This Is How the City Is Making the Schuylkill River Trail Safer
Editor’s note: Over the summer, reports began to surface on social media of assaults occurring on the Schuylkill River Trail. Stories emerged of cyclists being shoved off their bikes, runners being chased and cornered and women being assaulted. Multiple accounts described a group of teens on bikes perpetrating the incidents. In September, local media began reporting on what was going on, as police began investigating one specific incident that involved a female runner being surrounded by a group of teens on bikes and being slapped on her backside.
We followed the postings and back-and-forth on the very active Run215 Facebook page, where a lot of folks pointed out issues with the trail itself (lights being out, lack of consistent police patrolling, etc.) that made the SRT less safe than it should be. Not surprisingly (to those who know him, anyway), founder Jon Lyons soon took the lead, organizing advocacy efforts and working with local officials to make changes to the trail that would help keep users safe.
Since then, he’s worked with other groups to meet with city officials on two occasions, with more meetings planned for the future. Below, you’ll find Jon’s report on the second meeting, which happened just last week. The takeaway? That the city is taking this seriously, and change, at last, is coming.
Last Thursday, representatives from Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s office met at City Hall with members of RUN215, the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia, #OpenStreetsPHL, the Department of Parks & Recreation, the 9th District Police Department, the Streets Department, Students Run Philly Style, and more. The goal of this meeting was to update members of the community and government on the city’s progress in handling issues on the Schuylkill River Trail.
It took a bit of a social media meltdown, with some pretty contentious stuff being spouted on the RUN215 Facebook page (which frankly, I’m glad has ended), to get the ears of City Council. That in and of itself is frustrating. That said, when a meeting was scheduled, the city came to the table with some amazing people (as did we), and things really got moving. What resulted were a lot of good ideas with no real plan, so a follow-up meeting was needed.
Councilman Johnson’s office organized the second meeting, and that’s when plans for the signage (which you’ll read about below) as well as updates on what has been done were brought to the table. I have to give a huge thank you to the LeAnne Mullins (a member of RUN215 and #OpenStreetsPHL), the Schuylkill River Development Corp, and Parks & Rec for really taking initiative with the signage. Also, the 9th District Police Department has been incredibly responsive, and it is important to recognize how much we appreciate their effort. Trust me when I say that a lot is being done behind the scenes.
The frustrating parts of this meeting came down to money: The city is strapped for cash, and every department has its budget. Regarding the bulkheads (the lights that line the riverside of the trail), they were doomed when they were installed, and to replace them is going to cost a ton of money, leaving an entire stretch of the trail — where they are the only form of lighting — pitch black at night. So money was wasted installing them, and now they need to be fixed but the funds aren’t there. An immense waste of capital, however, this raises opportunity for community activism to assist in getting funding. After all, the SRT was named Best Urban Trail in the Country. There is a ton of upside here. The city is getting heavily involved, as they should, but the next piece to this puzzle is getting the users of the trail and members of the community to rally behind us with their dollars. We are figuring all this out, as there have only been two meetings so far, but it seems apparent that to get these lights improved and fixed along the trail, we need help.
WHAT IS BEING DONE
1. INCREASED PATROLS
• Police officers from the 9th District have been put on more frequent patrols at peak hours.
• Parks & Rec has added park ranger patrols on the trail.
2. REPAIRS AND LIGHTING
• All lights directly above the trail have been repaired from Lloyd Hall to South Street.
• Solutions are being looked at to repair the bulkheads (the lights along the river).
3. MILE MARKERS AND SIGNAGE
• The Schuylkill River Development Corporation and Parks & Rec have been working diligently on a more effective trail-marker system in the event of an emergency. These would be distributed every 250 to 300 feet on the trail from South Street to the Montgomery County line, using data from other major cities and their best practices. The city has been extremely proactive in finding the most effective trail marking system, and we were shown a preliminary mock-up of what these would look like. All markers will be GIS integrated with emergency responders. We were all very, very happy with work being done. Unfortunately, we do not have a timeline yet on when this will be completed, as information is still being compiled and plans are being hammered out.
4. CRIME STATS
• Crime on the trail, overall, has decreased since the patrols mentioned above were put into action.
• There has been one reported case of sexual harassment since the last meeting on November 5th. A group of teens smacked a women on the behind while riding past on bicycles. The incident was reported off-site 45 minutes later.
• There has been an increase in narcotics arrests on the trail.
• The Bicycle Coalition, Students Run Philly Style, and RUN215 made the point in both meetings that there is a need for positive community initiatives involving the trail, with a special emphasis on the young people using the SRT. This was met with overwhelming support by all members at the table.
• We will be working together over the coming months to find effective ways to engage with trail users. In the meantime, we welcome your contributions and suggestions as we work to begin some awesome, meaningful, and positive community-oriented initiatives.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. STAY VOCAL. SEE SOMETHING? SAY SOMETHING!
• The police department relies on reports to properly dispatch patrols. We live in the fifth largest city in the country, with various crimes occurring all over. They have a lot on their hands, and as citizens, we need to report crimes WHEN they happen. If a crime is serious enough to report to the police, then it is serious enough to WAIT for the officer to arrive so that the correct measures can be taken. This not only helps you, but other users of the trail, too.
• Has a sign been vandalized? Is there a dangerous pothole? Are the lights out again? Report them to 311. I know it is frustrating, but these calls are taken seriously, and the data is collected. We all want more efficient ways to handle various problems, but again, if the issue is serious enough, the correct steps need to be taken.
• If you feel that something is NOT being handled, and you have taken all of the appropriate actions, contact your councilperson. Trust me, they are approachable, receptive and proactive. The initial meeting with Councilman Johnson’s office (and each subsequent one) was the result of various members of the community reaching out.
2. BE SMART. BE SAFE.
• The SRT is multi-use, which means that at any given point, you are sharing with other runners, walkers, cyclists, and yes … the surrey bikes on the weekends. We need to be aware of our surroundings at all times.
• If you run or walk with headphones, keep the volume down. We all want to be the stars in our own Rocky sequence when working out, but you need to consider that you’re not on set. This is not a closed course.
• Don’t hog the trail. Yes, it is awesome to chat with the runners around you, but keep it two abreast if space allows. If the trail is too narrow, then you’ll have to go single-file until space opens up again. (This goes for tourists and walkers, too.)
• Bikers, call when passing. Bikes are stealthy, wonderful machines. Most of the time, we can’t hear them. Give those around you a ring, or an “On your left!” shout.
• Don’t litter! Not only does this dirty the trail (Think: Broken Windows Theory), but those GU wrappers are slippery leaving them on the ground is basically waiting for a snapped tibia to happen.
3. LOOK OUT FOR ONE ANOTHER
•We are all members of a community. If you see someone who needs assistance, provide it. It could be something as simple as giving directions to a lost tourist, or something as serious as helping someone who has been in an accident. The city can only do so much. It is OUR responsibility to uphold the standard that we demand from our elected officials. We depend on each other to support the changes that we want.
RUN215 would like to thank the City of Philadelphia, especially the office of Councilman Johnson, for holding these meetings. We realize that these changes will not happen overnight, and pledge our support to provide help however we can.
Jon is an avid runner, and founder of RUN215, an online resource for the running community community. He is currently sitting as one of the stakeholders in the Schuylkill River Trail Steering Committee.
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