PHILADELPHIA and CAMDEN — Spanning the Delaware River between Independence Hall and Camden, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge is nearly a century old. Crossing it via train and bicycle was one of my goals from the trip.
I doubt the builders called this a multi-modal bridge during construction, but it was and is. Back then, building for automobiles, trains and pedestrians appears to have been fairly standard in Northeastern cities. The next generation of grand suspension bridges, like the Walt Whitman Bridge downriver, were just for motorized travel.
Earlier that day: 2023 Philly Bike Ride recap
As mentioned in my Philadelphia transit recap, the PATCO Speedline is analogous to the PATH. Both connect New Jersey with the big city across a river: PATH to New York is trans-Hudson, PATCO to Philadelphia is trans-Delaware. PATCO crosses over the water though, emerging from subway tunnels on both sides to join the bridge which is enjoyable transition. I entered the system with my bicycle at the western terminus, 16th Street station.
I traveled outbound and enjoyed the view downriver. It’s a pleasant ride in modern railcars. The view from PATCO is superior to the view from the car lanes.
I exited PATCO at the Broadway station, second in New Jersey, because it appeared to have the better access to the bridge. I had to check maps on my phone a few times, but after bicycling along several city streets, I found a tunnel underneath the toll plaza area. It had stairs on both ends. The excellent Pork Roll Powered sticker I got from Bicycle of Coalition of Greater Philadelphia had me considering lunch, but nothing in the immediate vicinity was open. Camden is pretty bleak which confirms everything I have ever heard about it. I can now say I have set foot in it though.
Both sides of the bridge have multi-use paths, labeled footwalks, though only the north side is available currently. This was unfortunate because the downriver side likely has the better view of the skyline and is completely bicycle friendly. The northern side, however, has a significant staircase on the Camden side. A ramp is attached to facilitate rolling the bike up the stairs at least.
Once on the footwalk, the pavement is concrete and in good condition. The width is adequate, but on the edges there is a gap between the railing and the concrete. Getting a wheel in it would be really hairy. Anything dropped, keys or a phone, would likely be lost to the gap and gravity. The photographs I share here were nervously taken with two feet on the ground.
The railing is a little lower for cyclists than I’d like. Another 6-12 inches would be comforting. It’s not as low as the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge over the Potomac River at least.
The bridge itself – the towers, anchorages, cables is admirable. I took my time crossing to take them in. Sadly, it was an overcast dreary day so the experience was not what it could have been had I been able to get there the previous afternoon. I would have preferred the downriver side for the skyline view without the bridge “in the way” as well. Perhaps, next time it’ll be open.
Overall, with stops for photos and conservative pacing after completing the Philly Bike Ride, I probably crossed the bridge in under 20 minutes. The Philadelphia touchdown was to street level, so thankfully no stairs again. I was a little nerve-wracking. It’s great to check off another major river though.
Someday, I may bike across it again on the downriver side, but otherwise, I don’t know that I need to again. That footwalk might have one of the best views of the Philly skyline.