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Upper Township bike plan could bring more connections

UPPER TOWNSHIP — Atlantic County has a bike route that runs from Pleasantville to Somers Point. In the southern end of Cape May County, a marked bike trail takes riders from the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal in Lower Township to the Cape May County Zoo at the county park in Cape May Court House.

So far, however, there are few established bike routes in Upper Township. Township engineer Paul Dietrich said there are bike trails at Amanda’s Field and elsewhere, but few marked routes along the roads throughout the sprawling township. Local officials want to change that and are looking for state help.

The first step is underway.

About 20 people turned out Monday evening for an update on Upper Township’ s bike plan, launched with the help of the Office of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs of the state Department of Transportation.

According to Dietrich, the effort began in earnest because of the inclusion of a bike lane on the new Garden State Parkway bridge over the Great Egg Harbor Bay, set to open in 2019. The route will offer a safe, direct connection from the township to Atlantic County, opening new possibilities to local bicyclists.

The township applied for a planning grant through the DOT, which in turn hired Philadelphia-based WSP USA to create a plan. Originally, the township wanted to create a bike route from the end of the parkway bike lane at the township beach at Harbor Road to North Shore Road near the Tuckahoe Inn, then extend it down that road to Roosevelt Boulevard, which leads into Ocean City.

North Shore Road used to be part of Route 9, leading to the Beasley’s Point Bridge, but since that bridge was closed to traffic in 2004 and eventually removed entirely, the former through-road now sees far less traffic.

The road remains just as wide, Stephen Chiaramonte said at the Monday meeting. He’s the supervising transportation planner for WSP. It will not take much to create a bike lane on that road, he suggested. Chiaramonte said his company got the contract for bike and pedestrian planning for the township more than a year ago.

“We all really thought this was a great idea. But why not expand it to include all of Upper Township?” he said. The plan presented in an informal session on Monday included proposals for bike routes and bike-friendly improvements throughout the township.

The contract for the work was $99,000, funded by the DOT without any cost to the township. According to Dietrich, the proposals range from long-term concepts that could take years to reach fruition to others that could be implemented almost immediately.

“I’m working on some now that I can have shovel-ready in 2019,” he said.

In the short term, the township could see pedestrian safety improvements at two of its busiest intersections, at Route 9 and Roosevelt Boulevard and at Route 9 and Route 50, both near major retail hubs. Longer term, Dietrich envisions making connections to the bike route in Woodbine and eventually to the extensive bike lanes in Middle and Lower townships.

Looking even further ahead, he said local bike riders could have access to a wide network of bike trails and lanes to include the barrier islands and the routes of Atlantic County.

For now, most of the proposals would run along existing roadway, Dietrich said, creating clearer bike lanes and using signs to alert drivers to be careful of riders and pedestrians. One long-term possibility would be to create a rails-to-trails route along the railroad right-of-way now used to deliver coal to the BL England power plant in Beesleys Point, if that plant completes its conversion to natural gas and if the right-of-way becomes available.

There was no formal presentation at the Monday meeting, which instead saw Chiaramonte and Dietrich talking to small groups of residents about the proposal, with recommendations printed on poster board on stands. The meeting was aimed at gathering public input and comment on the plan, which could eventually be incorporated into the township master plan. Before that, it will be reviewed by the township’s Planning Board.

Chiaramonte said he relied on recommendations from local business leaders, residents and those involved in the community in developing the plan, saying he is an expert on transportation and roadways but they have far more knowledge about Upper Township.

According to Chiaramonte, the inclusion of a bike and pedestrian route in the $400 million replacement of the Route 52 Causeway connecting Somers Point and Ocean City energized and revitalized efforts to create bike routes.

Completed in 2012, that project proved far more popular than expected, giving bike route advocates proof that the public wants these amenities and will make use of them where available. The parkway project will offer riders new loops and connections, he said, and will likely spur more projects in the future.

Meanwhile, the township hopes to see more help from the DOT in bringing the proposals off the drawing board and onto local roads. At the most recent Township Committee meeting, the governing body unanimously approved applying for a state Bikeways Grant for 2019. That program aims to create 1,000 miles of new bike paths throughout New Jersey.

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