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June 02, 2016

MLK Drive Trail on track for $1.5 million restoration

Four-mile stretch remains a popular path for recreation and transportation

Trails Cyclists
060116_MLKDriveTrail Source/

MLK Drive Trail.

Philadelphia's scenic Martin Luther King Jr. Drive Trail, a 4-mile stretch from the Falls Bridge up across the Schuylkill River, appears on track for a much-needed restoration after the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission approved $500,000 toward the $1.5 million project.

For years, the MLK Drive Trail has been a weekend destination for cyclists, who are given free reign on Saturday and Sunday from April through October while the roadway is closed to motorists. Over the past two decades, however, nature has taken its toll on the trail, formerly known as West River Drive.

"It's been in poor condition for a long time now," said Christopher Linn, who manages DVRPC's Office of Environmental Planning and oversees the Regional Trails Grant Program through the William Penn Foundation. "There are lots of tree roots and ridge bumps, not just in one area but repetitively at various points throughout the trail. It's hard, dangerous and very unpleasant, especially in the face of traffic."

Five or six years ago, the city of Philadelphia tried to do some patchwork on the trail, but the tree roots popped back up in due time. At that point, city officials began to have internal conversations about how to fix it. As riders pass through the Schuylkill Banks and the Schuylkill River Trail along Kelly Drive, the trail becomes particularly treacherous where MLK crosses the river. The convergence of bike and automobile traffic on an unsteady path is a weak point that will eventually be addressed, Linn said.

"This wasn't necessarily a high priority project for the city — there were plenty of other trails to build out — but it kept coming back up," Linn said. "It's a good idea to fix it when we're dealing with both a recreational and community transportation asset."

To support the project, Philadelphia's Department of Parks & Recreation will match the $500,000 from the Regional Trails Grant Program. The city is also expecting to receive another $500,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) pending approval in the Fall.

Linn said a designer won't be engaged until all stakeholders have officially signed off on the initiative, but it appears to a promising and valuable project.

"It seemed to us like this would really be a project with a big impact. Even though it's not adding new miles of trail, it will greatly improve an important piece of the system."