The Exton to Church Farm School extension of the Chester Valley Trial is now open! Basil and Argyll can now romp all the way from King of Prussia to the Main Street Mall in Exton (or vice-versa) if they want to. And they do!
There are some issues, if you start at the Main Street shopping center — which you might do, considering that there’s a huge empty lot behind a long-vacant big box store that once was a Circuit City, and hence plenty of unused asphalt. The trail runs along the north (?) side of the shopping center, next to Commerce street. Crossing the major intersection at Commerce and Route 100 is the big issue; the process is a little bizarre, and probably fairly hazardous.
The trail follows the right side of the road, so if you’re traveling with traffic, it’s possible to just go through the light as a vehicle. Walking across the road is prohibited on the trail side.
However, the bike trail is signed in a manner that requires you to leave the trail to cross Commerce (illegally, if you’re riding your bike, since you’re crossing against traffic, on the wrong side of the road), then crossing 100, and then crossing Commerce again to rejoin the trail.
And if you’re a pedestrian, you must also take that circuitous route to return to the trail — crossing three streets instead of one to rejoin the path.
That’s messy, and involves traversing an infelicitously designed traffic island — 100 is a high-speed, divided, six-lane, highway.
Worse, though, is that the pedestrian signal for crossing 100, which should offer protection to walkers and dismounted cyclists alike, operates only when the left arrow releases traffic from Commerce to 100 — sending cars and trucks directly across the pedestrian/cyclist walkway when it is occupied. Vehicles are used to making quick, impatient, turns here; not one stopped to allow either pedestrian or cyclist across 100 during our maiden trip here.
That’s a pretty dangerous situation, particularly if cyclists are traveling with kids. A minimum of three signal changes are required to cross 100; more if traffic flow prevents crossing 100 on one light.
This is an intersection that begs for a signal that stops all traffic while pedestrians or trail users cross in any direction. It’s common sense: shut down the intersection to allow more vulnerable users safe passage, then resume the usual traffic patterns.
As soon as we crossed 100, we encountered this sign: Authorized Vehicles Only. We just assumed we were authorized. Maybe it’s a relic left over from construction?
Then it’s a left turn, and a brand-new spiffy sign pointing the way across Route 30/Lincoln Highway, where there is a genuine, useful, signal to allow safe crossing. And far more considerate motorists, too — perhaps because the signal, and its function, are clearer here.
The bright yellow gates on the new section are terrific — extremely visible now, as they will be in winter.
For comparison, check out these white gates further along:
Pretty lousy visibility, no? In snow, they completely disappear. The yellow won’t.
This extension, which crosses Ship Road, is fairly short, but quite varied; there are some houses along the way, gas storage tanks, a smattering of small businesses, and lots of greenery.
Along with the obvious recreational aspects, there’s a lot of potential here for commuting to work, and for running errands. If you sneak off the trail to the side, where it crosses Route 30, you can ride through parking lots with access to a group of small storefronts, including Exton Bicycle (though it’s the back of the store that you’ll encounter first).
Go a little further — a very little further — and you’re at the Exton Square Mall. That’s not my idea of an adequate destination, but bearing around to the right brings you to the Chester County Library. A small trail spur, or even a sidewalk, leading into the library/mall/business areas here could be a nice move, and potentially increase the utility quotient of this section of the CVT.
Besides housing all those wonderful books and media, the library has a lawn featuring a stream, and dotted with picnic tables. Pick up a sandwich (there must be food places in the mall?), check out a book, and have a lovely mid-ride interlude.
If you wend your way back to the trail by exiting on an Exton Square Mall access road, you’ll see a big box office supply store across the street, another bike store, and a Starbucks coffee shop, none of which are accessible from the trail, which runs just behind them — but they are accessible by bike along Route 30.
Returning to our starting point in a parking lot at the Main Street shopping center meant riding alongside this bucolic scene. The juxtaposition of strip malls, derelict businesses, light industry, homes and malls against lovely views of countryside — artificially created, in this case, but still — is one of the major pleasures of the weird and wacky world that is Southeastern Pennsylvania.