The requirement to add multiuse recreational paths to major bridge upgrades delivered an extraordinarily scenic and heavily used one on the causeway into Ocean City from Somers Point. Now, one is being added to the rebuilt Garden State Parkway bridge over Great Egg Harbor, creating the possibility of a new stellar attraction for the area -- if the connections and support facilities are done right.

The 10-foot-wide path for pedestrians and bicyclists, like the adjacent highway, will connect Somers Point and the Beesleys Point section of Upper Township. Some people jumped to the conclusion that it will be a bike path to nowhere, but that’s quite mistaken. The new path will restore the longtime ability to cross the harbor on the Route 9 private toll bridge, which closed several years ago. Cyclists regularly used that bridge to travel between Atlantic and Cape May counties without going out to the busy barrier islands.

Officials are starting to plan the facilities that will make the path more accessible when it opens in 2019, and so far their ideas look on track. Somers Point already is seeking a grant for a recreational path to connect the new bridge with the causeway. City and township officials are looking into where to provide parking for people using the path. There’s even some talk of the business opportunities visitors will present.

These goals are good, but they still underestimate the great potential for the combination of these two exceptional recreational paths. State and local officials need to consider a bigger picture and aim higher.

Begin by considering how the outdoor exercise world of bicycling, running and walking is changing -- not for the better. Cyclists literally are being driven off roads shared with vehicles by the epidemic in collisions caused by distracted driving. Auto insurers can hardly increase their premiums quickly enough to keep up with the carnage. A State Farm survey found 36 percent of all drivers admitted texting while driving, and 64 percent among the least experienced drivers, those ages 18 to 29 – while 54 percent admitted using the internet behind the wheel. Highway fatalities are soaring for the first time in decades.

Out of self-preservation, cyclists, runners and walkers are shifting to recreational paths, safely separated from vehicular traffic that grows more dangerous each year. Demand for such paths already exceeds supply, forcing users to travel for exercise they formerly did around their homes.

The new causeway-bridge path can provide an outstanding experience for outdoor exercisers if their needs are anticipated and met.

Walkers and runners will need not just the parking lots but also for the path connecting the two bridge systems to be safely separated from road traffic. The more the yet-to-be planned and funded path in Somers Point borders the beautiful bay marshes, the better.

Many cyclists for years used the Route 9 bridge as part of a scenic, 17-mile bridge tour, with Roosevelt Boulevard completing the loop back into Ocean City on the 34th Street bridge. Making that circuit safely available again, but now with more breathtaking and cool water crossings, would make the ride a destination for the nation’s cyclists. With the region’s boardwalks, existing paths and mercifully flat terrain, cycling friendliness can be a significant component of its tourism appeal.

It’s a lot of work, to be sure, and will take planning and time. But the benefits to the health of residents and reward of visitors would far exceed the relatively modest costs.

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