It’s only in the discussion phase but it appears, at least on the township side, that Newtown is looking to partner with its neighbors in the borough and a local nonprofit in formulating a plan to build a pedestrian bridge over Newtown Creek.
At a recent board meeting, the township supervisors voted in favor of a proposal to investigate the feasibility of constructing such a bridge at a point near the intersection within the township at Sycamore Street and Durham Road with another to the east and within the borough near Edgeboro Drive and Frost Lane.
Four of the supervisors supported the resolution Nov. 26 with member Kyle Davis not in attendance.
Sixty-five percent of the bridge and its connecting right-of-ways would be located within the township. The remainder would be located in the Borough and Newtown’s neighbors have yet to consider the proposal.
Currently, pedestrians can cross the creek at only at Centre and Washington avenues and on Jefferson Street. PennDOT has updated the bridge at Jefferson Street but the limitations on pedestrian use remain, according to Mike Sellers, board member of the Newtown Creek Coalition.
Sellers presented the resolution to the Newtown supervisors in a 45-minute presentation.
“It (the Jefferson Street bridge) is much the same as it was – in terms of pedestrian access – 50 years ago, 75 years ago,” said Sellers. “These bridges, while they are very historic and attractive, in many ways, pose challenges to pedestrians.”
All the creek crossings on the existing bridges shared with cars and trucks are sidewalks on one side only. According to Sellers, pedestrian crossings can be particularly dangerous, especially during rush hour.
“If you’ve ever had a stroller or cause to ride a bike or even walk, which, when you are limited to one-sided crossings, can be a challenge or just flat out dangerous,” he said.
“It is those that we’re talking about with severe limitations, which argue in favor of something better just for pedestrians, bikers and strollers.”
If it ever comes to fruition, the pedestrian bridge proposed by the coalition will connect local amenities at Tyler Park, Pickering Field, Goodnoe Elementary School, Roberts Ridge Park and the Village at Newtown Shopping Center, currently undergoing more than $40 million in improvements.
“It is certainly the most vibrant, heavily-trafficked and popular areas in this part of Bucks County,” said Sellers, of the shopping center. “It’s a significant economic driver and this bridge would be a link for those who want to get there on foot, literally and figuratively.”
Sellers says a pedestrian bridge at the proposed location will help supplement the recreational trail system currently in place, connecting the western portion of the township’s multi-modal scheme with its counterparts to the east. The travel implications go even farther than that, he says, linking pedestrians with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission trail system.
That’s just part of the reason why Sellers thinks the DVRPC would sign off on the project.
“If you think of this as a puzzle and we’re trying to fill in the pieces, this particular piece served by this bridge would put a major piece in place,” he said.
Funding would come in the source of grants for transportation alternatives, trail extensions, historic restoration and storm water management.
Recently, the township was awarded a pair of state grants totaling $375,000 that will help offset over $1 million in costs associated with the 2020 construction of a new recreation trail along Lower Dolington Road.
The project will be looked at with favor by the state, said Sellers, because it touches a lot of bases including pedestrian transport, rails to trails and cooperation between municipalities sharing a common goal.
While the coalition would not be an applicant on any grant application, the organization can be a resource for fundraising, and would also help facilitate community meetings that would come long before any potential groundbreaking.
The coalition itself has previously received funding from the state, awarded a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) grant in 2011 to help formulate the Newtown Creek Watershed Plan. More recently, the coalition received the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for its work on the Newtown Common and Creek Restoration Project, a plan that helped the borough reach its sediment and pollution reduction goals.
The location of the proposed construction – the site of a long-ago used trolley span over the creek– is rife with local history. A look at the area – the pillars that once supported the bridge are still there – gives a glimpse into the country’s Second Industrial Revolution, when amenities like electricity and rail travel were at the center of society.
Back then, the Newtown Electric Street Railway Company, chartered in 1896, ran 15 trolley cars over 27 miles of track and ran service to Doylestown. Soon after the turn of the 19th century, it was possible, said Sellers, to take a trolley from Bristol to Newtown on further to Doylestown and even more northward to Easton.
In 1910, the transit company carried a little more than 1,119,000 passengers, increasing service to over 1,273,000 just two years later.
The last trolley car ran through Newtown on October 2, 1923, however, falling victim to more popular travel by automobile.