NORTHFIELD — The shore towns may have their boardwalks, but inland, communities have their bike paths.
Bike paths and small walking trails are a common sight on the mainland, and they offer plenty of incentives — both financial and recreational, local officials say. The paths are diverse, ranging from the smooth paved one in the heart of the mainland communities of Somers Point, Linwood, Northfield and Pleasantville, to the rural trails in Egg Harbor and Galloway townships.
More communities are looking to expand or build new bike paths, though their value depends on factors such as cost, available land and finding a path that would be used by enough residents to justify it.
Somers Point, Linwood and Northfield have a continuous bike path that runs through the middle of neighborhoods on a former railroad line. The bike path also runs through a 1.2-mile stretch in Pleasantville before it turns into a bike lane on local roads at West Jersey Avenue to Route 30. The city built the path in 2001 after receiving $178,182 from the city’s Urban Enterprise Zone program and other state and federal transportation grants.
The initial portion, which connected the northern part of Somers Point and the southern end of Linwood, has been around for decades, but in more recent times the now approximately 9-mile-long path has been extended through four towns thanks to hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants.
People use the bike path for recreation as well as accessing local schools and parks.
Mayor Vince Mazzeo said the portion in Northfield was constructed in 2000 and has made a big difference for the area.
“It’s really a great asset to our city. So many people use it on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s attracted people to move here. It’s an added feature other towns don’t have.”
The city had plans for the path for more than 10 years before it was built, and the city received a $391,930 grant from the state Department of Transportation to construct it.
“Building a bike path requires a lot of money,” Mazzeo said. “If you can do it, it does take years of planning.”
Richard Githins said he used the bike path to help lose 150 pounds over the past year and a half.
“I much prefer using the bike path to a gym,” the Northfield resident said. “It’s a more open environment.”
Diane West takes her dog, Polly, on the paved path every day, and she said she gets to know her fellow Northfield residents, and their pets.
“Everyone is so nice. I know all the dogs’ names. I don’t know all the people’s names, but I know the dogs.”
West said she much prefers walking on the path than adjacent Shore or New roads, which don’t have landscaping or places to sit on a bench and be free of traffic.
“There is a mission on the path, whether it be social or exercise,” she said. “Polly needs a social path to meet her friends and do her business. It’s her happy place.”
Sue Poley, a crossing guard for 37 years for the Northfield School District, positions herself on the path at Cedar Bridge Road, just down the street from the Northfield Community School.
The bike path has given the students a safe place to walk home — much better than before, when the area was lined with old railroad tracks, she said.
“It’s much safer. It’s really been a big improvement for the kids,” she said. “If other districts had one, it would help a lot.”
The construction on the Route 52 causeway will connect a bike trail from Somers Point to Ocean City. Somers Point spent about $500,000 — covered mostly through state grants — to connect to the causeway from the previous ending point on New Jersey Avenue.
Somers Point Mayor Jack Glasser said he hoped the improvements would attract more people to the city.
“I think it’s a great thing. People are out there all the time exercising. In our health-conscious society, it’s a great thing to have,” he said. “We are so lucky to have it, and I’m proud of it.”
The number of bike paths in the area is growing.
In June 2002, Atlantic County began construction of a 7.5-mile path from the Shore Mall in Egg Harbor Township to the Atlantic County Institute of Technology in Mays Landing on a former railroad line. The project cost more than $1 million and was paid through $541,000 in funding from a federal highway-enhancement grant and the county’s Open Space Trust Fund.
In December, Pleasantville applied to the DOT to extend its bike path. In March, Egg Harbor City received $250,000 in DOT funding for the first two phases of the Diesterweg Pedestrian/Bike Path, which will run from Buffalo Avenue to 10th Terrace.
Bike paths also increase the value of adjacent homes.
Robert Shamberg, owner of Prudential Diversified Realty and Associates in Galloway Township, said he always mentions whether a home is near a bike path in his listings.
“A lot of buyers want to be near the bike path,” he said. “It certainly has value.”
Even in developments in Galloway Township, small walking trails add value to properties, because they provide recreation and a safe place for children, he said.
Middle Township has been extending its bike path, which runs from Goshen Road to the township’s recreation complex, and from Goshen Road to Shell Bay Avenue. The township will soon begin construction on a new phase, which will extend it from Shell Bay Avenue to Indian Trail, Mayor Dan Lockwood said.
The mayor said the path helps connect different neighborhoods in the 72-square-mile municipality, the largest in Cape May County.
“It’s a nice way to connect to other communities as well,” he said. “It’s more interesting and usable than just a road. It’s an alternative mode of transportation they get to use.”
Galloway Township is hoping Atlantic County will add another bike path to its area that would complement the walking trail near Absegami High School.
In October, the Township Council requested the county turn a 300-acre plot into a nonmotorized bike park and recreational facility. Plans for the project include a 2½-mile paved path for bikers, runners and walkers around the edge of the property between Jimmie Leeds and Great Creek roads near Route 9.
Mayor Don Purdy said the township proposed the plan on county land and is hopeful the county will develop it. Purdy said he was not in favor of contributing tax money for the project.
The idea would be to create walkways for people to enjoy the woods and connect to the local schools, he said.
But Purdy said the path would be different from the one that links Somers Point, Linwood, Northfield and Pleasantville, which runs through downtown areas.
“It wouldn’t be like that one,” he said. “The township is too big for a long bike path.”
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