Governor Jack Markell‘s last full day in office was last Monday. Under his leadership, Delaware spent $10s of millions on spectacular new trails – and we’re not done. Over the next few years we’re going to spend $10s of millions more. Even in much larger states like Maryland or Pennsylvania, these new trails would represent a significant commitment of taxpayer dollars. In much smaller Delaware, the magnitude of these investments is considerably more impressive. Indeed, they are the main reason that Delaware advanced in the national Bicycle Friendly State ranking for five years in a row (farther and faster than any other state, ever) and is today ranked as the #3 Bicycle Friendly State in America.
The Jefferson Farms neighborhood just north of New Castle is a great illustration, however, that even though these new and often spectacular trails are completely awesome, we still have more work to do to make them into the treasured assets they should be whenever and wherever we build them. Jefferson Farms is a large subdivision (with thousands of people) that lies directly adjacent to the the Wilmington-New Castle Greenway just north of the city of New Castle. The first phase of the Wilmington-New Castle Greenway (which was actually built way back in the summer of 2010) runs just yards from the backyards of many homes in Jefferson Farms. For the last 6 years, many people in Jefferson Farms could watch people strolling and cycling along the greenway from their backyards but the only way they themselves could join the people they saw and do the same was by driving (in the opposite direction from the greenway), exiting their subdivision onto high-speed State Route 9, driving more than 2 miles (!) on State Route 9 and then, finally, parking at a trailhead for the greenway. It was a completely absurd situation.
Now, however (and thanks to the New Castle County Department of Special Services), the residents of Jefferson Farms have their very own connection to the Wilmington-New Castle Greenway. They can bicycle right from their front doors, using slow and lightly traveled local neighborhood streets, and use the little bridge (pictured above) to jump right on the greenway. Today they can do so just for either a little exercise or to bicycle into downtown New Castle. The recently renovated and upgraded New Castle Public Library is now just a 5 to 10 minute bike ride for every kid in Jefferson Farms. The restaurants and shops of the city of New Castle are now similarly accessible for adults. But soon (hopefully next year!) all the many attractions of the Wilmington Riverfront (including the Penn Cinema, the Blue Rocks and many restaurants) will become equally accessible to the residents of Jefferson Farms, as Delaware completes the biggest cycling project in its history.
It seems like it ought to be unnecessary to say that, if we build a trail, the people living right next to it must have access to it. But, in fact, (as Jefferson Farms illustrates), it is necessary to say this. So here we go:
If we’re going to spend 10s of millions of dollars on spectacular new trails, those trails have to be accessible to people living nearby. We must make sure that everyone living within half a mile of a major Delaware trail – potential cyclists of every age and every ability – can bike to that nearby trail easily and safely on “low stress routes” right from their front doors.