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Cyclists push for bridge access

By Eileen Stillwell, Courier-Post Staff 
Access to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge for bicyclists and walkers is about as welcoming as the razor wire that frames the walkway's entrance.
That plus irregular hours, poor signage and narrow passageways all add up to a challenging commute for two-wheelers.
The greatest barrier is a steep, three-story steel stairwell on the Camden side that the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has been griping about for years.
Four members of the coalition made their case Wednesday to the Delaware River Port Authority at the bistate authority's regular meeting at One Port Center on the Camden Waterfront.
"We ask that when you vote on the 2011 budget this winter, that you please release funds to advance the final design of the south walkway so construction of the ramp can begin in 2012 in concert with bicycling and streetscape improvements that will be under way in Camden," said cyclist Matt Anastasi.
John Matheussen, the DRPA's chief executive officer, said the agency has already included about $3.3 million in its 2012 capital budget for improvements to the southside ramp. What he hopes to do is speed the process a bit by asking the 16-member board to approve about $100,000 in design funds in the 2011 budget, so the authority would be ready to build the following year.
Don't look for elevator access, Matheussen said. Instead, the DRPA is likely to replace the existing stairwell with a series of switchbacks.
The DRPA does not track the number of cyclists or walkers on the bridge, but the coalition did its own count on a single day last June. Between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., it counted 109 cyclists and 386 pedestrians on the walkway.
Fueling the long-standing bridge-access debate is a $5.8 million federal stimulus grant Camden received in February to construct two miles of bike paths through the city to connect the suburbs to the waterfront and Philadelphia via the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Philadelphia received $17.2 million for the same purpose. Trails in both cities must be completed by 2012.
The DRPA already is working with the Cooper's Ferry Development Association, which is coordinating the grant, to make sure trails leading to the bridge are compatible with a new access ramp, Matheussen said.
In other business, the DRPA announced the return of passenger cruises to its dormant terminal at the Navy Yard.
Beginning next month, American Cruise Lines will make three eight-day sailings between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Stops along the way will include Chestertown, Saint Michaels and Annapolis in Maryland and Mount Vernon in Virginia. The line also is committed to two cruises next year, said Tim Pulte, the authority's chief operating officer.
Based in Guilford, Conn., American Cruise Lines specializes in small, 100-passenger ships.
The DRPA's executive committee agreed Wednesday to option an underused two-acre site near PATCO's Ferry Avenue station to Grapevine Development Corp. of Moorestown. Grapevine has agreed to buy the land after two years for $240,000.
The small parcel is a piece of a proposed 15-acre transit village linking the health care community on Haddon Avenue with PATCO. The project has been in the pipeline for at least six years. Nearly all of the land is now owned either by Grapevine, the developer, or Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.
James C. Wallace, vice president of government affairs for Catholic Health East New Jersey -- which encompasses four hospitals in the state -- said he expects construction to begin within a year or two.
The proposed village -- between Vesper Boulevard and the White Horse Pike in Camden -- is expected to include two five-story office buildings, two parking decks, 250 residential units and a grocery store.
"I am confident this project will move forward because Grapevine is committed and because of the availability of the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit," Wallace said.
"That whole space between Ferry Avenue station and the hospital will become an active, pedestrian-friendly transit village in the purest sense of the word."
For more information about Camden GreenWay and trail access, please visit http://camdenwaterfront.com/attractions/camdengreenway

Philly's Ben Franklin Bridge improves bike access

By Paul Nussbaum, Inquirer Staff Writer

The pedestrian stairs on the Camden side of the Ben Franklin Bridge will be replaced by a more bike-friendly ramp, as part of a broader plan to build new bike paths on both sides of the Delaware River.

The Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia presented its case for better bridge access at Wednesday's board meeting of the Delaware River Port Authority. Afterward, DRPA chief executive John Matheussen said the agency would accelerate plans for a $3.2 million upgrade to the bridge walkway.

The ramp will be built in 2012, Matheussen said.

About 500 cyclists and pedestrians use the bridge daily, the coalition's Matt Anastasi said. He urged the DRPA to improve the walkways and to market the bridge as a walkable destination for tourists and residents.

The 84-year-old bridge has an elevated Philadelphia-to-Camden walkway on each side of the structure. The south walkway is the most used; the north walkway is open only when the south walkway must be closed for bridge maintenance.

At the Philadelphia end of the bridge, pedestrians and bicyclists can walk up gradually sloping ramps. The New Jersey side, though, is tougher: the south walkway ends in a steep staircase of 39 steps, and the north walkway has a narrow 42-inch-wide "cattle chute" leading to stairs.

The design of the new Camden ramp is still in the works, but the Bicycle Coalition offered two possibilities. One would extend the south walkway by about 1,000 feet to descend gradually to the end of the bridge near Fifth Street and land at Rex Place on the Rutgers-Camden campus. The other calls for a somewhat steeper ramp that would continue for about 500 feet and then reach street level at Fourth Street.

The design funding will be included in the 2011 budget, so that construction funding can be done in 2012, Matheussen said. That would coincide with planned construction of 10 bike paths and pedestrian trails in Camden and Philadelphia being funded by federal stimulus money.

The bike coalition also urged the DRPA to improve approach routes to the bridge for cyclists, pedestrians, and people with handicaps.

And the group asked the DRPA to reduce weather-related closings by clearing snow from the walkways. The current wait-till-it-melts policy resulted in closing the walkways for 45 days last winter.

For more information about Camden GreenWay and trail access, please visit http://camdenwaterfront.com/attractions/camdengreenway

TIGER Grant Award to Camden

Philadelphia and Camden have received a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) to build multiple trail segments of a regional network. On February 17th, U.S.DOT announced the application submitted by local Pennsylvania and New Jersey was awarded $23 million from its Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary grant program. Camden has been awarded its full ask of $5.8 million.

This multi-jurisdictional project, called Generating Recovery by Enhancing Active Transportation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey (GREAT-PA/NJ), will significantly complete an integrated, multi-county bicycle pedestrian network for the region. By increasing non-motorized transportation access between Camden City and Philadelphia, and filling in critical gaps between existing trails, such as Cooper River Park Trail, Schuylkill River Trail and the East Coast Greenway, this grant will help connect over 128 miles of bicycle trails in the metro region, providing more active transportation options and more multi-modal connections for over 6 million residents and countless visitors.

As part of the Camden GreenWay trail network vision, this grant will help expand an active transportation network of trails through Camden City, Camden County and the South Jersey suburbs. All connections will provide improved access between Philadelphia and South Jersey, with Camden City serving as the hub. Walking and biking access to public transit will also be improved, especially along MLK Boulevard, where the Walter Rand Transportation Center services the PATCO high speed line, the RiverLINE light rail as well as NJ Transit bus service.

Through these trails as part of an overall trail network, the region’s livability will be enhanced by increasing active transportation, connecting residential neighborhoods to commercial corridors and places of work, connecting residents to transit stops, sparking economic development, enhancing underserved neighborhoods’ access to green space and alternatives modes of transportation and improving public health. The region’s sustainability will be enhanced by decreasing total numbers of vehicle miles traveled, improving air quality and promoting regional and local riverfront redevelopment.

As part of this grant, Camden County & CFDA will receive funding for three crucial trail connector projects in Camden -- Pearl Street Pedestrian/Bicycle Improvement Project (Ben Franklin Bridge Connector), Martin Luther King Boulevard Waterfront Connection and Pine Street Greenway Enhancement Project. All of these corridors will be redeveloped increase walking and bicycling access for all residents of Camden City and Camden County.

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