Schuylkill Township sidewalk study fosters community connections

The beginning of the Schuylkill River Trail segment in Phoenixville. The borough hosted an official opening celebration of the new section of trail on Saturday, April 25.
The beginning of the Schuylkill River Trail segment in Phoenixville. The borough hosted an official opening celebration of the new section of trail on Saturday, April 25. Barry Taglieber — For Digital First Media
Students at the Phoenixville Area Kindergarten Center walk down to the school in single file line.
Students at the Phoenixville Area Kindergarten Center walk down to the school in single file line. Barry Taglieber — For Digital First Media

Schuylkill Twp. >> A sidewalk feasibility study is meant to improve community connections, economic growth and exercise opportunities in the area.

The purpose of the study is to determine where sidewalks will work best in the township as well as the cost and design plans of these constructions

A committee comprised of office holders and residents started working on the study in March by taking photos and measurements of streets that currently lack sidewalks. Township Supervisor and Committee Chairman Jim Morrisson initiated the study because of safety concerns. He said streets without sidewalks can potentially be a dangerous situation.

“I’ve seen people walking on the road or in the grass,” he said.

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Morrisson on behalf of the township applied for a Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission grant under their Transportation and Community Development Initiative. The initiative aims to create greater quality of life choices through transportation efforts. The township was awarded a $60,000 grant and added an additional $15,000 toward the study.

“We were one of just three municipalities in Chester County to get the grant under that program,” Morrisson said.

After receiving the grant, the committee started working on a map of potential sidewalk locations. The main suggestions include N. Whitehorse Road, Kleyona Avenue, and Route 23 which is Valley Forge Road. Morrison said the proposed sidewalk system would benefit over half of the township population which is about 4,300 people.

“That’s very significant,” he said.

On Thursday, the community was invited to the first public workshop about the study. The workshop included a brief overview of the project, then residents had the opportunity to ask questions and provide comments.

“The study will determine what sidewalk civic connections should be made within Schuylkill Township if any,” said consultant project manager Jeff Reigner of Whitman, Requardt and Associates, LLP.

Reigner said no sidewalks are being built now and that the current process is about getting residents’ feedback to eventually determine a final draft of future sidewalk constructions.

“This is starting a long range plan for the benefit of the township,” he said.

Value of sidewalks

Reigner went over several reasons why sidewalks in the township would be beneficial. He said sidewalks would create walking connections to and from Phoenixville. The borough lies west of the township but there are no sidewalks to connect the areas.

“There’s a lot happening in Phoenixville that wasn’t happening just a few years ago,” Reigner said adding that the committee felt the township would benefit from sidewalks to the library, hospital and other Phoenixville destinations.

He said the committee also felt sidewalks could be created to connect the township to Valley Forge Park and a proposed Freedom Trail. Schuylkill Township Manager Mary Bird said there is another feasibility study for the trail. The proposed trail would be more of an environmental walk and connect to the Schuylkill River Trail, she said. Bird said the purpose of both studies is to “find out what areas are really feasible for sidewalks or trails.”

Safer bus stops along Route 23 were another sidewalk benefit the committee came up with.

“Safety was one of the biggest things that the committee mentioned, especially safety for children,” Reigner said.

Healthy living opportunities

Reigner said walking as an alternative to driving is another advantage. Sidewalks would provide opportunities for exercise and fresh air, he said.

Reigner said today’s kids don’t have as many walking opportunities as they did in the past. He said places such as the suburbs lack sidewalks and parents don’t feel comfortable letting their kids walk along streets.

“We’re seeing the childhood obesity go up,” he said. “It’s really becoming an epidemic.”

He said sidewalks won’t cure the obesity problem but will have a positive impact. Schuylkill Township Manager Bird lives in Phoenixville and said she enjoys the walkability of the borough.

“I can put the car in the garage over the weekend and just walk downtown if necessary,” she said.

Next steps

Bird said the current proposed system benefits a lot of people in the township but might not be the most workable plan by the end of the study. She said residents’ feedback from Thursday’s workshop and throughout the study will help determine the final draft. Birds said she’s heard from residents who want the sidewalks as well as residents that don’t want sidewalks, at least not in particular areas.

Dorothy Snader lives on Kleyona Avenue which is one of the streets that border Phoenixville. Snader has lived in her neighborhood since 1965 and said she thinks sidewalks there would be unnecessary.

“It would just change the whole neighborhood,” she said.

Although Snader isn’t for the sidewalks on her streets, she said she sees the benefit of having one along Route 23.

“I can see where sidewalks along Valley Forge Road would be helpful for those who take the bus,” Snader said.

Bird said a lot of issues need to be looked at before sidewalk constructions such as utilities, location of steep slopes and trees.

Over the summer, committee members will develop concepts and sketch out drawings based on community feedback. A draft report will be created in the fall when the public will have another opportunity to provide comments. The final report on sidewalks will be finished in the winter of 2016. Bird said the actual construction of sidewalks won’t begin until 2017 or 2018.

“Once we prioritize which one (sidewalk project) will be first, then we will find funding for the construction,” she said.

Morrisson said he hopes the study will come up with a good solution to the sidewalk problem by the end of the project. He said sidewalks would promote business in the area and reduce traffic.

“Ultimately, it will promote not only walkability and healthiness but basically general connectivity within the township,” he said.