Friday, December 1, 2023

Making a Continuous Shore Bike Trail a Reality

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By Jeff Vecere for Cape Issues

In the year since my last article, there have been some accomplishments toward the goal of a continuous shore bike trail in Cape May County – but there is still much to do.  

As an ardent supporter of bike and pedestrian enjoyment and safety, I became a member of Cape Issues in 2016, a non-partisan group that, in part, is working tirelessly to see an increase in bike trails throughout southern New Jersey, with an emphasis on Cape May County. It is on behalf of Cape Issues that I, again, write.  

If you, like me, would like to see a continuous, safe bike trail connecting the northern part of the county to the southern part of the county, and hope to see Cape May County become an even better place to exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and spend active time with friends and family, read on.  

The Goal  

We seek to support the completion of a network of bike trails that connect the northern part of Cape May County, starting at the Beesley’s Point Park, to the southern part, at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal (where a cyclist could ride onto the Cape May-Lewes Ferry for a nominal fee and continue cycling in Delaware).  

The existing Woodbine Bike Trail would serve as the main connector between north and south. Once a continuous connection of bike trails between the top and bottom of the county has been achieved, a secondary goal is to link the existing Atlantic County Bike Trail Network to Cape May County’s, allowing safe, enjoyable bike travel for approximately 35 miles.  

What Has Already Been Accomplished  

Seventeen miles of north-to-south Cape May County bike trails now exist between Sandman Boulevard/Ferry Road in Lower Township and South Seaville in Dennis Township. Beyond these miles, however, measurable progress has been limited thus far, and my insider view of the process has revealed its complexity.  

The South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO) has funded and will conduct a six-month study, starting in February 2023, which has a goal of assessing the construction feasibility of connecting the Beesley’s Point Park and the existing regional trail that ends in South Seaville.  

The County Planning Department and Open Space Board have had encouraging preliminary discussions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding potential routes – more on this federal agency’s involvement below.  

Middle Township has recently opened the northern section of its bike trail, which connects South Seaville to the Dennis Township bike trail. Of the accomplishment, Middle Township Mayor Tim Donohue wrote, “This project is proof of concept for the formula of linking initiatives common to neighboring municipalities under the leadership of county planning and supported by open space funding.”  

We agree wholeheartedly with Mayor Donohue’s support of the collaboration of local governments and believe that such teamwork will be crucial to completing the remaining portions of a continuous bike trail connecting the two ends of our county.  

On a personal note, I recently rode my bike on the new path from Middle Township to South Seaville, and it was delightful! In Lower Township, the redesign of the Sandman Boulevard (Ferry Road) and Seashore Road intersection – which will be a part of Cape May County’s continuous trail – was completed last year, markedly increasing the safety of this once-dangerous intersection for both cyclists and pedestrians.   

What Is Yet to Be Done  

In short, the remainder of the connection between North and South Cape May County must be made – an estimated 9 miles of new trails to connect and add to the 17 miles of existing trails. The missing sections are comprised of 9 miles in Upper and Dennis townships and 2.7 miles in Lower Township, between the Seashore Road/Ferry Road intersection and the ferry terminal.  

The latter is relatively simple: Adding bike lanes to an existing roadway. For the former, however, creating the Upper/Dennis townships section (i.e., the trail linking Beesley’s Point Park and South Seaville), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would need to give permission to pass through refuge land, utilizing an environmentally friendly path (e.g., one constructed in wood) – a time-consuming and expensive project.  

Thus, completing these final miles of trails, which range in project complexity from adding bike lanes to existing roads to gaining U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approval, will require the cooperation and advocacy of multiple local governments.  

What You Can Do  

If you’ve read this far, you clearly care about the safety and ease of biking in Cape May County and may be wondering how you can help. There are a few options!  

Consider joining forces with other like-minded county residents and me, as we advocate for these goals.  

You can join Cape Issues by contacting Art Hall, publisher at the Herald (609-886-8600, ext. 145). You can also contact your local government officials directly to urge them to prioritize projects in your town.  

In the meantime, keep enjoying the routes that are available now – cycling is one of the few things the pandemic hasn’t hampered, and, at least for me, it’s made the time on two wheels that much sweeter!

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