Getting Our Priorities Straight

user pointing at Circuit Trails map

After nearly 10 months, countless discussions, tons of collaboration, many revisions, a couple sleepless nights, and a whole lot of teamwork, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s (PEC) Gap Analysis of the Circuit Trails Network – which we’re calling the “Priority Trails Report” for short – is finally here!

The Priority Trails report is available on both PEC’s website and the Circuit Trails Resource Library. The report covers this edition of our analysis of all 252 unbuilt (not including unbuilt segments that are currently fully funded for construction) Circuit Trails segments, and ranks them based on the following criteria:

  • Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) Indicators of Potential Disadvantage (IPD) Score
  • Number of trail miles the gap connects
  • Population density
  • Connection to employment centers
  • Connection to a park
  • Access to public transit
  • Personal vehicle access
  • Length of trail segment

Going after “low-hanging fruit” is often at odds with the interests of disadvantaged communities.

Our goal in creating this report was to help steer the implementation of new Circuit Trails to areas that are currently under-served and to residents who would stand to gain the most value from new trail development. The long history of identifying and building the “low-hanging fruit” segments – i.e., the easiest projects – often is at odds with the interests of disadvantaged communities with fewer resources and capacity for trail development. As trail leaders, we understand this reality and view our Priority Trails report as a guide to redouble our efforts to where trails are most valuable.

I’ll leave it to you to check out the report in-depth on your own time, but I want to highlight a few key findings of our analysis:

  • The number 1 ranked segment overall is the “Southern Connection” of the Liberty Bell Trail, from its start/end point at the Schuylkill River Trail in Norristown to Parkside Place in North Wales, PA. This segment has it all: length/lots of miles of connecting trails; access to parks, jobs, and public transportation; and the opportunity to connect dense, diverse, lower-income areas to the region and its many amenities.
  • Many of the top-ranked segments fall in the region’s core cities and inner-ring suburbs, including Philadelphia, Camden, Trenton, Upper Darby, and Chester. This tracks as these are often the areas with the highest density, most diverse, and lowest income populations. However, several other highly-ranked segments fall in more rural parts of the region – such as along the Chester Valley Corridor and in southern New Jersey – where they connect residents to parks and outdoor recreation, job centers, and provide options for alternative transportation.
  • On some level, every piece of the Circuit Trails provides residents connections to where they need to be, locally and regionally, as well as to the great outdoors. Some factors we didn’t include in our analysis but which we considered include improvements to traffic safety and public health; these are additional potential benefits of building the Circuit Trails.

While we encourage you to take a look at the Priority Trails Report – and let us know what you think! – we also understand that this cannot be and is not a static document. To that end, we are currently planning a webinar to train our friends and partners on how to utilize our methodology in their own work and to further their own respective missions and funding priorities.

As a living document, we are also planning on updating our Gap Analysis twice a year to reflect changing realities on the ground, such as new trail segments being built, demographic/socioeconomic shifts, and the construction/deterioration of infrastructure that impacts the Circuit Trails. To accomplish this goal, we will transition our Gap Analysis from a report to an online interactive map to be hosted on PEC’s website by late summer 2022. This interactive map will allow users to toggle layers (such as EPD score, connectivity, or access to employment) on and off to identify their own priority trail segments and create their own downloadable/printable maps!

We will be sure to keep you posted on both of these upcoming opportunities. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or questions on the Priority Trails report, don’t hesitate to email Zhenya “Z” Nalywayko at [email protected].