The ongoing transformation of Camden, New Jersey, is a
terrific case study of what Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is about. From
our core mission of recycling disused rail corridors into public pathways, in
recent years RTC has expanded that work to building broader, more connected
urban trail networks and encouraging new generations of Americans to walk and
bike for daily transportation.
In Camden, there is an urgent need for this kind of
transformation. Disconnected from the vibrant economic and social activity
occurring just across the Delaware River in Philadelphia, for the last few
decades Camden has suffered a lack of shops and businesses and insufficient
investment in its public spaces. As a result, incomes and property levels are
low, obesity and poor nutrition are problems, especially among young people.
These experiences are common to underserved and at-risk populations across the
Enter RTC. Since 2006, our Northeast Regional Office has been
working with local partners in Camden, notably the Campbell Soup Foundation, to create an improved bicycle and
pedestrian network throughout Camden and beyond, and attracting the funding and
support necessary for its construction. In a community where 40 percent of
residents don't own a car, RTC knew that cheaper, easier options for getting
from A to B had the potential to make real and significant improvements to the
lives of Camden's citizens, every day.
And thanks to the William Penn Foundation, we can continue
with this excellent work. The Philadelphia-based organization today announced
it would provide $110,000 to continue our CYCLE program -- which enables young
Camden residents to be bike-mobile and helps them explore their city. It's work
we have been doing with the YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties, and which
over the past few years has grown from a few summer classes of about 20
students, to more than 300 kids, bike-repair workshops, destination rides and a
growing awareness of how the people of Camden can get around on two wheels. This funding is complemented by funding from the Campbell Soup Foundation as well.
Spearheading the CYCLE program is RTC's own Akram Abed, who
grew up in Camden and knows firsthand what a bike and a safe pathway can mean
to residents whose job and study options, as well as access to stores and
opportunities for recreation, are often limited.
"Affordable and convenient transportation is something we
sometimes take for granted," Abed says. "It has been amazing to ride with these
kids and see them exploring parts of their city they have never seen before. It
is literally expanding their worlds -- what an awesome thing to be a part of."
William Penn Foundation also provided $165,000 to support
the development of The Circuit -- another local project RTC is involved in. The
Circuit, otherwise known as Greater Philadelphia's Regional Trail Network, aims
to build on RTC's bike and pedestrian improvements in Camden and connect people,
businesses, neighborhoods and employers on both sides of the Delaware River.
For more about CYCLE, check out their facebook page at www.facebook.com/CYCLECamden
Photos of the CYCLE kids cruising around Camden by RTC
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
Washington, DC 20037