The Delaware River Port Authority has announced the closure tomorrow, February 22nd, for construction of an ADA Accessible ramp on the Ben Franklin Bridge in Camden, NJ. The project will take approximately 14 months and bikes and pedestrians will be detoured onto the north walkway during that time.
From 1926 to 1950 the walkways on both sides of the bridge carried pedestrians and bicyclists over the bridge between Camden and Philadelphia. After a road widening project in 1950, the walkways closed for good. It wasn’t until the Bicycle Coalition of the Delaware Valley (which we were called at the time) approached the DRPA in 1973 did the walkway reopen. Former BCDV President Bob Thomas has said that the DRPA claimed that the bridge was not reopened due to the Korean War.
The Bicycle Coalition successfully convinced the Authority to reopen the bridge from 7AM to 6PM.
The issue on Ben Franklin Bridge access later flared up in the late 1990s as the Authority closed the Bridge walkway for a lighting project. The Bicycle Coalition and the DVRPC negotiated with the DRPA to open up the north walkway for the first time since 1950 during the project. It is likely that it was at this point when the infamous “cattle chute” was constructed. The north walkway on the Camden side was never replaced with concrete after the road widening because the project ran out of money.
However after KYW consumer affairs reporter Paul Moriarty did an article in November 2001 on the supposed vulnerability of the bridge to terrorism and the DRPA responded to the piece by closing the bridge walkway. The Bicycle Coalition lobbied for more six months before it reopened. Deja Vu all over again after the July 7, 2005 London underground bombings.
A heightened alert closed the bridge to bicycles and pedestrians for another month.
Eventually, our advocacy work started paying off. Surveillance cameras and call boxes were installed. Warm weather bridge access hours expanded to 9PM. DRPA engineers conducted a feasibility study to replace the south walkway with a ramp and in 2008 it was placed in the 5 year Capital Program.
Our work wasn’t done though, in 2011 the Authority came under harsh criticism when a toll hike inflamed road users who were angry that significant amount of toll revenue had been spent on community development projects. The Authority went into austerity mode and vowed not to fund non-essential projects and the ramp came off the Capital Program.
But by 2012 a coalition to build a regional trail network was growing, with the help of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and letters of support from NJ Senators Lautenberg and Menendez and several Camden partners we convinced the DRPA put the project back in the Capital Program.
The Engineering Department at DRPA moved ahead with design and planning. Last fall the DRPA awarded the contract for construction of the project. Pre-construction work has been going on since then.
After 11 years as an almost daily bike commuter, tonight, I’ll be guiding my bike down the steel plate runner on the south walkway steps for the last time. For the next 14 months, I’ll be riding the cattle chute and going down the slightly wider and straighter north stair tower.
I look forward to using the ramp in 2019.