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
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.