Now cyclists and pedestrians can travel across the 1.5-mile walkway on the Southbound side of the bridge without scaling a 25-foot metal staircase. The $7.9-million, 18-month project concluded this week.
By Matt Skoufalos | June 4, 2019
Gathered at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge at 4th and Pearl Streets in Camden, dozens of cyclists strained to hear over the dull roar of passing traffic, waiting for their moment.
When that moment did finally come, after nearly half a century, it was heralded with bells, applause, and the gentle whir of tires on newly poured concrete.
Around 11 a.m. Tuesday, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) cut the ribbon on an access ramp to the southbound walkway of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
The ramp replaces a 25-foot-tall stairway that had been the only means on and off the structure, which was prohibitive to persons with disabilities and anyone unable to lug a bike up the steps by hand.
The $7.9-million project connects the 1.5-mile walkway along the bridge with the nine-county, 330-mile Circuit multi-use trail network. It was funded with $3.8 million in Federal Highway Administration Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grants and $400,000 from the William Penn Foundation.
“The significance of this project to communities on both sides of the river cannot be overestimated,” said Michael Russo, NJDOT Assistant Commissioner of Planning, Multimodal, and Grant Administration.
Philadephia City Councilman Mark Squilla described the 18-month project as “bi-state and bipartisan.
“The small investments that we make go a long way to alleviating congestion on both sides of the river.”
Calling the ramp opening “a momentous occasion” is “an understatement for me,” said John Boyle, Research Director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
Boyle emphasized the importance of the ramp for “cyclists, pedestrians, and people with disabilities in this region.”
Connecting the bridge, and Philadelphia beyond, to the Circuit Trails network makes the region “stronger and a better place to live, work, and play,” he said.
Boyle cited the closure of the southbound walkway in 1964 as the start of a 45-year quest to reopen the Ben Franklin Bridge to bicycle access, and thanked the DRPA for seeing the project through.
In his remarks, DRPA CEO John Hanson led a round of applause for “the iconic” Ben Franklin Bridge itself.
He cited “a culture of listening and collaboration” at the agency that helped bring the project online.
“We connect people,” Hanson said. “That is really what we do, and this walkway on the iconic Ben Franklin Bridge is part of it.”
One of the first to cross the ceremonial threshold was Bicycle Coalition founder John Dowlin, pushed across the span in a cart bike pedaled by Simon Firth of Firth and Wilson Transport Cycles.
Cycling advocate Joseph Russell of Collingswood said the access ramp “lowers the barriers to participation” for crossing the bridge.
“You’d have to have the upper-body strength to carry your bike [up the steps],” something that was difficult if not impossible previously for cyclists riding heavier cargo bikes or those with trailers attached,” he said.
Now, cyclists can cruise right up to the bridge itself, over the Delaware River, and into Philadelphia.
“It’s a great view, it’s free; it’s exercise,” Russell said.
The bike ramp is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 1 through September 30, and from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. October 1 to April 30.
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