CAMDEN, NJ — Tom Haney hung around the back of the pack of the 100 bicyclists positioning themselves in a line on the south side of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

The Philadelphia resident and countless other travelers waited years for the walkway connecting the two cities to no longer be impeded by a 25-foot staircase on the Camden end.

So when officials cleared the ribbon from a new 10-foot-wide ramp addition in its place Tuesday morning, Haney could spare a few more minutes; the path was finally clear.

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"You quite literally had to walk a single file," said Haney, 70, in reference to navigating the prior obstacle to a continuous 1.5-mile ride, "and if you met someone coming the other way, you tried to wait until someone passed. It was pretty crazy maneuvering that."

"This is going to cut a lot of time for commuters to come back and forth," he said.

Haney, who rides out of Kayou Bicycles & Cafe, described an updated Sunday trip of crossing the Delaware River and pedaling along the Camden waterfront district. And he can do so via the ramp's proximity to the city GreenWay Trail.

Pedestrians will immediately see the fruits of the $9.2 million repair project from the Delaware River Port Authority, which had closed down the walkway since February 2018. A significant chunk of the funding came via a $3.8 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration. 

No longer will cyclists have to pause their ride, hoist their bike, and climb or descend the 39 steps at 4th and Pearl streets.

But for wheelchair-bound travelers, the ADA-compliant ramp is monumental: it means for the first time, they can easily access the walkway.

Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, said the opening "signifies a very forward-thinking leadership."

"What these pieces of infrastructure really communicate is that bicyclists, pedestrians, people with disabilities, they matter," said Stuart, also chairwoman of the Circuit Trails Coalition. The Ben Franklin Bridge walkway links to the Circuit Trail network, more than 300 miles of multi-use routes spanning Greater Philadelphia.

The coalition's efforts to provide greater pedestrian access to the bridge go back more than four decades, according to research director John Boyle.

In 1964, a frequently-used walkway had closed down. The coalition would not be formed until eight years later. But then not long after, in 1973, members negotiated with the DRPA to make a path available.

When closings arose in the 2000's, Boyle said the coalition advocated for better access and balanced closures, where at least one path would be open, as well as longer hours.

The walkway ramp design came about in 2012 as members pushed for the DRPA to add the project to their capital program. Signed petitions from coalition supporters helped to encourage the decision, Boyle said.

"Funding and oversight: I cannot overemphasize how transparent and cooperative the DRPA leadership has been over the past five or six years," he said.

A commuter and avid cyclist, Boyle counted over the last 14 years taking the now-defunct staircase 4,000 times.

"Welcome to the John Boyle Memorial Ramp," he joked to the crowd gathered at the bridge.

The south walkway is open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. from May 1 to Sept. 30. Hours from Oct. 1 to April 30 shift to 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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