Southeastern Pennsylvania's recreational trail network — already the envy of many other metro areas — is getting a $7.5 million infusion through a federal program aimed at providing alternatives to vehicle-based transportation.
The money will fund 11 projects in all five counties, closing a critical gap in a Central Bucks trail, building a multi-use trail in Lansdale, putting sidewalks in Swarthmore, and adding $1.25 million to the city's bike share program, launching next spring.
Completion may be several years off, but ultimately, "what this will do is help get people out of their cars and onto sidewalks and multi-use trails," said Joseph Banks, a project implementation coordinator at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
The DVRPC's board made the awards, which were announced earlier today. Banks said it was the first time the region received a direct allocation of funds. Previously, funds had gone to the state, which made the final decision, although regional officials recommended projects.
The money comes from the federal Transportation Alternatives Program, aimed at "non-traditional" community projects.
Overall, the awards "speak to the popularity of better biking and walking facilities across the region," said Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
The portion going to Bike Share Philadelphia bolsters $4 million so far from the city and a foundation, said Andrew Stober, chief of staff in the mayor's office of transportation and utilities.
The program is important, he said, because it will bring "a new, affordable form of transportation to the people who need it the most."
Locations will be not just in the downtown core, but also in neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia. It will be the first bike share program in the nation, if not the world, Stoboer said, that people can join without a credit card — a barrier for the young and the poor.
As such, Bike Share Philadelphia will do more than serve current cyclists, said Doty. It will attract new ones.
Another $250,000 will go toward signage and improvements to 13th and 15th Streets in the city, aimed at making them better for cyclists than Broad Street.
"The bike plan for Philadelphia calls for a number of streets to be designated as bicycle-friendly," Doty said. "But we haven't figured out what that is yet."
Neither street has room for a designated bike lane. But by working with the Community Design Collaborative, a Philadelphia center that provides pro bono design services to nonprofits, officials came up with a plan that includes painting bicycles with chevrons above them in car lanes, which are supposed to indicate to both drivers and cyclists that bicycles belong there.
Here is the complete list of projects: