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|
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.