Update: The Latest Community Effort to Make the Schuylkill River Trail Safer

Jon Lyons, a stakeholder on the Schuylkill River Trail Steering Committee, tells us about the Schuylkill River Trail Community Watch, the latest effort to make the trail safer.

Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk | Photo by M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia™

Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk | Photo by M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia™

Back in December, after stories of cyclists and runners being harassed by teenagers on the Schuylkill River Trail began to circulate, Jon Lyons, founder of Run215 and a stakeholder on the Schuylkill River Trail Steering Committee, wrote a piece for us breaking down how, exactly, the committee, with the help of Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and the city, was working to make the SRT safer.

The efforts he talked about then included increased patrol, repairs to lighting along the trail, and the improvement of mile markers and trail signage, among other pushes to make sure people feel safe using the trail. Now, after three new incidents of people being harassed on the trail were reported this week, the steering committee, along with Johnson, has added another effort, this one community-based, to the mix in order to make the trail safer for all users: Meet the Schuylkill River Trail Community Watch, a volunteer program consisting of trained members of the community who will be tasked with patrolling the trail and promoting a positive, safe environment for all users.

While, Lyons says, since their meeting with Councilman Kenyatta Johnson back in December, police patrol has increased on the trail, “Police can’t be everywhere all the time. So I think it falls on us to act and support the city and advocate for what we believe in. If you use that trail, you should stand up for that trail.”

The goal is to have the SRT Community Watch members patrolling the trail by early March. All volunteers will be trained, for no cost to them, by Town Watch Integrated Services to deal with issues that could easily come up during patrol, including conflict.

But, Lyons stresses, the problems that we’ve heard about lately — mainly harassment of runners and cyclists — are not the only issues trail users face. The Community Watch will exist for a variety of reasons: “To advocate for a positive and safe environment, to give directions, to be there if someone slips or if two cyclists collide or someone has a heart attack. Trail safety isn’t just about people getting mugged. There are so many other things that can happen besides what has been at the forefront,” Lyons says.

Volunteers for the Community Watch will be outfitted with walkie-talkies and uniforms of some sort (maybe a vest, Lyons says), and the idea is for it to be very clear to trail users that these folks are around to help out. And yes, volunteers will most likely be exposed to conflict and be faced with diffusing situations so, Lyons says, if you can’t deal with that, you probably shouldn’t sign up.

And while this program was born out of a slew of unfortunate and somewhat scary incidents, in the future, Lyons hopes the SRT Community Watch will be a proactive way to promote positivity throughout the trail, rather than simply reacting to events as they happen. “We’re working with the city and the police and everyone using the trail to set a really good example. We expect people on the Community Watch to be positive and to be hopeful and when they see a problem, fix it,” he says.

As I mentioned earlier, the goal is for the program to be up and running by early March, but community members who would like to be involved can sign up to be a part of Run215’s #SoleSquadPHL, the volunteer branch of Run215. They will get updates on how to register for training to be a part of the SRT Community Watch and so on through that group for now. You can also find out more about the SRT Community Watch here.

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