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Philadelphia trail enthusiasts celebrated the opening of the over half-mile Manayunk Bridge over the Schuylkill River. To many the massive bridge has always been the symbol of Manayunk, a historic community six miles north of Philadelphia’s downtown.

From the Spring 2016 issue of American Trails Magazine


Manayunk Bridge is Philadelphia’s newest trail link

By Stuart Macdonald

photo of tall concrete bridge

The Manayunk Bridge crosses above the Manayunk canal; photo by Stuart Macdonald


Philadelphia trail enthusiasts celebrated the opening of their own “High Line” on October 30, 2015. The over half-mile Manayunk Bridge is now the the first exclusively pedestrian and cyclists bridge over the Schuylkill River. To many the massive bridge has always been the symbol of Manayunk, a historic community six miles north of Philadelphia’s downtown.

The 3,168-foot bridge connects to the Schuylkill River Trail, which runs 27 miles from Philadelphia to Valley Forge. The Manayunk bridge is a key link in the Circuit, a 300-mile trail network that advocates are working to complete throughout the region.

On the west side of the river the bridge trail links to the Cynwyd Heritage Trail. Besides the river the bridge crosses a canal, a railroad, and one of the most heavily travelled freeways in the region.

photo from airplane of bidge crossing river

Aerial photo with Manyunk on the left (East); photo from PA Dept of Environmental Protection


The historic viaduct was opened in 1918 by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The huge concrete arches span the river and steel reverse curves on both banks give the bridge the form of a giant “S.” It served rail traffic until 1976 when it was acquired by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). Rail service stopped in 1986 and the tracks were removed.

According to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, “Two community groups, Friends of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail in Lower Merion and Ivy Ridge Green in Roxborough/Manayunk worked vigorously to remove vegetation and trash, demonstrating the possibility of restoring the rail line “right of way” into a multi-use trail.”

The final cost of designing and building the Manayunk Bridge Trail was $5.76 million. The partnerships and funding strategies for the complex project began in 2010 with funding for a feasibility study provided the William Penn Foundation and Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

photo of tall concrete bridge

The steel appropaches to the concrete viaduct in 2011 before trail construction;
photo by Stuart Macdonald


With encouragement from the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, the state transportation department (PennDOT) provided $4.5 million for the project through the Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative program and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program.

Pennsylvania DCNR provided an additional $500,000 through its Community Conservation Partnerships program grant. The bridge itself, upon which the trail was built, was provided at no cost through a lease to the City of Philadelphia. At the ribbon cutting Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the project “revitalized an almost-forgotten bridge and transformed it into a functioning public space that expands and encourages recreational use.”

As with other major trail projects, local businesses are looking forward to more bicyclists and hikers taking the scenic trip over the river. Paul Levy, President and CEO of the Center City District, said that investing in the Schuylkill River Trail and other parks and green space is crucial “if we're going to get more North Americans to live in high-density cities.” For all the wonderful things city life offers, it doesn't offer the back yards of the suburbs, he said. “These spaces are our backyards.”


Photos below from left:

photo of concrete arch bridge photo of sign for towpath trail photo of concrete trail on bridge


For more information:

Friends of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail:

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