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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

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