Monday, December 8, 2014

Extend the Northern Delaware Greenway West, Part 1

The Northern Delaware Greenway (NDG) is perhaps one of the most beautiful trails in the state of Delaware, extending from the Brandywine Creek in North Wilmington all the way to Governor Printz Boulevard. The image below shows the NDG as it exists presently. You may notice to the far left, there is a separate trail that continues as part of the bicycle route to Newark.

There is a small section of overgrown abandoned railway near Bancroft Mills on Route 52 that, if cleared out and utilized, would extend the NDG and offer a host of benefits to cyclists and pedestrians in the area.

Photo by Mario Nappa
The Problem: Delaware Route 52 (near where Pennsylvania Avenue becomes Kennett Pike) is dangerous to cross, and even more perilous to ride or walk along. There is no bike lane or shoulder available, and the road has a high speed limit and high volumes of traffic. Exiting the NDG at its terminus at Bancroft Mills requires climbing a very steep hill along Rockford Road before merging onto Route 52, which serves to exhaust the cyclist along Route 52, and lengthens the time they spend on this dangerous road.
Nothing is worse than being screwed!
The Northern Delaware Greenway’s public crossing over the Brandywine River is in Bancroft Mills, and it is open only to bicyclists and pedestrians. It is an absolute necessity to safely cross the river, and it is commonly used as part of a bicycle commuter route that runs between Newark and Wilmington. The nearest other bridges, New Bridge Road and the Tyler McConnell Bridge, are very unsafe to travel on for a bicycle or pedestrian, as is the roadway (Powder Mill Road) that these two bridges connect to. Powder Mill Road has neither a shoulder nor sidewalk. As Delaware Bikes advocates can attest, the Tyler McConnell Bridge has hazardous pits of sand and gravel hiding screws and other roadway debris. Therefore, the Bancroft Mill Bridge is a preferred destination for those seeking to cross the Brandywine River. However, once on the west side of the Brandywine River, the safe options for egress from the trail are limited.

The Solution: We propose that the three-mile portion of abandoned railway near Route 52 and Bancroft Mills be utilized as an extension of the NDG in order to provide a safe, scenic and convenient trail for cyclists and pedestrians. This would bypass quite a lot of Route 52 for those headed to or from Newark. Opening this trail would involve clearing away any vegetation that would impede trail-users; stabilizing the trail as necessary using ballast, stone dust, etc; creating a platform through the tunnel underneath of Route 52, and resurfacing the old railroad bridge over Rising Sun Lane so as to be pedestrian and bicyclist friendly.

There are two railways that once serviced Bancroft Mills and what is now the Hagley Museum, and each is in remarkably intact condition many decades after abandonment. The proposed trail uses the upper railway, which primarily serviced Bancroft Mills.

The proposed NDG trail extension includes many wonderful sights, such as Delaware's only railway tunnel.

A scenic bridge over Rising Sun Lane (photo by Joe Sharretts)
And stunning scenery of the Brandywine River and valley!

Stay tuned for the second and final part of this series, where we'll discuss the NDG's many valuable connections, and a recommendation for the western terminus followed by a Q&A session.

Joel Schwaber lives in North Wilmington. A caring advocate, he operates the Wilmington Bike Recycling co-op. Joel's only goal is to put more people on bikes, at little or no cost. Email Joel at if you would like to volunteer to help, or donate a bicycle(s). Anne G. of Newark, advocate and co-author, is also pictured.


  1. This same idea has been in my head for awhile. I know I've seen it on a DelDOT wishlist map too, so its not an entirely new idea. I think the NDG was planned to go all the way to Newark someday. Great job with the maps, photos, and in the field research. There may be some issues with right of way, as the abandoned rail line through Rockford park extends into a gated condo community between the park and Bancroft Mills.

  2. Yeah, I brought it to WILMAPCO's attention a couple years ago (And then it appeared as the "Northern Route" option on their Wilmington-Newark pathway a few months later.) I'm sure the idea has been thought before, though.

    I'm sure that the community in Brandywine Falls would find it acceptable to do what the adjacent community at Bancroft Mills does, which is locks their trail's gateway across the Brandywine River at sunset. Besides, I think the roadway is a public one. (I'll find out for sure, of course.)


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