Like cavalry preparing for a charge, about 150 bicyclists itched for the politicians and officials to wrap up the congratulatory speeches, finish the ribbon cutting, and get on with the real attraction: the long-awaited new ramp to access to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
“It’s excellent,” said Aileen Bunch of Collingswood, who cheered as she finished her ride from Camden to Philadelphia and back again. “They did a great job.”
Once the blue ribbon barring the entrance to the ramp was sliced, one biker after another pedaled onto the new ramp, a nearly 800-foot addition to the bridge’s south path. The Delaware River Port Authority spent about $9.5 million to build the ramp, though almost half of that came from federal transportation grant money and the William Penn Foundation.
Its opening Tuesday morning was the culmination of a long process of improving bridge access that dates back more than four decades, advocates for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia said. The ramp is also designed for pedestrian use, and allows the bridge’s walkway to be wheelchair accessible for the first time.
Construction began on the bridge’s south walkway 18 months ago, and it had been closed since. The original walkway ended in 39 steps on the Camden side of the bridge near the Rutgers-Camden campus.
“You either had to go down the steps or go up the steps, and if you’re on a fully packed bike, neither one of those options is fun,” said Lynn Hetrick of Collingdale in Delaware County.
Cyclists also had to navigate a narrow chute at the top of the steps before they could get to the wider path. The new ramp did away with the steps and opened up the walkway to a width of 10 feet, DRPA said.
The work involved some challenges, said Mike Venuto, the DRPA’s chief engineer. Initial plans called for a ramp to be supported with steel, which proved too expensive. A structure of dirt and concrete was used instead. Engineers also had to contend with building on the walkway atop PATCO train tracks without disrupting the rail service.
Now that it’s complete, riders are treated to spectacular views.
“You don’t see that ever,” said Megan Hummell of Philadelphia, a Bicycle Coalition employee. “Even when you’re taking your car, you don’t see that.”
The ramp is expected to improve access for cyclists to the Circuit Trails, a 330-mile network of bike-friendly trails in nine counties surrounding Philadelphia. It also is seen as another tool that improves access to Camden for visitors and workers.
“It’s going to be both a local commuting route and additionally a very popular recreational amenity,” said Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition.
A survey the Bicycle Coalition conducted in May found substantially more cyclists heading across the bridge to Camden from Philadelphia in a day than in the other direction.
Hetrick noted that she had not been in Camden for years and was impressed by the redevelopment underway along its waterfront.
“It’s so much nicer than I remember years ago,” she said.
The ramp was built by South State Construction. The work was monitored by the engineering firm Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson and design was done by Louis Berger. In the fall, the DRPA will begin a years-long project on the bridge’s suspension system on its north side. While doing that, the agency plans to also widen the walkway on that side of the bridge.