DRPA’s next CEO will be charged with overseeing a track replacement project on the Ben Franklin Bridge and will also be responsible for the timely completion of a new bicycle/pedestrian ramp on the bridge. | Photo: Bob Snyder/Flickr
The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), which runs the PATCO rail system and four major bridges in the Greater Philadelphia/South Jersey region, has been mired in scandal for years and is under investigation for ethics violations mostly related to spending on non-transportation projects in the region. The agency is in the process of choosing a permanent replacement for former CEO John Matheussen, who was recently appointed to the New Jersey Superior Court. Former DRPA CFO John Hanson has been named interim CEO, and it has been reported that he is being considered for the permanent post.
The next permanent CEO should be chosen not only based upon his or her ability to see a number of crucial regional projects through, but also should be someone who will prioritize maintenance of DRPA’s existing infrastructure and improving the agency’s transparency. Here are some important issues the Board should consider when choosing its next CEO:
Completing the Ben Franklin Bridge Pedestrian and Bicyclist Ramp
After pressure from Tri-State, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and numerous elected officials, businesses and local organizations, the DRPA committed in 2012 to build a pedestrian and bicyclist ramp on the Camden side of the Ben Franklin Bridge that will connect to the Circuit regional trails network. The DRPA received a $400,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation through the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission in 2013 to build the ramp, and design work on the ramp is currently underway. Although the DRPA CEO does not vote on Board actions, the new CEO must make certain the project the continues to progress as well as support allocating additional resources to ensure the project is built in a timely manner.
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A completed “Cooper River Trail” would allow users to travel by trail between Camden, Philadelphia and numerous Camden County communities. | Map: connectthecircuit.org
Pick any day to visit the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia and you will see a fully-functioning commuter corridor — women and men bicycling and walking to work, while, across the river, motorists sit in miles of gridlock on the chronically jammed Schuylkill Expressway. Over a million people use the trail every year. But what makes this multi-use trail so attractive to commuters and different from other trails in the region? And what lessons can the Schuylkill River Trail offer for trail planners and builders across the state line in New Jersey?
The Cooper River Trail
Like the Schuylkill River Trail, Camden County’s (currently incomplete) Cooper River Trail corridor runs alongside a river and runs through a mixture of urban and suburban communities. But unlike the Schuylkill River Trail, which connects Center City Philadelphia with suburbs to the north, the existing segments of the Cooper River Trail remain disconnected and fail to form a coherent route that could be used by local commuters to reach centers of employment in Philadelphia and Camden. Closing these gaps — which is a key component of the Circuit regional trail initiative — is an essential step in producing a viable active transportation network.
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An on-street portion of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail, which received funding though the William Penn Foundation-supported Regional Trails Program. | Photo: http://lhtrail.org/
Funding was approved for 13 Greater Philadelphia multi-use trail projects — including three in southern New Jersey – at yesterday’s Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) board meeting. The funds — totalling $3,988,608, with local matches amounting to $9,318,081 — will largely be used for trail construction, and were available through the third phase of the William Penn Foundation-supported Regional Trails Program.
In South Jersey, the Delaware River Port Authority will receive $400,000 for construction of the Ben Franklin Bridge Walkway Bicycle and Pedestrian Ramp, the Burlington County Department of Resource Conservation will receive $500,000 to move forward with the “Mansfield Community Park Connector” segment of the Kinkora Trail and the Lawrence Hopewell Trail Corporation will receive $250,000 to build one of the final segments of their namesake trail in the Carter Road area.
These relatively low investments stand to have a significant impact on the region, as they advance completion of The Circuit, the region’s multi-use trail network. As each additional segment is built, increasing numbers of South Jersey and Philadelphia area residents will be connected to an integrated transportation network that allows them to walk or bike to work, transit stations and outdoor recreational opportunities.
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Senator Menendez, Camden Mayor Redd, State Senator Donald Norcross and local leaders and community members officially open the Camden TIGER projects. | Photo: Matthew Norris
Today, Senator Robert Menendez, Congressman Rob Andrews and local leaders joined Camden residents to unveil the completion of three TIGER-funded projects in Camden County. The street improvement projects will transform parts of Downtown Camden with the addition of bike lanes, new lighting, signage and extensive street and sidewalk improvements. The completion of the TIGER projects was celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony, which included youth from CYCLE (Camden Youth Cycling, Learning and Exercising) who led a ceremonial ride to kick-off the day.
The completion of the three TIGER projects, located along Martin Luther King Boulevard, Pearl Street and Pine Street in Camden, continues the expansion of The Circuit, the region’s growing trail network. When complete, The Circuit will include 750 miles of trails, of which more than 250 miles have already been built. State Senator Donald Norcross, a Camden resident, praised the project and encouraged the Delaware River Port Authority to move ahead with building the Ben Franklin Bridge pedestrian and bicyclist ramp to further increase the utility of The Circuit.
Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ1) stressed the public safety and economic development implications of improving walking and biking infrastructure:
America’s cities with the greatest comebacks are places where people don’t just drive in to work in the morning and then drive out, they are places where people live. This project is a small piece in the larger puzzle of improving life for those who already live in Camden, [and it] will also attract new residents. People want to reach destinations without having to get in a car.
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This is the first in a series highlighting the difficulty of being a pedestrian South Jersey.
Part 1, Camden County
Between 2009 and 2011 there were 31 pedestrian fatalities on roadways in Camden County. While residents in some parts of the County can safely access area businesses, transit stops and places of employment on foot, far too many others are met with significant safety hazards while walking or biking due to a lack of pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure in their communities. Clearly, not all roads in Camden County are created equal.
Route 70 at Garden State Boulevard. Pedestrians walking from the Cherry Hill train station and area bus stops must navigate this narrow and dangerous stretch of “sidewalk” to reach area businesses.
This section of Route 70 is in close proximity to New Jersey Transit’s Cherry Hill train station, which runs between Atlantic City and Philadelphia. While a large retail development is located directly behind the train station, it cannot be accessed without walking along Route 70, a high-speed roadway with six lanes of traffic and a 50 mph posted speed limit, which hinders businesses’ access to customers. Sidewalks in this area are in a terrible state of disrepair. For local residents in wheelchairs, traveling this corridor is all but impossible. There were three pedestrian fatalities on Route 70 in Camden County between 2009 and 2011.
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A new bike lane on MLK Boulevard in Camden adjacent to the River LINE tracks and Cooper Hospital. | Photo: John Boyle
Last week, the City of Camden, New Jersey made a significant commitment to improving the safety of its roadways by adopting a complete streets policy. The policy was passed in a [...]
“Alternative 2,” shows a continuous ramp that also widens a section of the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway that is currently very narrow. | Image: DRPA, Ammann & Whitney
Last night, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) outlined the three current design alternatives for the planned Ben Franklin Bridge pedestrian and bicyclist ramp and [...]
The new ramp will replace the existing stair tower, greatly expanding accessibility to the bridge for pedestrians, bicyclists and those in wheelchairs. | Photo: Plan Philly
The South Walkway currently includes a narrow section that impedes travel. A number of the ramp design alternatives will seek to alleviate this issue. | Photo: [...]
In the United States, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) set the transportation priorities for urbanized regions with populations of at least 50,000, and they determine which transportation projects receive federal dollars. While many MPOs in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut (and across the country) have laid out forward-thinking transportation plans and are advancing a [...]
A PATCO train enters Collingswood Station. Image Source: Bill Vogel
2012 PATCO ridership and bridge crossing data from the Delaware River Port Authority might mark the beginning of a new trend in South Jersey. For the second year in a row, train ridership grew while driving decreased.
After the 2011 hike in bridge [...]