I shocked a few of my neighbors when I said I was biking to Philadelphia this past weekend. It takes an hour to drive using I-95 so it seems crazy far to bike … and besides, how would you go?
OK, it was 50 miles on Saturday, 58 on Sunday. One day for the Pennsylvania side, one for the New Jersey side, using parts of the Philadelphia area Circuit Trails network. We’d biked sections of the two routes so what we really wanted to know is which way is better.
The “Fraud Street Run” is a great opportunity to check out some Philadelphia trails.
Should anyone be surprised that someone came up with the crazy inspiration of a route between these two Philadelphia news-making sites in this crazy election month?
It started out as a disorganized run for charity between Four Seasons Total Landscaping, the site of that Rudy Giuliani press conference in a gritty industrial section of northeastern Philadelphia, and the glamorous Four Seasons Hotel in Center City (the place you know they really wanted, or at least the guy at the top wanted). They called it the Fraud Street Run, a riff on Philly’s Broad Street Run.
We had our own variation, but doing it in both directions exposed us to different trails (and trails under development) along the Philadelphia waterfront. One day this will be an amazing place to bike. Even by 2025 (or maybe 2026?), it should be so, so much better.
I know, I know — there’s a food element to so many of my rides.
So when Riverfront North — the public-private partnership creating access to 11 miles of the Delaware River plus parks in northern Philadelphia — created a bikes and bbq event, I was in. And I brought a bunch of people with me.
The bike ride began at Pennypack Park along the Delaware and used the Pennypack Trail, which follows the Pennypack Creek away from the river. You’re quickly in the woods, with the creek often just next to you, and the city seems far, far away. Sure, there are a few road crossings, but you ride under even more big stone bridges with traffic far, far above you.
Ten miles out, 10 miles back, so most of the 14-mile trail and enough to know you deserve that barbecue at the end.
What a way to see parts of Philadelphia by bike! Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia organized a ride called ProfiteROLL on Saturday that let you hit up to 14 bakeries and coffee shops for sweet treats. Yes, 14!
I tagged along with a sister and her friends, and we skipped a couple of the stops. But even then, I — who shamelessly can admit to eating lots of cookie dough in one sitting and, yes, immediately gobbled down the small portion of edible raw cookie dough offered up at Sweet Box Bakery — had had my share of sugar after just a few stops. Thumbs up to the generous breakfasty bar with jam from Hungry Pigeon that put me over the edge. Good thing the Bicycle Coalition suggested bringing containers to carry the excess.
And they’ve made a good Sunday breakfast. Still some leftovers for Monday.
The Pennypack winds and climbs (if just briefly) alongside Pennypack Creek.
Trails have a reputation for being flat and, to some people, kind of boring. That’s because many were once railroad lines, and locomotives aren’t going to pull a train up a steep hill or around a sharp curve.
I’m going to be blunt: This stretch of the East Coast Greenway is desperately in need of improvement — i.e. trails. I’m told that’s coming, but for now this is a one-star section.
Three of us rode from Trenton to Philadelphia on Sept. 15, 2017 as part of the East Coast Greenway’s River Relay that covers the entire 3,000-mile stretch: 25 years of East Coast Greenway, 50-plus rivers and one Greenway.
This was all urban riding– no trail, no suburban residential streets, nothing to give you a break from city biking and city traffic. To be honest, our “Portugal to India” ride, from Newark to Metro Park and then onward to New Brunswick was more pleasant and more interesting — and that’s not something most people associate with North Jersey, let alone Newark.
We started out from downtown Trenton aiming for the Calhoun Street Bridge. At one point, I thought we were headed for a busy highway, but the road forks in an odd spot and dropped us on the bridge. Chaotic Jersey road design and signposting, I thought…
At least the view of the Delaware River from the bridge was pretty:
On the Pennsylvania side, we picked up state Bike Route E (as in East Coast Greenway) … but don’t be fooled. This is hardly great bike infrastructure. Oh, it started out OK. West Trenton Road looks like a main suburban road, but it’s wide and there wasn’t much traffic. After several miles, though, we were on State Road 413. This is for hardy cyclists only; think wide, major road with strip malls, plus crossing an intersection with a road leading to Interstate 276 and of course traffic coming off the interstate too. Drivers saw us coming, so nothing scary happened. I know this is the reality of a route that connects cities rather than sticking to the middle of nowhere — there is always a bad stretch. The good news is that the route will look very different in four years when some projects are finished (pardon my cynicism when I bet it will be 6). Certainly the map showing the future ECG route looks much more appealing.
2019 UPDATE: The remaining obstacles on the D&L trail between Morrisville (opposite Trenton) and Bristol have been removed this year. It’s now a clear trail for 10 miles — and you stay off what we experienced above. Here’s a report of our 2018 experience.
I just kept wondering who’d get a flat from the junk on the shoulder.
So I was quite surprised when Bristol Pike — U.S. Highway 13 — turned out to be far nicer. For one, it was freshly paved. And there was a bike lane. It even felt fairly sane. I thought we’d be cruising.
But then one of us got a flat. Yes, of course it was the rear wheel. We pulled over on the sidewalk in front of a used car dealership to swap out the inner tube. The two men working there wandered over to see what was up. They nicely offered us water, use of the restrooms … but also gave us a different perspective on Philadelphia.
Business is slow, I heard, and it’s due to the bad economy — in this case, too many drugs. And these days, drugs means opioids and heroin. We apparently had just gone through a town with lots of (unregulated) halfway houses for addicts who had gone through substance-abuse treatment and were not far from a north Philadelphia neighborhood that he described as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. He never went into Philly without his gun, and he warned us to be careful. We thought he was a bit OTT and we certainly weren’t going to go find ourselves some guns.
Not that our route went through that part of town anyway. We stayed pretty close to the Delaware River but only once actually saw it. That was when we did our special Relay task and collected our sample of Delaware River water in Pleasant Hill Park. We found a bit of trail … but then it’s blocked by the Police Department not wanting anyone near its gun range (not that we heard any shots). Also OTT. This says safety upgrades would mean that section would open in the summer of 2017, but obviously that hasn’t happened. (We did make it through that blocked section in 2018, known as the Baxter Trail — it’s now open on weekends only in the summer.)
Apparently there are a number of unconnected trail segments along the northern Delaware River, and I’d hoped we’d have been able to ride some of them. But nope. Gaps supposedly will be closed in the coming years. Certainly the people of north Philadelphia deserve more trails as well as access to the waterfront. And the East Coast Greenway would have a more direct and scenic route that also would serve riders of all abilities.
And so we stuck to city roads, biggish ones like Torresdale, Frankford and Aramingo, moving away from the waterfront and then back toward it, finally reaching hipster Northern Liberties. Then it was onto the bike lanes on Spring Garden to the Schuylkill River and the train home. Total mileage, including getting to and from our train station and then from the Trenton station to the start: 44 miles.
Did we miss something that would have made the ride more rewarding?
It’s inspiring to hear about parts of the East Coast Greenway that are now under construction.
I’m just back from the East Coast Greenway summit in Providence, Rhode Island. And while some participants couldn’t hold back on their disappointment over the presidential election, I prefer to focus on the inspiring developments I heard about.
There’s a huge amount of progress in creating the off-road network between Connecticut and Delaware in particular. Some of this is because the governors in both Connecticut and Delaware want the East Coast Greenway to be part of their legacy, as I’ve written before. So projects that have been in development are now close to the ribbon-cutting.
In Connecticut, almost 10 miles of trail will be completed this year and a minimum of another 20 miles next year. I saw many of those Connecticut projects on our long weekend there this summer (that’s where the photo is from), and hearing this makes me feel less disappointed that a Portland-to-Hartford ride will likely follow this year’s Calais-to-Portland ride in 2018, not 2017.
Bonus: a bridge over a highway is to be installed one Saturday night early next year (perhaps in April?) and since the road will be closed, why not celebrate there with a midnight street party? Plans are afoot, and I am waiting on the details.
In New Jersey, momentum seems to be building for two key projects, One is a much better route across the Meadowlands, from Jersey City to Newark, that will be called the Essex and Hudson Greenway. It’s gone from concept to the start of a feasibility study in less than a year, which is just amazing. The other is an off-road road from the Middlesex Greenway in Edison to the Raritan River in Highland Park, on the other side of New Brunswick. That would then link with the D&R Canal towpath. Middlesex County appears to be serious about this, so let’s see how long it takes.
Pennsylvania has 10 East Coast Greenway projects under construction this year (one of them is already done!), and another nine are in planning and engineering or ready for construction next year. One is the extension of the Schuylkill River Trail to Bartram’s Garden. There are projects planned in every county from the New Jersey line to the Delaware line, though I don’t know how much easier an off-road ride from Trenton to Philadelphia will become without more work.
A few developments away from the Connecticut-to-Delaware corridor:
Rhode Island voters just passed a $35 million green bond that includes $10 million for bike paths.
Washington D.C. has just about finished a 9-mile route along the south side of Anacostia River that the East Coast Greenway considers its complementary route. Still to work out is the link back to the National Mall. But when I look at the overall plan for the Anacostia River Walk, I understand the construction boom in Southeast that I saw from the highway on the way back from Raleigh. Trails are an ammenity and help bring economic development!
If you, like me, said Grace Kelly, aka Princess Grace of Monaco, wrong.
If you, like me, said Grace Kelly, aka Princess Grace of Monaco, wrong.
And it’s not the John B. Kelly whose statue you see on the Schuylkill River Trail around Boathouse Row. (This is the sort of stuff you notice moving at bike speed.) He won three Olympic golds in rowing and lived in Philadelphia.
No, it’s his son, John B. Kelly Jr., who was a city councilman. And brother of Princess Grace. He also was a rower and went to four Olympics. But the best he did was one bronze.
Today’s 50-mile route was bookended by two fabulous trails: The Schuylkill River Trail and the Northern Delaware Greenway trail.
Today’s 50-mile route was bookended by two fabulous trails: The Schuylkill River Trail that runs from Conshohocken (actually 27 miles from Valley Forge, or even beyond, with some road bits) to Philadelphia, and the Northern Delaware Greenway trail, which runs for at least nine miles, sometimes in sight of I-95(!), and connects several parks before it essentially dumped us out in downtown Wilmington.
In between was plenty of urban grit and some surprises, such as the view of the Philadelphia skyline from Bartram’s Garden. And then the birds enjoying the wetlands of the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge within sight of the airport.
Of course we also stumbled across odd stuff too, like the groups of guys who drove their cars onto the piers under the Commodore Barry Bridge in Chester. Not that there looked like there was much to do in town.