Originally posted on Greater Philadelphia Bicycle News by our friends at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
This week the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) Board of Commissioners gave the go-ahead on the design phase of the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway ramp project
. The engineering firm, Amman and Whitney
was awarded the $598,000 contract to design the walkway. Before the
vote, DRPA Chief Engineer Mike Venuto stated that the project will
include public meetings during the design process. The optimistic
timeline is 2013 for design and 2014 for construction if funds are made
The saga of the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway goes all the back to the
Bicycle Coalition's earliest days. Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition member
Bob Thomas led a successful campaign in 1973 to reopen the bridge
walkway that had been closed due to the Korean War (yes, you read that
correctly). After the walkway was closed for construction in 2000, the
Bicycle Coalition and DVRPC negotiated with the DRPA to establish an
alternating north and south walkway closure policy.
|Making this view possible without ascending 3 vertiginous sets of metal stairs|
There were more closures to come. Four weeks after the September 11th
attacks, the DRPA ordered a walkway shutdown after KYW-TV's Paul Moriarity
broadcast a report speculating about the walkways' vulnerability to a terrorist attack. Moriarity emailed the Coalition
that the motive of the report was to have the bridge walkway actively
patrolled, not closed. Negotiations and a public outcry forced the hand
of the Authority and the walkway was reopened in December 2001.
But it was the one month closure after the London Bombings
in July 2005, along with several incidents of bridge users being
trapped on the bridge after the gates were locked, that spurred BCGP
volunteers Matthew Anastasi and Jim Kriebel to form a Ben Franklin
Bridge walkway committee. Their goals were to obtain full access to the
bridge and the construction of an ADA accessible ramp. After several
meetings with no movement, DRPA finally added the ramp into the 2008 5-year Capital Improvement Program
The home stretch wasn't smooth. In 2011, the Authority suffered a public
relations crisis related to a 20% bridge toll hike. The Board felt the
pressure of "unnecessary expenses" and deferred ramp project in the 2011
and 2012 programs. A coalition of advocates, Camden-based businesses,
nonprofits, and elected officials pressed back, and got the decision
reversed in early 2012.
Over the years, a thawing relationship between the Authority and walkway
users has yielded improvements to access: hours have been extended,
winter weather closures have shortened, and new security cameras are
being added. The ramp project, however, is the first big expenditure
from the Authority's Capital Budget to make the bridge walkway more
accessible for all users. We will be following the progress of the
project and notify you when public meetings are scheduled.