Local planners and government officials yesterday launched an ambitious plan to create about 25 miles of biking and walking trails in Camden.
The six trails are envisioned to be part of an eventual network in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties that would use old railbeds, existing rail corridors and local roads.
The Camden County trails would run along the Delaware and Cooper Rivers and to Philadelphia via the existing sidewalk on the Ben Franklin Bridge. There would be a path looping downtown Camden and a path from the Cramer Hill section of Camden to the existing Merchantville bike path.
Camden is currently isolated by freeways, bridges and poverty. The trails would give its residents greater access to jobs and would give suburban residents better bicycle access to the riverfront and to Philadelphia.
"In a world where gas prices are going up, obesity is on the rise, and 40 percent of our population in Camden does not have access to a car, this could be a great thing," said Anthony Perno, vice president of the Cooper's Ferry Development Association, who chaired yesterday's steering committee of the Camden Active Trail Network.
Perno said planners hope to get federal funding for the Camden trail network, with construction starting in two or three years. No price tag has been established for the trails.
In a 2005 federal pilot program, four regions - Minneapolis-St. Paul; Sheboygan, Wis.; Columbia, Mo.; and Marin County, Calif. - got $25 million each for biking and walking trails. Local officials hope Camden will be among the cities that receive similar aid when the federal transportation law is reauthorized in 2010.
With $150,000 from the William Penn Foundation and planning assistance from RBA Group, a consultant for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the new steering committee expects to spend about 18 months planning and promoting the paths.
The Camden trail network is among the priorities for the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, said Tom Sexton, the group's northeast regional director and a member of the Camden steering committee. He said the group hopes to convince Congress to provide $2 billion to 40 communities for trails and other non-automotive transportation programs.
The Camden trails would link 10 existing trail fragments around Camden County, providing much easier pedestrian and bicycle access to the waterfront, said Jacob Gordon, the project manager with Cooper's Ferry Development.
Eventually, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy envisions 22 trails throughout Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties. They would include a Haddonfield-to-Medford trail, a Burlington-to-Mount Holly trail, and a Pennsauken Riverfront trail.
That vision is many years from becoming a reality, Sexton said, but planners hope to have the routes ready if the money is made available in the 2010 federal transportation bill.