A Look Ahead in the Northeast: Transforming a South Jersey Destination

Posted 01/14/16 by Liz Sewell in Building Trails

Ocean City, New Jersey | Photo courtesy Betty Tsang | CC by 2.0

As RTC celebrates its 30th year in 2016, we’re taking time to reflect on what’s been accomplished in the trail world. But what’s even more exciting is what’s yet to come. With an eye on the future, we present a look ahead into the work being done by our teams across the country. And in the Northeast, big things are shaping up with trail development. Join RTC’s Northeast Trail Development Manager Liz Sewell as she paints the vision for South Jersey.

When you walk your bike onto the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, you won’t be the only one rolling on two wheels. According to Scott Green, executive director of the Delaware River and Bay Authority, approximately 25,000 walk-on passengers bring their bikes aboard each year.  If that’s not impressive enough, the number of passengers that bring bicycles on the ferry has been rising between 10 percent and 20 percent annually for the past couple of years.

Cape May-Lewes Ferry connecting Delaware and New Jersey | Photo courtesy Ryan Keene | CC by 2.0

The ferry travels from Lewes, Delaware, to Cape May, New Jersey, which is a popular summer destination for many east coast residents. There are several short rail-trails in the region, such as the Middle Township and Cold Spring Bike Paths), and arguably the only thing keeping them from being popular destinations are a few relatively short gaps.

Through the South Jersey initiative—which will focus on trail development in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties—RTC plans to help try and change all that.

“There are good trails in South Jersey, but they are separated by gaps that make it difficult to travel long distances by bike,” says Tom Sexton, RTC’s northeast regional director. “We are assisting where we can to help the counties create a system that is connected, safe, easy and fun to ride or walk.”

RTC is currently advocating to fill the gaps that would connect Lewes via ferry to the Cold Spring Bike Path in Lower Township, New Jersey, and then further north to the Middle Township Bike Path. The ultimate vision of this project is to tie together the entire corridor from the southern tip of Cape May through Atlantic City and on to Mays Landing, creating a safe, connected route for bikers and walkers and providing seamless access to destinations along New Jersey's Atlantic coastline. While the current trail segments act as anchors within this corridor, the missing gaps are problematic, representing the dangerous, unconnected portions of the route. 

Atlantic City Boardwalk, New Jersey | Photo courtesy Boston Public Library | CC by 2.0

A lynchpin in the Atlantic County portion of the project is the connection over Black Horse Pike. A 1.1-mile portion that spans the busy highway just west of Atlantic City, it is a missing piece to a much larger trail corridor, which includes the Atlantic County Bikeway and the Pleasantville to Somers Point Bike Path. RTC petitioned the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJ DOT) more than two years ago to do a study, which was completed in the summer of 2015. Today, the segment is awaiting final say on funding.

Uniting two separate 7.5-mile trails on either side, the Black Horse Pike connector will be the final touch to a continuous 16-mile section. “Those 16 miles will be a real mainstay for bicyclists coming to the shore from Pennsylvania and western New Jersey and Philadelphia,” says Sexton.

When the connection is finalized on the project’s northern end, trail development efforts will shift to the other end, and work will begin in full to extend those 16 miles southward (and connect trail segments along the way).

RELATED: The Circuit Trails: Greater Philadelphia’s Burgeoning Trail Network

New Jersey is ripe for trail development. After years of allowing federal funds eligible for walking and biking projects to accumulate, the state is ready to invest in their infrastructure. Additionally, they are providing technical support to municipalities who don’t have the bandwidth to navigate the complex application processes.

There is a critical mass of opinion that New Jersey needs to start spending down their federal funds for biking and walking projects, and with the increased support for active transportation and recreation on trails, the South Jersey initiative is well positioned to make the most of those dollars.

RTC has been working closely with partners on the ground in South Jersey and will continue to stay actively involved in the trail development work being done in the region. Whether you arrive by ferry, by car, or on two wheels, the South Jersey initiative will allow you to experience the region in the best way we know—by trail!

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Celebrating Our Past and Our Future

RTC is pleased to celebrate our 30th anniversary in 2016! Check out our interactive timeline and expanding 30th anniversary blogs series for stories highlighting the evolution of RTC and the rail-trail movement.