Creating a Walkable Chadds Ford

The proposed plan will reduce speeds on Route 1 and add ample walking trails around the village.

Chadds Ford is a quintessentially historic Pennsylvania town, where the rolling hills of Brandywine Battlefield give way to stone buildings, flower-adorned restaurants, inns and museums—all clustered in a central location. But, as one group sees it, Chadds Ford has a big problem: the rush of traffic on Route 1, which disconcertingly divides the village in two with a busy four-lane highway, separated by a concrete barrier. “It might as well be North Chadds Ford and South Chadds Ford,” says Frank Murphy, one of its three township supervisors.

To combat that glaring division, Murphy and fellow supervisors Noelle Barbone and Samantha Reiner have joined with residents and business owners to make Chadds Ford a more walkable place. The goals are to bring a sense of unity and place to the village, nudge residents outdoors, and make it easier for tourists to access popular destinations.

The concept of increased connectivity in Chadds Ford isn’t new. The idea was first floated in the early 2000s, but it wasn’t revisited until 2014, when the township partnered with the Brandywine Conservancy. Beyond launching a committee, they set out tangible goals and a realistic timeline. That culminated in a master plan, which was put together by Norristown-based Simone Collins Landscape Architecture and McMahon Associates in Exton. Finalized in May 2015, it includes everything from decreasing traffic speeds in the areas around the village to adding multiple walkways. Execution of the plan has already begun. “Imagine being able to walk from the Brandywine Battlefield to the conservancy, then to Andrew Wyeth’s studio, and basically see 300 years of history on a trail by walking it from the 1700s to the 2000s,” says Murphy. “That’s our vision.”

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For Murphy and the others, the plan is also a pushback against car-centric living. “People want walkability—they don’t want to [drive] everywhere,” he says.

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Committee members see the trails—which they hope to connect to the 30-mile Brandywine Creek Greenway Concept Plan—as a modern way to link the community. The trend has caught on in other areas, where younger families desire ease of access. “They’re not looking for gigantic footprints. Smaller lots with walkable capabilities are really important to the buyers coming into Chadds Ford,” says Barbone. “We’re responding to that need by connecting those trails with our history.”

Safety is a big objective for the committee, and that means decreasing traffic speeds—something they’ve already made headway on with PennDOT. Between 2014 and 2015, the committee had success in reducing Route 1 speeds around the village from 55 to 45 miles per hour. They’d like to drop it even further to 35. Traffic-calming patterns have also been proposed, including plans to install new signals at Route 1 and South Creek Road, make Station Way Road one-way south, and then add three-way stop signs at the intersection of South Creek and Station Way.

The idea is to create an environment more hospitable to the trails they plan to install. The paths would run along Route 1, Hoffmans Mill Road and Creek Road, by shops, the Brandywine River Museum of Art and the Sanderson Museum.

In part, the plan is an extension of progress previously made. In April, the committee debuted the Harvey Run Trail, a five-mile grass path that begins at the township building and crosses 300 preserved acres. Funding for Harvey Run came through grants—and that’s the main goal for covering the plan’s remaining $3 million. The committee has applied for a $1.2 million grant and should get word either way sometime in the spring. Assuming the grant comes through, the project should be in full swing by 2020. “We’re working as hard as we can to not have an added tax burden,” says Murphy.

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Jim Leader, owner of the Sunoco station at Route 1 and Station Way Road, hopes business will actually increase with the plan, though he recognizes that it’s a ways off. “It’s a pretty big project,” he says. “They’re still working out the details.”

The committee hopes the plan will spark economic growth. “[But] this is not a redevelopment project,” says Murphy. “What we want to do is support the current businesses.”

And the committee is acutely aware of the balance between preservation and accessibility. “I don’t want to see [Chadds Ford] turn into a city,” Barbone says. “There has to be a place people can walk, breathe fresh air, and enjoy the green space. We’re on the cutting edge of this next era of our township—and it’s exciting.”

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