Before the start of a news conference announcing the opening of a series of bike lanes in Camden, State Sen. Donald Norcross climbed on a bicycle and whipped around Pearl Street in his dress pants.
"Come on, Whip," the Camden Democrat, shedding his jacket, said to Assemblyman Gilbert "Whip" Wilson (D., Camden), who was ambling toward him.
Norcross said he has ridden one of his two hybrid bicycles along the eight miles of lanes in the city "before, during, and after" their completion. Officials hope to spark the same enthusiasm among other city residents and visitors.
Norcross and other lawmakers unveiled projects that they said have improved downtown Camden with better signs, lights, and sidewalks, as well as lanes for bicyclists along Pine Street, Martin Luther King Boulevard, and Pearl Street, which leads to the Ben Franklin Bridge.
The bike paths give the young people "a sense of security," said Akram Abed, a project manager for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a Washington-based nonprofit that runs a cycling and environmental education program for Camden-area youths with the YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties.
"They are no longer looking out for the cars that are passing beside them," he said. "They have their own safe space to travel."
About 15 Camden city youth with the program cycled from Cramer Hill to the event on the campus of Rutgers-Camden.
The new lanes continue the expansion of a network of trails - known as the Circuit - that eventually will stretch over 750 miles in nine counties in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. More than 250 miles have already been completed.
"People want to live where they can walk; they want to live where they can go for a bike ride," said Rep. Robert Andrews of the intended impact of the bike paths in Camden.
Andrews and Sen. Robert Menendez helped secure about $23 million in federal dollars for the trail network including about $5.6 million for the Camden projects, which started four years ago. The Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders oversaw the construction.
Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd said residents in her city would now have "access to better and safer connections between neighborhoods, commercial corridors . . . and open space."
Andrews called the bike lanes a "small piece in a larger puzzle" to improve the quality of life in struggling cities like Camden and draw new residents.
Andrews said in the 1950s, the nation's vast highway system helped develop suburbs, but the nation's cities suffered and "began to die block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, little by little."
"We want all of our cities, including Camden, to be places where people want to live and not just work," he said.
Menendez said the trail network can have lasting effects.
"It can create a surge in economic activity, giving the area an economic boost, spark new development . . . and in doing so create a safer, more livable community."
During his remarks, Norcross, who rides two to three times a week, joked that he had spotted the perfect bike for Freeholder Ian Leonard - one with training wheels.
As Menendez took the podium, he thanked Leonard for being a good sport.
"I'm so glad that Sen. Norcross took it out on the freeholder instead of me," he said.