A greenway is a strip of undeveloped land, usually along a stream or ridgeline, which creates a continuous corridor, providing environmental, wildlife habitat, water resources benefits. Greenways serve as links between man-made features and the natural environment, which protect the natural environment, interconnect landscapes, and provide natural buffers. They can tie various park components together to form a cohesive park, recreation and open space system. Some greenways are primarily public recreational corridors, used for walking, hiking or canoeing, while others are function exclusively for environmental protection, such preserving steep slope areas, or protecting a scenic ridgeline or wildlife corridor. A greenway is a concept of planned development and conservation. It is a coordinated vision between many different parties that can provide recreational values and health benefits, pollution and flood mitigation, historic and scenic preservation, transportation enhancement and economic benefits.
Greenway concepts are generally outlined in a municipal comprehensive plan. An analysis of need and a strategy for greenway creation are established with these plans. Specific tools to create the greenways are contained in the municipal zoning ordinance, subdivision and land development ordinance, and (if adopted by a municipality) an official map.
Greenways are associated with benefits and advantages that generally fall into four categories: economic, environmental, recreational and social.
- Conserves energy that may need to be expended to correct environmental degradation to sensitive natural features;
- Increases adjacent property values;
- Attracts and maintains business;
- Compliments brownfield redevelopment, and
- Increases tourism.
- Allows groundwater and aquifer recharge;
- Reduces stormwater damage;
- Protects natural features in a coordinated fashion;
- Provides habitat and migration routes for wildlife; and
- Preserves natural diversity.
- Provides recreational opportunities close to home;
- Walking and biking are possible on trails;
- Creates pedestrian links between homes, recreational and business areas; and
- Reduces vehicle use, including non-motorized commuting.
- Improves the quality of life;
- Encourages family/community activities;
- Creates links between community focal points;
- Breaks up the development pattern; and
- Provides educational opportunities.
Greenways can be associated with the following limitations:
- Maintenance, liability and policing burdens, similar to those associated with public parkland, are necessary (for optimum function, invasive species should be controlled and an adequate tree canopy should be maintained);
- Monitoring over time is necessary for the encroachment of unwanted land uses;
- Greenways are only one component of a recreational system. They may not satisfy all municipal recreational needs; and
- Development of urban greenways can be relatively costly.
How To Use This Tool
In order to facilitate the implementation of a greenway system, the following general steps should be taken.
- Establish Policy: A municipality should adopt or amend its comprehensive plan. The plan should identify all the natural resources and recreational needs of a community and indicate the general location of proposed greenways, their type, and proposed uses.
- Acquisition Strategy: An acquisition strategy must be developed. This includes a determination of ownership, funding sources, types of permitted access, and costs of proposed improvements. In some instances, municipalities will develop a master plan showing which greenway links will be protected first and set design standards.
- Ordinance Provisions: The municipality can modify its ordinances to implement its greenway plan as follows:
- Include natural feature protection standards and open space requirements in its zoning ordinance.
- Include trail/pathways standards, buffer requirements, mandatory dedication/fee-in-lieu, and/or sensitive siting requirements in the subdivision and land development ordinance.
- Adopt an Official Map which gives the municipality the time to acquire important greenway linkages before they are developed.
Issues to Consider
Public use versus natural feature preservation
A common issue occurs regarding whether greenways should be open for public recreational uses or retained solely as nature preserves. The answer to this conflict depends on the terrain of the proposed greenway and the community's needs. Frequently, careful design can accommodate both uses. In areas where endangered species are present, the best greenway use is probably a natural preserve with no public access. In a suburban area where the greenway is based on an abandoned rail corridor, public access is more appropriate. A greenway centered on a stream corridor may have public access restricted on steep slope areas, but a walking trail may be located in the floodplain. Each situation must be considered separately based on the physical characteristics of the greenway system.
Ideally, greenways are a partnership between the public and private sectors. In Chester County, county government is providing the overall vision for the concept, by promoting landscape and community vision through Landscapes2, the County's 2009 Comprehensive Plan, and Linking Landscapes, the Open Space Element of the County Comprehensive Plan, along with providing funding for local government planning and acquisition of greenways. Municipal governments are planning for local greenway links and acquiring and maintaining them through public acquisition or the development process. Non-profit conservation organizations are assisting individual landowners in preserving the important natural features on their properties. The private sector is recognizing the importance of these efforts and supporting them.
Because it is a large endeavor, greenway networks can up to ten years or more to realize. Flexibility and patience are the keys to greenway creation. The most important links may not be available all at once and may need to be acquired piece by piece over time. An owner may be willing to protect a greenway as part of the development process, but not exactly according to the master plan or with some use restrictions.
Greenway creation does not necessarily require the expenditure of public funds. In some cases, especially where natural feature preservation without public access is the primary purpose of the greenway, the purchase of land or easements is not required. An example is a greenway located along a floodplain. Strict standards for natural resource preservation can be established within the municipal zoning and subdivision and land development ordinance to preserve the greenway through the development process. Consideration should be provided for on-going operations and maintenance costs.
West Bradford Township's Creating Connections: Country Paths & Village Sidewalks — A Greenways, Trails and Gateways Plan, a component of its Comprehensive Plan, provides for extensive greenway planning in the Township. The main purposes of greenways in West Bradford are natural feature protection, landscape buffer to development, and biodiversity enhancement. Additionally, the Township's Official Map depicts the location of proposed trail/greenway corridors.
Other municipalities that have incorporated greenway planning in their Comprehensive Plans include:
- East Bradford Township (2004 Comprehensive Plan, Chapter 8 — Parks, Recreation and Open Space). East Bradford Township's zoning map, official map, and trails and parks map are available online.
- Kennett Township (2004 Comprehensive Plan, Chapter 16 — Open Space and Recreation Plan). Kennett Townships maps are available online.
- Thornbury Township (2004 Comprehensive Plan, Chapter 7 — Plan Recommendations)
The Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) provides the legal basis for creating greenways through a Comprehensive Plan (Article III), an Official Map (Article IV), a subdivision and land development ordinance (Article V), a zoning ordinance (Article VI), and a recreation plan (Section 503.11(vi).
Other references include:
- Creating Connections: The PA Greenways & Trails How-To Manual, the Pennsylvania Greenways Partnership, 1998
- Greenways — A Guide to Planning, Design and Development, by the Conservation Fund, 1993
- Park, Recreation, Open Space and Greenway Guidelines, by the Natural Recreation and Park Association, 1996
- PA Greenways Action Plan
- PA DCNR Greenways Program
- Conservation Easements
- Cluster/Open Space Development
- Floodplain Management and Protection
- Natural Resource Protection Ordinance
- Riparian Buffers
- Steep Slope Protection
- Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities: Design
- Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities: Policy
- Native Plants and Controlling Invasive Species
- Parkland Dedication and Fee-In-Lieu Ordinances
- Urban Green Spaces
Chapter 6-Open Space and Greenways in Landscapes2 specifies a number of action plan items related to greenways. Landscapes2 recommends that Chester County prepare a countywide park and recreation plan that includes a strategy for the use of greenways and trails as open space links, along with providing competitive matching grants for the planning, acquisition and construction of greenways. Additionally, Landscapes2 recommends that municipalities address greenway planning in comprehensive planning and ordinance updates to establish greenways, and coordinate their efforts with adjoining municipalities, landowners and non-profit land trusts.
This technique can be used in all landscapes. In the Natural Landscape, it protects the important environmental functions of woodlands, riparian buffers and natural areas. In Rural Landscapes, it filters pollutants from streams, minimizes erosion by providing windbreaks, and creates wildlife habitat and mobility. In Suburban Landscapes, it provides recreational resources, linkages within the community, and helps define neighborhood character. In Urban Landscapes, which are already highly developed, it offers a chance to acquire additional open space affordably. It creates green areas in the urban pattern and offers the possibility of reuse and rehabilitation of natural corridors that have been degraded.
Greenways also promote energy conservation by limiting suburban sprawl, creating opportunities for non-motorized travel, and by limiting damage to natural features such as stream corridors, steep slopes and other sensitive natural areas. By limiting erosion, flood damage and water pollution, energy can also be conserved by avoiding the need to correct damage from these events.