Will You Connect the Circuit?
By Shayne Trimbell
The Circuit is the name that has been given to the regional trail network of southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. The name was announced at a press conference held May 31, 2012 in Philadelphia and is the culmination of efforts from a broad based coalition of bicycle, health, and trail advocates. The vision is a completely interconnected network of trails similar to the region’s highway network.
The current trail network has about 250 miles of trails, either paved or packed gravel. The Schuylkill River Trail is the most prominent, but there are many others throughout the region. The Circuit will triple the miles of trail, but more importantly, will connect the trails together. Most of the trails in the network today are not interconnected, making regional travel by bicycle on a dedicated trail impossible. Connecting the Circuit will put the bicycle alongside the automobile as a realistic choice for regional travel, a welcome idea given the ever increasing cost of automobile ownership.
We take it for granted, but our highway network has not always been completely interconnected. It wasn’t too long ago that traveling from Pottstown to Philadelphia via US 422 and I-76 required a complicated exit from US 422 onto local roads in King of Prussia, then to the I-76 on-ramp to continue the journey. Getting onto the PA Turnpike was equally as challenging. Thanks to a major redesign of the interchanges, and hundreds of millions of dollars, it is now possible to change between highways without exiting the highway. This story is not unique to King of Prussia; in fact, it is often repeated throughout our region where highways intersect.
The vision of the Circuit Coalition is to spend $250 million over the next twenty years to expand the regional trail network to 750 miles of interconnected, paved multi-use paths, essentially mirroring the highway network. When completed, you will be able to travel as freely by bicycle as you can with your automobile. The amount of money sounds incredible, and it is, but, considering each year PennDOT spends $300 million repairing, maintaining, and reconstructing roads and highways in southeastern PA, the amount needed to connect the Circuit is only a small fraction of what we spend on our highways.
King of Prussia will continue to be a hub of activity on the Circuit, and is poised to be one of the region’s cycling destinations. The Schuylkill River Trail is getting a much needed improvement in the connection to Valley Forge National Historical Park when the existing narrow crossing is replaced by a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian bridge. The Chester Valley Trail, which is currently under construction in Chester County will connect Norristown to Exton with a trailhead on South Gulph Road. Upper Merion Township has been working with Bridgeport and Lower Merion Township to plan for a river trail along the banks of the Schuylkill, creating a parallel trail to the existing Schuylkill River Trail, along with interconnecting the Upper Merion Township Parks system with off road and on road trails. These efforts, along with the road diet study soon to be underway will make King of Prussia much more accessible by bicycle and offer a new mode of travel to shop, dine, or work.
Connecting the Circuit has many benefits that will make our region unlike any in the country. When completed, we will have the most interconnected trail network with the most amount of trail miles found anywhere. Studies are showing that people under the age of 34 are moving into urban areas and choosing not to own a car. The Circuit could be for the younger generation what the highway system was for older generations: freedom to move throughout the region unrestricted by congested roads. For those that want to have more choices for travel, recreation, and live a healthier lifestyle, the Circuit is invaluable. Changing preferences in American travel choices are showing that the age of the automobile has peaked. The leaders of our region recognize this fact, and are planning for the future and accommodating changing demands in travel choice.
The automobile will never be fully replaced by the bicycle in American culture; however, it doesn’t have to remain the dominant mode of travel either. That is the vision of the Circuit: more choices, better options, and a stronger region. To learn more about the Circuit, visit: connectthecircuit.org.
Shayne Trimbell is Manager of Projects and Development with GVF, a King of Prussia non-profit focused on improving transportation options for the region’s commuters. He has been with GVF since 2007 and is passionate about creating more transportation options for people who choose not to drive. Full bio.
Image courtesy Valley Forge National Historical Park.