The ongoing transformation of Camden, New Jersey, is a terrific case study of what Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is about. From our core mission of recycling disused rail corridors into public pathways, in recent years RTC has expanded that work to building broader, more connected urban trail networks and encouraging new generations of Americans to walk and bike for daily transportation.
In Camden, there is an urgent need for this kind of transformation. Disconnected from the vibrant economic and social activity occurring just across the Delaware River in Philadelphia, for the last few decades Camden has suffered a lack of shops and businesses and insufficient investment in its public spaces. As a result, incomes and property levels are low, obesity and poor nutrition are problems, especially among young people. These experiences are common to underserved and at-risk populations across the country.
Enter RTC. Since 2006, our Northeast Regional Office has been working with local partners in Camden, notably the Campbell Soup Foundation, to create an improved bicycle and pedestrian network throughout Camden and beyond, and attracting the funding and support necessary for its construction. In a community where 40 percent of residents don't own a car, RTC knew that cheaper, easier options for getting from A to B had the potential to make real and significant improvements to the lives of Camden's citizens, every day.
And thanks to the William Penn Foundation, we can continue with this excellent work. The Philadelphia-based organization today announced it would provide $110,000 to continue our CYCLE program -- which enables young Camden residents to be bike-mobile and helps them explore their city. It's work we have been doing with the YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties, and which over the past few years has grown from a few summer classes of about 20 students, to more than 300 kids, bike-repair workshops, destination rides and a growing awareness of how the people of Camden can get around on two wheels. This funding is complemented by funding from the Campbell Soup Foundation as well.
Spearheading the CYCLE program is RTC's own Akram Abed, who grew up in Camden and knows firsthand what a bike and a safe pathway can mean to residents whose job and study options, as well as access to stores and opportunities for recreation, are often limited.
"Affordable and convenient transportation is something we sometimes take for granted," Abed says. "It has been amazing to ride with these kids and see them exploring parts of their city they have never seen before. It is literally expanding their worlds -- what an awesome thing to be a part of."
William Penn Foundation also provided $165,000 to support the development of The Circuit -- another local project RTC is involved in. The Circuit, otherwise known as Greater Philadelphia's Regional Trail Network, aims to build on RTC's bike and pedestrian improvements in Camden and connect people, businesses, neighborhoods and employers on both sides of the Delaware River.
For more about CYCLE, check out their facebook page at www.facebook.com/CYCLECamden