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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
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