trail until recently.
To further advocate for the trail, Bike Bucks County has combined efforts with a local advocacy group, the Penn-Tammany Greenway Coalition. Together they have been working on communicating with the officials and residents about the benefits of the trail and understanding the issues that the opposition has with the proposed trail.
This brings us to the current situation.
Since January, Bike Bucks County and Penn Tammany Greenway Coalition have been meeting with residents and asking the township to schedule a meeting for the County to present the trail. At this meeting, the County will present the concept and the Supervisors will vote to allow the County to get all the facts through an engineering study in the form of a Resolution of Support, as they’ve received approval from in every other municipality. There is strong opposition from some community members that own homes on the rail line who think that the trail may bring increased crime, litter, and taxes to their neighborhoods, and will also lower property values.
BBC and PTGC have since attended numerous meetings and hosted a public meeting and webinar to try to inform residents. Recently the Northampton Township Supervisors have agreed to hold a special meeting for the County Planning Commission to present the trail on September 15th. In anticipation of that, BBC and PTGC have been asking Northampton Township residents for their opinions about the trail.
They have an email campaign and are working on the ground to go door-to-door in the neighborhoods and ask for signatures supporting the trail.
According to Ken Boyle at BBC, this has been “overwhelmingly successful,” adding: “Volunteers are talking to their neighbors in the evenings and finding overwhelming support for the trail. Most residents are just not aware of the potential new linear park across Bucks and when they learn about it, want to see it built”
The meeting on September 15th is to ask the Supervisors for the conceptual approval for the trail so the County can then get all the details regarding costs, design, road crossings, safety issues, barriers as needed, etc.. It is not an approval to build the trail.
But if eventually approved and built, this trail would add to the Circuit, Delaware Valley’s 750 miles of the trails across the nine county area. In the future, it could be possible to ride from the Delaware River all the way to the Fox Chase train station, all on trails.