Gina Hall (left) and her father, Pete Hall of Ocean City (center) use the bike path on the Route 52 Causeway Bridge between Somers Point and Ocean City. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Ben Fogletto

OCEAN CITY - Bicyclists who ride on the Route 52 causeway between Ocean City and Somers Point said the dedicated path over the Great Egg Harbor Bay has lived up to expectations.

The state included the continuous shared-use path as part of the $500 million project, completed in December.

Bicyclists this summer have been flocking to the span to soak in the views and enjoy a rare chance to ride over water for most of its 2.5 miles.

"It's delightful," said Joe Lehman, who rode over the span Saturday with his son, Mike Lehman, from their homes in Ocean City.

The path runs along the eastbound lane of the twin spans, allowing riders to stop at the fishing piers or the Visitor Center, where they can use the restroom or get a drink of water.

The path overlooks a sea of green marsh and a network of waterways popular with recreational boaters. The bridges offer bicyclists a challenge found practically nowhere else in Cape May County: hills.

"It's the steepest terrain in the area by far," Mike Lehman said.

The father and son suggested riders check their brakes before venturing out on the bridges. As they spoke, they watched a near collision as a bicyclist slammed the brakes to avoid hitting another that turned suddenly into the fishing pier.

"That was close," Joe Lehman said.

Many customers who bought bicycles this year at Annarelli's Bike Shop in Ocean City said they were looking forward to riding the causeway bike path, said Janice Annarelli, of Upper Township. She suggested they invest in a bicycle with gears to make the climb a little easier.

"In Ocean City, it's flat. You just need a single-speed cruiser. But you add the hills on the bridges, and you have to walk your bike," she said.

The bridge grade is steep, and the path is shared by families and small children. But the biggest potential danger - from vehicle traffic - was largely eliminated by the installation of heavy barriers protecting the path from traffic.

The shared-use bicycle and walking path was included as part of the state's Complete Streets policy, which promotes a variety of modes of transportation. The state Department of Transportation routinely considers bicyclists and pedestrians when making public improvements such as new bridges or roads.

Chris Benecke and his little brother, Nick, coasted on their bikes down one of the tall Route 52 bridges spanning the Great Egg Harbor Bay.

"If you don't have gears, the hills are a little hard," Chris Benecke said, sitting on his seven-speed.

The brothers from Newtown Square, Pa., rode the bridge for the second time during their vacation to Ocean City with their parents, Bill and Linda Benecke.

"It's tougher than it looks," Linda Benecke joked. "But it's a pleasant ride."

The causeway may never be as popular a biking destination as the city's Boardwalk, but it is seeing a lot of interest, said Carl Glanzmann, of Ocean City, owner of Ocean City Bicycle Center, which rents bicycles by the day or hour on Eighth Street.

"Every time I drive over the causeway, I see more people riding every day," he said.

Some riders from Ocean City continue past the causeway to pick up the Somers Point bike path that takes them all the way to Tilton Road. In Ocean City, the causeway leads riders to Haven Avenue, which is a low-speed road built for the shared use of bicyclists.

Glanzmann said evening rides are best, when the bridge's decorative lights are illuminated and the sun is low over the water.

"It's a beautiful ride at sunset. It's a nice addition to Ocean City," he said.

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