America’s development patterns have changed since the mid-1800s, and yet bicycles, while evolving in design, have remained a constant, reliable means of transportation. The car—specifically, Henry Ford’s Model T, which came in the early 1900s—would change our country’s infrastructure forever.
In many instances, the evolution of our national highway and road structure created obstacles to bike and pedestrian transportation. Today, many cities find themselves trying to integrate bike and pedestrian infrastructure into nearly a century of planning for private motor vehicles.
This is an especially difficult task for cities that have fallen on tough economic times, where, often times, building this infrastructure takes a backseat to programs more directly connected to the economy. Instances where cities have most effectively addressed this dichotomy are those that have innovated their way out of problems and leveraged resources of organizations and community members.
Camden is one such place where a wave of innovation is building momentum for positive change. Programs across the City are changing the lives of its youth, and subsequently, the paths they take. The Rails to Trails Conservancy CYCLE (Camden Youth Cycling Learning and Exercising) Program is one of those innovative programs.
Through the CYCLE program, professional cyclists and bike mechanics work with Camden youth to teach them how to fix, build, and safely ride bikes. Notably, the program is tied to program, which provides CYCLE with more resources while creating a strong regional connection.
Led by Camden native Akram Abed and coached by George Wood, CYCLE’s daily, short trips around the City of Camden highlight absent trail connections where a small investment could make a world of a difference for recreation and transportation in a City where about one third of the population does not have access to a motor vehicle (US Census American Community Survey 3-Year Estimate).
In the eyes of local trail builders, missing trails are the places in which our historical development left room for opportunity.
The CYCLE program culminates annually in a long ride through part of the Greater Philadelphia region. This year CYCLE will travel the planned Delaware River Heritage Trail all the way to Trenton, down the River Line, and back home to Camden.
Many youth in the program have never ridden beyond their neighborhoods, if at all, but CYCLE will take them approximately 40 miles, through Delaware River towns rich with the history of American Indians, production, wars, industrialization, and much more. This experience will point to the opportunities in trail connection, and perhaps more importantly, the freedom that bicycles have provided since invention.
To learn more about local trails, visit connectthecircuit.org for a list of existing, planned, and in progress trails in the Greater Philadelphia region.