How and where to access the Ben Franklin Bridge walkways

This is a guide to reaching the south walkway. Another will be published around 1 March 2018 when walkway users are switched to the north walkway.

Last week I spoke with a Chinatown resident and student at Rutgers Camden, which is two miles from Chinatown. Three-quarters of this distance is, arguably, the finest walkway of any major bridge in the country. Despite the availability of a “sky trail” running straight from home to school, the stranger was unaware of the option of walking over the Ben Franklin Bridge.

This is understandable considering the obscurity of the walkway entrances. Tourism offices and the bridge’s managers (DRPA) hardly promote these valuable public assets. There is a lack of signage leading visitors to the entry points. The immediate vicinity on the Phila side is a highway environment devoid of an official people path to the entrances.  The entry gates themselves are shrouded in warning signs, seemingly placed to repel the casual explorer.

Below is an attempt to compensate for these disappointments until some future day when the Ben Franklin Bridge walkways are proudly publicized, with surroundings designed to attract and welcome even the timid.

From where to where?

You don’t need to imagine a biking and walking trail connecting Chinatown / Old City Philadelphia with downtown Camden. That’s exactly what the Ben Franklin Bridge pedestrian walkways accomplish. A blissful 40-minute walk (or 15-minute bike ride) over the bridge lands you within a half-mile radius of a plethora of employment, shopping, hospitals, museums, nightlife, recreation, universities, entertainment, national parks, luxury and affordable housing, and transportation hubs.

whole bridge

Left: Philadelphia, PA; right: Camden, NJ; green line is South Walkway


The Philadelphia side

In Philadelphia, the south walkway can be accessed just north of 5th & Race Streets and the National Constitution Center. Starting from 5th & Race, walk north on the cobblestone berm (about 300 ft) until you reach the south walkway entrance (pictured below).

phila side

Vicinity of south walkway entrance on Philadelphia, PA side. Pathways to entrance are blue. Relatively safe crossing is red.

It can be convenient to begin at 6th & Race (just east of Franklin Square and WHYY) and take the wide sidewalk along the tree island. Crossing the 5th Street vehicle lane toward the walkway entrance is relatively easy, due to good sight lines, a curb cut, and a mere single lane of traffic (thick red line).

When you come upon a smorgasbord of uptight bureaucratic CYA signs and barbed wire, you’ve found the south walkway.

phila side 2

South walkway entrance, Philadelphia side


The Camden side

The walkway entrance on the Camden side is less obscured; its tagged in Google Maps with “Entrance To Ben Franklin Bridge Pedestrian Walkway (Tourist Attraction)”.

camden side

Vicinity of south walkway entrance on Camden, NJ side. Toll booths to the right.

Beginning from the PATCO station at Camden City Hall (5th & Market), walk north on 5th Street until it turns left and becomes Pearl Street. In less than 500 feet the entrance – a stairwell – will be on your right. (6-minute walk)

Beginning in the center of Rutgers campus, walk north for two minutes until you come upon a smorgasbord of uptight bureaucratic CYA signs and a stairway covered in barbed wire. Proceed up the stairs – despite DRPA’s best efforts to discourage you.

Finally, coming from North Camden (5th & Elm), take 5th Street south into the 5th Street pedestrian tunnel then turn right toward the stairway entrance.


South walkway entrance, Camden side

And remember:




Welcome to the Ben Franklin Bridge Walkways Blog


The Ben Franklin Bridge pedestrian walkways are many things. They are among the Delaware Valley’s greatest public spaces. They are vital non-motorized transport conduits between New Jersey and central Philadelphia. They are truly unique, beautifully-designed, robust gifts from our great grandparents’ generation.

And yes, there are two of them.

Public space in the sky

Above a seven-lane highway and two subway tracks, both sides of the iconic Ben Franklin Bridge feature multi-use pathways. These walkways – elevated over the road and railways – offer a more peaceful experience, with fresher air and better views, than do most major bridges in the United States.

Measuring 10 feet wide and 1 1/2 miles long, they comfortably accommodate walkers, runners, bicyclists, sightseers, and photographers. Unlike Pittsburgh’s dramatic hills, Phila’s topography rarely affords vantage points from which to take in wider, more distant views. But from the south walkway, as colossal container ships pass underfoot, one can gaze upon the Phila and Camden skylines, both riverfronts, the Walt Whitman Bridge, Phila’s sports complexes and petroleum refineries.

Non-motorized transport lifelines

Also mixed in the walkway traffic are hundreds of daily commuters – those who walk or bicycle across the bridge for transportation – either by choice or out of necessity. For many (including myself) the bridge walkways make possible a lifestyle with built-in opportunities for exercise and meditation, music or podcast consumption, and hands-free phone calls.  For many with less privilege, the walkways are essential, toll-free pathways to employment, services, family and friends. As such, the walkways support the basic human right to non-motorized transportation.

Past gifts, future assets

The Ben Franklin is one of three suspension bridges in the United States to carry railroad tracks. (The other two are the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges over the East River in New York City.) Adding in the fact that its walkways are elevated above heavier traffic, the bridge is truly unique.  This configuration, along with beautifully-designed fixtures and cast-iron guard rails, is an invaluable gift from the bridge’s designers. It is a product of our great grandparents’ generation, which took pride in planning, designing, funding, and building great structures in the interest of future citizens.

Alas, the Delaware River Port Authority (the bridge’s modern-day steward) permits only one of the two walkways to be open at any given time – and neither are open after 8 PM. Notwithstanding current lackadaisical management of these magnificent public assets, that fact that they exist in the first place is crucial. (The Walt Whitman and New York’s Verrazano Narrows bridge lack non-motorized access and retrofits would be extremely difficult and expensive.) The Ben Franklin Bridge hosts two wonderful pedestrian walkways; and someday, both will be fully accessible around the clock to everyone, including those in wheelchairs.

The Beauty and Mechanics of a Human Bike Lane


Twenty-four hours after Emily Fredricks was right hooked and fatally crushed by a garbage truck in Philadelphia, citizens took action by forming a people-protected bike lane along two blocks of Spruce Street.  The purpose of the action: to elevate public awareness of established solutions to motor vehicle violence, to call out Philadelphia City Council and the Washington Square West Civic Association for blocking safety upgrades, and for a moment, to remedy a lethal safety hazard.

How effective was this tactic?  How did it work out logistically?  How did bicyclists and motorists respond?  How did the police respond?  What can we learn from the experience?  Below are my anecdotes.


As 50 to 75 people took position in the painted buffer zone along Spruce between 11th and 13th Streets, a wood barricade was placed in-line with the buffer just east of 11th Street, but we moved it farther east so as not to block the right-hand turn lane (so as to preserve normal traffic patterns).   At first, two people stood in front of the barricade and welcomed bikers into the safe lane.  That’s when the Philadelphia Police parked a cruiser in the bike lane in a genuine but misdirected effort to protect us from approaching motorists.  Eventually we abandoned everything east of 11th Street, convincing the cops to vacate the bike lane, simplifying the operation.


Behavior of Bicyclists

During the hour, all kinds of different people biked through the demonstration.  Many were briefly confused but quickly caught on, especially when welcomed verbally (“today there’s a protected bike lane for you”).  They otherwise smiled, expressed gratitude, and continued on their merry way.  The greatest source of confusion for bicyclists, of course, was the well-intentioned actions of the police.

Behavior of the Police

The irony of parking a patrol car in the bike lane – thereby forcing bikers to swerve into traffic – was lost on the police.   In failing to recognize the safety effect of drivers coming upon the unexpected, and in underestimating the degree of automatic communication between drivers and human bollards, the officers displayed a misunderstanding of commonsense human behavior.  On the other hand, police officers were gracious in working with demonstrators and upholding First Amendment rights.  Eventually the police blocked only motor vehicle traffic on Spruce.  (Defeats the purpose, but I’ll take it.)

Behavior of Motorists

Before police blocked the vehicular lane on Spruce, rear-view mirrors passed mere inches from demonstrators backs.  Because of the drivers’ psychological reaction to people in the street, traffic moved at a slow, humane pace; and the perception of danger was absent.  I stood with my shoulder at the edge of the buffer zone, leaving ~ 10 feet clear to parked cars across the street.  School buses and other wide vehicles passed easily – and slowly.  If this is an indication of how a permanent (non-human) barrier would function, residents of Spruce Street will enjoy slower, safer, quieter traffic when permanent bollards or concrete curbs are installed.


Emily was tragically overtaken by the truck at approximately 7:25 AM Tuesday, according to a barista at Greenstreet Coffee. From a partaker’s perspective, the action 24 hours later was a well-supported, well-publicized demonstration.  Not having heard the terrible news, I learned of the planned action Tuesday evening in an email blast from 5th Square (Philly’s urbanism political action committee).  Many other human bollards were alerted, presumably, through social media and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.  I was 2nd to arrive at 7:23 AM.  By 7:30 AM, the two-block long human wall was forming, then it promptly dispersed at 8:30 AM.  Numerous media outlets filmed and interviewed throughout.

The action’s organizational success owes partly to the sheer simplicity of the Human Bike Lane idea, and to the outrage generated, unfortunately, by Emily’s death.  We hope future people-protected bike lanes will not benefit from that energy, but will instead lead to the prevention of more violence.

Overall Effectiveness

Renowned American linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky has emphasized that effective direct actions are ones that actually help the victims of injustice in concrete ways.

The Human Bike Lane – in lieu of actual concrete – granted physical protection to men, women, children, and elderly people.   It accomplished this without obstructing anyone, without stoking tensions, and without arrests.  In providing a tangible (if brief) remedy to a glaring safety injustice, the Human Bike Lane was indeed effective.


Equally as important is the extent to which the tactic elevated public consciousness of a well-established solution to the threat of fast-moving vehicles: protected bike lanes.  Whether using plastic bollards, parked cars, heavy planters, or low curbs to separate motorized and non-motorized traffic, protected bike lanes exist in almost every major US city – but hardly at all in Philadelphia.  (Reportedly, a means of physical separation is already funded and planned for installation within the existing buffer zones along Spruce and Pine; the project is currently stalled by a minority of change-phobic citizens and their choke hold on weak City Council members and the Washington Square West Civic Association.)


As I perceive, Wednesday’s deployment of the Human Bike Lane was effective in spreading the solution message on social and other media.  The visceral demonstration not only highlighted the outrage of a senseless and *preventable death, it showed that people care deeply, and it educated the wider public on a practical solution, and thus hacked the political problem of making Philadelphia more humane.  (The engineering / logistical problems are easily and have long been worked out.)

{*Technically, a “protected intersection” as well as legal issues (e.g. strict liability – see the Netherlands) and education of motorists are more particular solutions to preventing the right hook suffered by Emily.}


Most vital (to me, at least) is the consciousness-raising effect the Human Bike Lane had on participants and passers by (especially those on bikes).  Despite the tragic impetus for assembling, the action produced positive, beautiful energy.

In forming the Human Bike Lane, we learned that we have the power to act when politicians and institutions fail.  We learned that we have the ability to get on television and talk about protected bike lanes and the human rights violations we witness and experience every day.  And we learned the Human Bike Lane is a tactic that works and should be replicated.  We must ensure that Emily won’t have died in vain.

Anti-Trump march through North Philly neighborhood was more than cathartic

Wednesday 9 November 2016 was surreal and terrifying.  After a day of struggling to focus at work, I felt the joyous relief of taking to the streets with more than a thousand Millennials of seemingly every race – chanting, smiling, blocking vehicle traffic.

Collectively asserting our First Amendment right was cathartic.  But seeing the joy spread to bystanders – including many of the blocked motorists – was electrifying.

After marching on Broad Street past Lehigh Avenue, we entered the narrow residential streets of North Philadelphia. The boisterous crowd that had filled Broad Street was now squeezed into 16th Street (near Huntingdon Ave).

Nearly half of the homes were boarded up or missing all together.  The other homes – on the contrary – were alive with smiling, cheering residents standing in doorways, watching from 2nd story windows, taking videos, holding children.

I imagined parents struggling all day to explain to concerned kids that it will be OK, or that they might have been harassed at school.  But for the moment, the children appeared elated.

In showing support for this community, we directed our outrage toward the building up of solidarity – the opposite of violence.  For the marchers and for the residents, I believe, the experience sparked a kernel of much needed hope.

Harrisburg PA is actually really awesome


Harrisburg, PA as viewed from City Island

To the extent that Harrisburg has a reputation throughout Pennsylvania, its known as the home of the state’s oversized legislature and intractable politics.  It is known to cross-state travelers as a drive-past, fly-over, sleep-through (Amtrak) city.  To less curious Harrisburg-area residents, its thought of as a crime-filled hell hole they would hardly drive through.  To Donald “Chicken” Trump, Harrisburg is a “war zone.”

But the reality is – as I discovered over the course of many months working, exploring, and dining in Harrisburg – Pennsylvania’s capital and 11th most populous city is, actually, really awesome.

In this non-comprehensive account, I’ll note the city’s architecture and scenic surroundings, its outstanding small-business Third Places, its abundance of locally-sourced humane food eateries, and some of the benefits of life in a small city (albeit, a small city with frequent high-speed rail access and decent economic opportunities).


Wildwood Lake Park and its spillway

Of course Harrisburg – like virtually every city on earth – is laden with problems.  The most significant and obvious of which are racial segregation and the fact that almost half of the city’s residents are impoverished.  But because these facts are par for American cities, and because they’re hardly inherent features, they shouldn’t be counted against Harrisburg.

How I got to know The Burg

My window into life in Pennsylvania’s capital was opened on two occasions.  The first was weekly commuting to Harrisburg over nine months in 2013-2014 while I was a Pittsburgh resident. (The joys of regular-ism on Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian and the amazing utility of folding bicycles are subjects for another post.)  During this stint I got a feel for the city and became a regular at Home 231 and the Midtown Scholar, and a reader of The Burg (Harrisburg’s “city paper”.)

More recently, a SEPTA colleague and myself stayed in Harrisburg for a two week PennDOT course (NBIS bridge inspection certification).  My current stint is revealing a different angle on the city because I’m (bike) commuting to a different location, and because multiple new and positive developments took place in the past two years (discussed later).


Terrain and bike trail map of Harrisburg.  Red dots give a sense of my respective commutes.  Capital Greenbelt visible as trail segments encircling “Harrisburg”.  Mountain ridge (and Susquehanna gap) upper left.  Wildwood Lake Park is the lake near “WORK” (Credit Google Maps)

Natural & Architectural Beauty

Harrisburg (and its suburbs) are surrounded by the lush greenery of central Pennsylvania.  The elongated peaks of the Appalachian Mountains are within view of downtown and other vantage points.  (The Appalachian Trail crosses the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg.)

A defining feature of the city’s geography is the wide, shallow Susquehanna River.  Harrisburg’s easy-to-use bridges and stately waterfront architecture are a function of the apparent non-navigability of the Susquehanna as a shipping waterway.


Iso view of Harrisburg – City Island in middle of river.  Neighborhoods at waterfront, industry to the east.  Reservoir Park in the upper right. (Credit Google Maps)

Although its possible to walk across the river in spots, at least seven bridges cross the Susquehanna close to or within the city.  Ranging from 100+ year old stone arches to 1950’s steel crossings to a modern segmental concrete box girder (the Turnpike), these bridges share similar characteristics (many short spans, and deck elevations on-level with landed roadways, railways, walkways).

The effects of this are: a pleasing visual motif, ease of walking or biking across, and less disruption to neighborhoods (except, of course, for the I-81 and I-83 highway bridges which feature divisive approaches and do not serve people on foot).


Two concrete arch railroad bridges over the Susquehanna

The industrial disutility of the Susquehanna also made for an attractive waterfront.  Despite the Harrisburg area’s rich industrial past, little of it appears to have occurred on the Susquehanna, as evidenced by vintage architecture and old-growth trees lining Front Street and the riverfront park.  (Industry appears to have been concentrated along the railroad yards behind the historic city, and the remnants of the Pennsylvania Canal, and in Steelton, south of Harrisburg.)


Riverfront park with double pathway, old trees, historic architecture.

Passing through the linear park – covering nearly five miles of the Susquehanna riverfront – is a well-used recreational pathway.  This is a segment of the Capital Area Greenbelt, a 20-mile loop through and around Harrisburg.  Significant portions of the greenbelt are biking/walking trails.  Other parts use low-traffic neighborhood streets.  (A few areas remain awkward and dangerous.)  Navigating the trail is easy due to abundant directional signage.


Viewing Amtrak from the Greenbelt

Complimenting Harrisburg’s natural scenery is the city’s rich and diverse historic architecture.  Perhaps because Harrisburg never expanded at the rate of Philadelphia, there’s less repetition among the housing stock.  Varied and interesting homes and buildings, as well as successive eras of city growth can be appreciated by walking on Green Street from downtown (to the wall that is I-81).

There is of course the grand government architecture of the Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex, and the historic and cosmic streetscapes projecting west and east (respectively) from the Capitol building.  (For now, we’ll overlook the significant volume of downtown buildings serving no other purpose than to store motor vehicles.)


Amazing Third Places

I’m enamored with the quality of Harrisburg’s eateries, café, coffee shops, bars, and other Third Places (a term coined by Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book The Great Good Place).

My favorite joint is the Midtown Scholar, an extensive bookstore-café fronting 3rd Street (in the Midtown neighborhood).  Housed in an old timber industrial building, the establishment’s main room serves as a community multi-purpose venue for all kinds of events.  The collection, housed mostly in the basement and spilling out onto the street, includes endless vintage volumes, locally-specific titles, and much else.  Crucially, the Scholar is open until 9 PM weeknights.  (It’s tough to find any café with decent evening hours in Center City Philly or anywhere in Pittsburgh.)  As far as I can tell, neither city contains a Third Place quite like the Midtown Scholar.


Midtown Scholar fronting 3rd Street


Midtown Scholar pano view

Then there’s Little Amps Coffee Roasters, a straightforward, thoughtful coffee shop with down-to-earth baristas and delicious coffee.  Spawning out of their original location in the charming Uptown neighborhood, they also occupy the corner of 2nd and State Street near the Capitol.  At Little Amps is where (as an out-of-towner) I was readily clued into local goings on including 3rd In The Burg (monthly Friday art crawls), and good live music at HMAC.

Upon my return to Harrisburg this month, there were new places and things to do, partly because I had a colleague with whom to enjoy the city (and the Greenbelt trail), and because a few very positive developments had taken place.

These happy new components of Harrisburg’s Third Place prowess include Little Amps Coffee Roasters’ new Strawberry Square location, the new Sawyer’s beer garden on 2nd Street downtown, and the massive expansion of Midtown Arts Center (HMAC) music venue into a huge bar with a front porch on 3rd Street.


New Little Amps shop in downtown’s mall-like Strawberry Square

But most significant is The Millworks in Midtown.  Recommended by multiple people, Millworks is a combination brewery / rooftop bar / locally-sourced restaurant / art gallery and studio.  (They began serving their own beer last Tuesday.)  I don’t know of an equal in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.


Rooftop bar at Millworks

Other places I frequented and/or appreciated during my Harrisburg escapades are too many to discuss (but are listed here for effect).


Pano view of the Senators vs. the Erie SeaWolves

Small City with Big Advantages

From my perspective, having lived in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Harrisburg would be a great place to live.  Philadelphia and Pittsburgh deservedly get more attention (both being large metropoles) but not everyone who’s interested in city life is enthused about big city life.

What Harrisburg lacks in the way of big city amenities (principally, multiplicity of choice), it makes up for in affordability, access to the outdoors, excellent Third Places, and a depth of public life that is possible only within a small-to-midsize community of people.


A father and son bike on the riverfront near Market Street Bridge

Indeed, Harrisburg enjoys unique and meaningful advantages over similarly-sized central Pennsylvania cities (like Wilkes-Barre, State College) including the economic and political opportunities relating to State government, and frequent, comfortable, high-speed (by US standards) trains to Philadelphia and New York.  (Within the United States, this level of inter-city rail service is a rarity.)

So – if you’re itching for a local, low-cost getaway in which to explore civics, history, urbanism, and the outdoors; or if you’re in search of a great small city to call home with good opportunities (and easy access to big cities), Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is more than worth a closer look.


The American Road VIII

Captions: ON HOT COBBLESTONES, a brief spray of cool water; then the brooding heat settled in again. – BEYOND THE CITY, OUT TO THE COOL TRANQUILITY OF THE SUBURBS, WENT CITY DWELLERS, SEEKING LIGHT AND AIR AND SPACE.

The people moved out when the auto drove beyond the city limits

This post parrots a 1952 Ford advertisement in Life Magazine.  The above image is a photo of an 11×17 given to me in political science class at Lehigh University, taught by Rep. Robert Freeman of Easton, PA.  While I’m amazed at the effectiveness of Motordom’s effort to reframe American perceptions, I’m equally intrigued with the written length of the ad (461 words).    

“All the firemen had hairy arms, and wore bright red suspenders.  Most boys liked the longest hook-and-ladder truck the best, but some chose the “Chemical” as their favorite – the “Chemical” was shaped like a big iron milk bottle and puffed great clouds of black smoke as the white horses pulled it down the street like a chariot, sparks flying as the horseshoes crashed down on the cobbles.

“On the hottest days the firemen might remember you and trundle the hose cart around to the hydrant; you danced around on the hot pavement, your teeth chattering as the fierce cold spray hit you.  But after they had gone it was deadly hot again, and if you were a city kid in those days, back around the turn of the century, there wasn’t much left to do.  Maybe you got into trouble.

“Trouble breeds easily in slums, or letdown neighborhoods – wherever children are bored, and walled in.  Then trouble comes as sure as Saturday night, when the patrol wagon parks, waiting for its first load.

“It was the automobile that started to change the cramped old way of life, the invisible walls that bound people to their environment.  The first little Fords, bouncing lightly on their bicycle-tires, began to chug around Detroit – then thousands of cars, then millions, pushed roads out from the cities like thrusting fingers, until the whole nation is spiderwebbed with the tremendous network of good roads that is now 3,332,000 miles long.  Thus the American automobile broke through the old-fashioned city limits, letting the people out of town into the great green world beyond.

“The whole population, according to the census, is in a great exodus from the stone-and-steel core of the city, bound for the fresh air, the light, the trees and living space of the suburbs.  This is the escape to the greenbelt, one of the greatest changes that is taking place in this half-century.  The United States is a nation in motion; to be an American is to move.  Each twenty-four hours, Americans travel more than a billion miles on auto wheels; the way they travel is the American Road.

“To that road Ford Motor Company has contributed more than 36,000,000 cars and trucks for almost 50 years.  We believe in that road.  We hope to continue to keep the wheels rolling endlessly ahead toward a better life for everyone.

– For Motor Company



Here’s why I bought a home in Camden, NJ


Point Street in October 2015

“No, I never dreamed how rich I could become in the poorest city in America.”

– Rocky Wilson, poet and Cooper-Grant resident

Development is booming in Old City Philadelphia.  Affordability is being pushed farther and farther from Center City.  Although we have yet to see Philadelphians crossing the Delaware River en masse to live in Camden, I am one particle to have reached escape velocity.  In this article I will try to answer the questions: why Camden? what is it like living here? what are the financials? and why it was a smart decision.

Over my years renting apartments in New York, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., and Philly neighborhoods including Northern Liberties, Fishtown, and the Gayborhood, I hardly expected to sign my first mortgage in Camden, NJ – a city of 77,000 people, notorious for urban disintegration.  Many Philadelphians love to hate Camden – as if the city’s poorest neighborhoods are much different from huge swaths of Philadelphia (see poverty map below).


Poverty map of Philadelphia and Camden – densely shaded areas are lower income (NY Times).

I came to know Camden over two years working as a construction inspector on the Ben Franklin Bridge (the Bridge).  Via bicycle, I explored neighborhoods including Cramer Hill, East Camden, Fairview, Parkside, and traced the Camden Greenway along the Cooper River.

The idea of renting in Camden crossed my mind in 2014 in light of Philly’s increasing prices and 24/7 service on the PATCO High-Speed Line (subway).  But when it came time to buy a home, the pull of Cooper-Grant overpowered my inclination toward similarly-priced neighborhoods in Philadelphia, like lower Passyunk and Kensington.

Why Camden?

My first consideration in choosing a place to live is location and commuting.  Knowing I wanted easy walking/biking/transit access to Center City (for work and much else), downtown Camden beat out Philly locales because:

  1. The price
  2. The Bridge walkways are beautiful, and separated from cars for 1.5 miles, and
  3. PATCO runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with good frequency and reliability, (and wifi at stations).

Both PATCO and the Bridge are within minutes walking from my house.  If I need to drive somewhere, Zipcars “live” one block away at Victor Lofts.  If heading to New York, I walk one block and board the NJ Transit River Line (a diesel-powered tram connecting Camden to Trenton Transit Center).


Map of downtown Camden

Unfortunately the Bridge walkways close at 9 PM daily (8 PM in the winter) – but we can work on that – and DRPA is planning to replace the existing stairway with an accessible bicycle and pedestrian ramp.

In looking for a home near the Bridge and PATCO, I found one in Cooper-Grant, the landmarked neighborhood bounded by Rutgers University, Victor Lofts, Campbell’s Field, and the Bridge.  The Delaware River is three blocks (and 4,000,000 parking spaces) from my stoop.

During Camden’s industrial boom, Cooper-Grant was home to both working and wealthy people, as well as Campbell’s Soup production ops.  Nowadays it is one of a few neighborhoods to have been renovated with newly paved streets, wide brick sidewalks, and street trees.

While the housing stock is limited, Cooper-Grant’s  collection of historic architecture is complimented by new homes designed to blend with the old.  Residents include seniors who’ve remained since birth, newbies like me, families, a puppet-wielding bicycling poet (Rocky), and a few too many Rutgers students.


The former Cooper Library in Johnson Park

To reiterate, my criterion was proximity to PATCO and the Bridge; it was not an elegant, relatively well-to-do waterfront neighborhood.  I would be pleased to live on a street having yet to be renovated.  Such places gain the most from each new community-oriented owner-occupier, and from any amount of increased foot traffic.

Important footnote: Cooper-Grant and its cousin Lanning Square are outliers – pockets of stability in a city suffering from decades of systemic racism, political corruption, neoliberal globalization, and persistent poverty.  For me personally, part of Camden’s appeal is the opportunity to engage with and try to understand the needs of people living in third-world conditions, right here in America.

What is it like living in downtown Camden?

As for crime, so far college students have been the principal threat in my neighborhood.  But I go all over Camden, and my first-hand experience differs from the common stereotypes, built on partial truths, drummed into our collective psyche by the corporate mass-media.

I can hardly discern between Camden and Philadelphia with respect to safety.  Either place can be dangerous, especially if you’re trying to score drugs, or if you don’t happen to be a white, straight male.

My location is walkable – in that there are sidewalks – but there could be more to walk to.  I took a 25-point hit on in moving from Washington Square West (98) to Cooper-Grant (73).  But the price was right, I’m OK with bicycle dependence, and the center of the 5th most populous US city is minutes away, 24/7.

Car traffic through my neighborhood is low.  In Downtown Camden traffic is minimal outside of rush hour, when workers pour in from (and later flee to) the suburbs.

Downtown Camden has great lunch joints – Friends Café, New York Pizza, Latin American Restaurant, and Black Eyed Susan’s food truck, to name a few – but the quality of bar-restaurants leads me to assume their managers never experienced Philadelphia’s food scene.

Other than The Victor’s Pub, downtown nightlife is scant – hence the importance of 24/7 PATCO service.

For sustenance I rely on farmers’ markets and grocery stores in Philly, Collingswood, Westmont, and Haddonfield.  Although, I recently discovered an exceptional grocery store in the vibrant Federal Street commercial district (revitalized by Hispanic immigrants over the past decade).

There are positive developments downtown.  Third Thursdays is the year-round art gallery crawl.  Cooper River Distillers at 4th and Market – Camden’s hippest joint – hosts a lively happy hour every Friday (one block from PATCO City Hall station).


The waterfront near Adventure Aquarium

Most importantly, Camden is home to great people.  I’ve come to know and befriend long-time residents and newcomers having as much integrity, sincerity, creativity, and generosity as anyone else I know.  The powerful stories of an array of Camden residents are brought forth in the 2005 book Camden After the Fall by Howard Gillette.

One handful of Camden’s great people includes my girlfriend – a Rutgers employee, alumnus, and Lanning Square resident – and her family, who immigrated here from Honduras in the 1990’s.

The Financials

In moving from Center City to Camden, the cost of living (in my case buying a home) was a major impetus to crossing the Delaware.  As a bicycle commuter, I was hard-pressed to find a similar value in Philadelphia that didn’t force me to ride longer distances on car-choked streets without serious bike facilities.

For example, I could have spent $24,900 more to live in the ugly house pictured below – albeit in a spectacular neighborhood – traveling a similar distance to work, but with 1.5 additional miles subjected to Philly drivers, while paying Philly wage tax in full, and missing my street trees.


A South Philly home I saw on the market last year

The housing stock in Cooper-Grant being limited and turnover low, finding comparable sales was tricky.  Adding to this, the area’s been plagued by low-appraisals, including in my case, in which the appraiser agreed to increase $18,000 after another home sold for what I perceived to be market value.  (So much for professional judgment.)

I ended up with a monthly payment of $755 for a two-bedroom, two-story, 1,060 square foot brick row home in great condition, including:

  • Mortgage principal and interest
  • Property taxes (about $2,000/year)
  • Home owner’s insurance premium ($550/year)
  • Flood insurance premium ($975/year)

(I am pleased to recommend Trident Mortgage, Trident Land Transfer, and my agent Cindy Stanzilis (Berkshire Hathaway)).

Watch out for flood zones.  Thanks to parking lots and runoff-generating development upstream in the Delaware watershed, our 100-year flood zone is as shown below, according to FEMA.  In my case it wasn’t a deal breaker.


FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Map (blue is 100-year flood zone)

Happily, there is a tax advantage for New Jersey residents working in Philadelphia.  Due to a PA-NJ reciprocal agreement, I claim a credit for wage tax paid to the city of Philadelphia (3.47% for non-residents).

Moral of the financial story: in my case buying a home was a no-brainer.  And in my case – not minding a degree of dependence on a bicycle, PATCO, and the Bridge (as opposed to walking 5-minutes for everything) – buying the home I wanted in Cooper-Grant was an easy decision.

Why buying in Camden was a smart decision

Accounting for the practical, emotional, and financial rationale already described, my decision to buy and live in downtown Camden wasn’t as smart as it was rational.  Perhaps there’s achievement in seeing through the propaganda dogging the city.  After all, negative ideas commonly held about Camden (justified or not) probably result in a lower home prices than similar quality-of-life neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

On average, American downtowns are beginning to rebound from devastating post-WWII decline.  Many Rust Belt cities have seen their 60-year population losses slow down or reverse in the past decade.  More and more Americans are seeking walkable communities, and the physical bones of central cities are best equipped to support them.  We Millennials – now the US’s largest and youngest adult generation – are flocking to central cities and downtowns.

Here in Camden, a number of developments are in the pipeline.  To mention only three “in my backyard”:


A Third Thursday party in the Ruby Match Factory

The massive Liberty Trust project is exciting and will probably increase the financial value of homes in my neighborhood, but observers of recent history shouldn’t expect the benefits of a new “campus” to trickle into Camden’s mostly poor population.

Nevertheless, there is more opportunity for a superb quality-of-life in Camden than most area residents are led to believe.  As walkability-seeking Philadelphians become less able to afford living in places like University City, Fairmount, Fishtown, and Passyunk, moving to Camden will become an increasingly popular alternative.

Downtown Camden does have a long way to go before reaching a critical mass of residents and amenities; but 24/7 mass-transit service, skyline views of Philadelphia, recent development plans, and gut instinct suggest to me that central Camden is moving towards being to Philadelphia what Hoboken is to Manhattan.

The indignity of biking in South Philadelphia


A woman bikes on 13th Street

People who choose to cycle in American cities are chronically subjected to physical intimidation (purposeful or otherwise) on the part of others driving large, heavy, fast motor vehicles.  Our current legal-spatial-cultural system of city street use transforms what would otherwise be a pleasurable, useful activity into a stressful and dangerous experience.

Reoccurring conflict

Last Friday after crossing the Delaware River by ferry into Philadelphia, I began my 2.2 mile bicycle ride from Spruce Street Harbor Park to a friend’s birthday at Pep Bowl (at the corner of Broad and Federal Street) in South Philadelphia.

Spruce Street, having a buffered bike lane, was fine (notwithstanding potholes).  I was lucky going south on 6th Street.  Then, after turning onto Federal Street, the conflict began.  Riding in the center of the lane – predictably and in full compliance with the “rules of the road” on a narrow street – I felt the presence of a car approaching to my rear.

The driver didn’t honk or break the law, but the way she palpated the engine signaled her impatience with my speed (at my comfortable pace, say 13 mph, I had no obligation to speed up).  My heart rate increased as the sense of joy and freedom of cycling on a summer evening in Philadelphia disappeared.

I could have ended it right away by pulling off the street, but I didn’t because I have a right to cycle on the street as a dignified human being.  I could have also ended it by moving to the right – into the door zone – and letting her pass.

Most cyclists do this – so drivers come to expect it.  But it is extremely unsafe to pass a cyclist with cars parked on both sides of a narrow street (each row having a 3-foot door zone).  And it is illegal (according to Pennsylvania’s 4-foot passing law).

So I held my ground, continuing west on Federal Street as if I wasn’t being tailed by an irritated person, operating a 3,500 lb machine, having the capacity to kill me at any moment.  For seven blocks riding at my normal pace, there was never an occasion to let her pass without going out of my way.  Even if she did pass me, it would have been for naught, since I would have likely caught up to her at the next light (the paradox of “fast” cars using gridded streets).

By the time we reached Broad Street, the two women in the car shouted “fuck you”.

Crowding out choice

The point of this story is not about me, but rather the indignity suffered every day by all the people who cycle in Philadelphia including women, senior citizens, children, parents, and those who bike out of economic necessity.  Regardless of their choice – to hold their ground or pull aside – they lose either way.

They suffer this indignity because of the spatial arrangement of streets, in which the storage of motor vehicles crowds out places for safe, comfortable biking.  They suffer because of a legal regime in which rules for cars are arbitrarily applied to bicycles, and in which drivers are often not held accountable for killing and injuring other people.  And they suffer because of a cultural system wherein those operating motor vehicles are taught to believe they’re entitled to drive fast through city neighborhoods.

The feeling of chronically being in the way of automobiles violates human dignity everywhere.  However, the tragedy is compounded in South Philly where the bicycle – given the district’s scale, density, variety, topography – should be an elegant tool of freedom and economic efficiency.

Instead, the anxious movement and frenzied storage of motor vehicles crowds out most other uses of street space.  As a consequence, South Philadelphians, their visitors, and their customers, are robbed of even the choice of exploiting the bicycle’s sweet spot.

What are we to do? 

Long-term solutions, though politically difficult, are obvious, because they’re already established in cities around the world.  In the short term, we can protect ourselves and others by holding our ground – taking the full lane, staying visible, out of the door zone – and training drivers to expect it.

It may feel uncomfortable to inhibit a car from passing you, but on a narrow one-way street, it is the only safe and dignified response.  Remember the law (cited earlier) is on your side, and in this particular case, it is sensible.

Also remember you are doing no harm – more so the opposite.  There is hardly a reason to drive faster than a bicycle through a compact gridded neighborhood.  Usually doing so won’t get you to a destination any sooner.  Furthermore, to reduce the danger, noise, and pollution created by speeding cars, motorists should drive slow through our communities.

So, South Philadelphians: be confident, ride at your pace in the middle of the lane, and hold on to your dignity.



Fast-moving vehicles – not people walking – are the hazard in Pittsburgh


better bikeways

A vision for a safer Forbes Avenue

A recent Post-Gazette article by Ed Blazina – Viewing Oakland through the windshield of a Port Authority bus driver – propagates the same car-centric worldview that’s bred acceptance of senseless death on American streets since the 1920’s.  Despite the fact automobiles kill more than 90 people daily in the US – including Pittsburgh’s recent victims – its people on foot who “create the greatest hazard”, according a Port Authority bus driver.

Disregard the overwhelming number of heavy machines (cars) with non-professional drivers holding smart phones, speeding dangerously on Forbes and Fifth.  Forget the Public Works Department, the Port Authority, and PennDOT who’ve thus far neglected – grossly – to create alternatives to driving through the busy corridor.  Don’t blame the universities for failing to institute and enforce a slow school zone through Oakland, where thousands of people cross the streets during rush hour.

No, the problem – the “hazard” – is all those damn people.  This is classic Orwellian Doublethink.

Omission and Emphasis

Blazina explains recent deaths on Pittsburgh’s streets from the “windshield” perspective:

Traffic through Oakland has been at the forefront since last month after a bicyclist was killed in a chain-reaction crash on Forbes Avenue and a Wilkinsburg couple died after getting off a bus near Petersen Events Center.

Missing here is the fact motor vehicles killed these people.  Because of course, the threat is people walking and biking.

The same events recounted by others (emphasis added):

The death of cyclist Susan Hicks in Oakland on Oct. 23, crushed between two cars while she was properly waiting at a Forbes Avenue red light on her ride home from work…

Brian O’Neill, Post-Gazette

Hicks was struck by a vehicle that had been hit by another car and pushed into a third vehicle as they waited in traffic at the intersection of Forbes Avenue and Bellefield Street.

David Conti, Tribune Review

Susan Hicks was riding home from work in Oakland when she was killed by driver [sic] at the corner of Forbes and Bellefield.

Bike Pittsburgh

Henry Walker, 73, and Carol Christine Williamson, 68, killed after being hit by SUV [sic] and ran over by bus [sic]…

Accident Data Center

These victims were not killed by people wearing headphones or riding bicycles.  Susan Hicks, Henry Walker, and Christine Williamson were killed by fast, heavy, powerful, clumsy machines.

Propagating the Windshield Perspective

In light of history, the following is absurd:

“Lights aren’t taken very seriously by pedestrians,” [the bus driver] said. “If they see a break in the action, they go.” …

Pedestrian signals, which show how much time a person has to cross the street, and fences to force pedestrians to use crosswalks have helped, the drivers say, but not enough. …

Mr. Bream said he favors stronger enforcement of jaywalking laws, which was the case when he lived in the Los Angeles area.

People walked all over city streets for thousands of years before heavy, fast machines became dominant.  Traffic signals emerged to address conflicts created by heavy, fast machines.  Why then is it surprising humans instinctively disregard electronic signs which “show how much time a person has to cross the street”, especially when the street is obviously clear?

We’ve instituted “fences to force pedestrians to use the crosswalks.”  Why not zones of traffic calming and enforcement to force people driving cars to stop killing everyone?

Furthermore “Jaywalking” is a term invented in the 1920’s by the automobile industry.  And in terms of street life and walkability, Los Angeles is not a place Pittsburgh should emulate.

Efficient Disobedience

And those people riding bicycles – two feet wide – who “create their own lane” between vehicles clogging the street.  How scary it must be for motorists!

Forget about the fact each single-occupant car is 6 feet wide.  Forget about the negligence of the City and PennDOT to allocate street space for people who’ve chosen to require less of it for equal purposes.

No.  Speeding and stationary machines are the most important consideration.  God forbid anyone would choose to become lighter, more narrow, travel the same average speed as cars, and “freely go” through Oakland.

Orwellian Doublethink

In the end, if life in Oakland is threatened by the presence of people walking and biking, then Pittsburgh’s river trails, used exclusively by these worst-of-the-worst,  are death zones.

If these perils of the traffic nightmare in Oakland make professional Port Authority bus drivers nervous, imagine what those conditions can do to regular motorists.

Blazina has it backwards.  People driving motor vehicles – having the unique capacity to kill – ought to be nervous.  They should be concerned about killing someone if they don’t slow down and pay attention.

Instead, the family, friends, and colleagues of Susan Hicks are paying for the gross negligence of those blocking an immediate reconfigure of Fifth and Forbes through Oakland.

We can thank Ed Blazina for feeding the windshield worldview that enables city, state, and university officials to sit on their bloody hands.




Why PopenStreets was so powerful

A child cycles on 10th Street

A child cycles on 10th Street

Friends walk on Sansom Street

Central Philadelphia became an unexpected happy experiment during the Papal visit.  Not only was the public realm free of the noise, pollution, frustration, and danger of motor vehicles, it was well-used by smiling people of all shapes and sizes, many of whom rode bicycles.

By allowing people to experience human-oriented streets, the sudden and widespread freedom from cars had an effect no amount of logic, graphics, advocacy, or public meetings could achieve.

It is unclear to what extent the people-centered utopia was anticipated.  The doomsday-like media coverage probably scared thousands out of town – and hurt small businesses.  But Alexandria Schneider, a Philly cyclist had the foresight to plan Pope Ride, a mass bike ride to take advantage of security-mandated Open Streets.

The Pope Ride was lots of fun, and likely increased the number of bicycles, but what struck me as extraordinary was the sheer mass of city streets and intersections being used exclusively by people.

The traffic box produced something radically new.  Never before had people reigned car-free over as large an area, for that much time, on streets made of smooth pavement mostly free of horse dung and trolley tracks, riding modern bicycles, some pulling trailers with toddlers, each person having the ability to capture photographs and share in distributed media platforms.

Open Streets on steroids

More and more cities are holding Open Streets events, in which an isolated street is temporarily closed to vehicles – and opened to people – but the papal security plan inadvertently triggered Open City.  The area in which people reigned free of cars was massive.  And it lasted for more than two days, far longer than the few hours typically allotted for Open Streets.

The sheer amount of space and time over which we enjoyed people-oriented streets was unprecedented.  At first it was strange, but we got used to simultaneous quietude and vibrancy.  Moving vehicles were so uncommon that we keenly noticed the few that did move.

One of the greatest displeasures was seeing cars again at borders like South Street.  A woman from the Pennsylvania National Guard playfully foresaw our disappointment at 38th Street in West Philly.

Experiential advocacy

Open Streets is one of an innovative set of approaches known as Tactical Urbanism (also the name of a book by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia).  Originally borne of the first Open Streets in Miami, Tactical Urbanism seeks to short circuit preconceived notions and bureaucratic planning by allowing people to experience low-cost changes on a temporary basis before committing to permanent conversions.

When people feel the immediate benefits of a curb bump-out made of orange cones, a protected bike lane made of flower pots, or a crosswalk painted by vigilantes, they and their elected representatives are much more likely to buy-in to permanent changes than they otherwise would be if the improvement was described verbally or graphically.

The same is true for restricting automobiles on city streets.  Most well-meaning Americans can hardly imagine such a thing.  For all who visited Center City this weekend, however, imagination is no longer necessary.

Thousands of adults and children walked, biked, and played in the streets and intersections.  The often spoken consensus was that it was wonderful.  It felt as natural and instinctive as it should have for a species that walked freely on city streets for thousands of years.

More Open City

Thousands of people experienced something new and positive during the Papal visit.  It follows that the net level of support for enhanced public space, active transportation, and Open Streets is greater than pre-Popenstreets levels.

Cities like Paris, Madrid, and New York are restricting automobiles in significant parts of their centralities.  Philadelphia just proved that massively restricting cars in a car-dominated American city is not only possible, it can be transformative.

There is little reason not to repeat this exercise regularly at varying scales, without any need to restrict highways, major bridges, or transit systems, or to deploy secret service, national guard, or miles of fencing.  Rather than scaring people away, Open City should be about welcoming people to Philadelphia and its businesses.

PopenStreets withdrawal

 Pope Francis speaks a message of social, economic, and environmental equality, but he is likely unaware of the blanket of civilized justice he bestowed on the streets of Philadelphia just by showing up.

By Monday afternoon street life in the city returned to the reality that is automobile dominance.  We felt some level of PopenStreets withdrawal, being forced back onto the sidewalk by the powerful momentum of cars and car culture.  But the seeds were planted in our brains of what an Open City feels like, and that too is powerful.