Focusing on Health in Camden’s Waterfront South

Residents of Camden’s Waterfront South neighborhood walk and ride bicycles. They grow food in community gardens. They work with local agencies to see the construction of new parks and to push for reductions in truck traffic in residential areas. And thanks to the generous support of the ShapingNJ program, they now have a concrete plan to build on their significant successes and to connect community spaces, places where local food is grown and the Delaware River waterfront with safer active transportation routes.

Part of the "Walking Towards the Green" toolkit, this map shows where Waterfront South community members would like to see improved walking and bicycling conditions.

Part of the “Walking Towards the Green” toolkit, this map shows where Waterfront South community members would like to see improved walking and bicycling conditions.

The culmination of the ShapingNJ grant work has resulted in the creation of a toolkit entitled “Walking Towards the Green” that residents and Camden agencies and non-profits are using to make a concerted push for a healthier neighborhood. There were many significant steps leading up to this point. Here are just a few of the highlights:

By participating in the walking audit, local residents became extremely knowledgeable about design features that make walking and bicycling safer.  They were able to take what they had learned and pointed out roadway safety deficiencies, while also recommending specific solutions. Being empowered with this knowledge has led to a strong interest in ensuring that toolkit recommendations are implemented.

Even though the ShapingNJ grant period is coming to a close, Waterfront South neighbors and participants are dedicated to continuing the work that began through this process. Specifically, local residents will be focusing on improving the intersection of 4th Street, Carl Miller Boulevard and Ferry Avenue, which was found to be particularly wide and dangerous. They will also seek to have features installed on local roads that lead to this intersection to slow down motor vehicles and reduce the amount of truck traffic. Finally, project participants are assisting the Camden County Municipal Utilities authority in their efforts to create a trails loop between Phoenix Park, Liney Ditch Park and the Father Doyle Fishing Pier.

Representatives that have been part of the process of creating the toolkit will be meeting with City of Camden officials and making presentations to public safety groups, business leaders and the media, as well as seeking funding to design the improvements suggested in the toolkit. By continuing to develop relationships with agency, city and business partners, residents will move towards the goal of connecting local parks and community gardens with sidewalks and trails, helping to increase access to walking and bicycling, which will in turn give the Waterfront South neighborhood greater opportunities to incorporate exercise into residents’ daily lives and to improve the overall health of the community.

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Building on Success

One of the joys of the ShapingNJ grant work has been to learn about, and build off of, the successes of groups working in Camden’s Waterfront South neighborhood. The Waterfront South neighborhood was chosen as the site of this project because it is home to residential, commercial and industrial uses, and also connects to the Delaware River and a number of local green spaces. The nearly completed “Walking the Green – Waterfront South Toolkit,” which incorporates community resident observations and provides recommendations for moving toward the creation of safer streets in the neighborhood, will go a long way towards planning for future safe connections between local community amenities. One such amenity is a brand new waterfront trail that was created by the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, which connects the Michael Doyle Fishing Pier and the brand new Phoenix Park along the Delaware River.

The toolkit created through the ShapingNJ grant work focuses on making connections to new and existing community amenities, like the brand new walkway between Phoenix Park and the Father Michael Doyle Fishing Pier, created by the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority.

Photo Credit: Matthew Norris. The toolkit created through the ShapingNJ grant work focuses on making connections to new and existing community amenities, like the brand new walkway between Phoenix Park and the Father Michael Doyle Fishing Pier, which was constructed by the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority.

This new walkway further connects residents to the Delaware River, and underscores the change that is occurring in Waterfront South. The Walking the Green – Waterfront South Toolkit incorporates a map which shows open spaces and parks, such as the new Delaware River trail, and shows how these neighborhood features can connect to safer streets with features such as bicycle lanes, pedestrian median islands and connected sidewalks.

Going forward, all ShapingNJ Camden project partners will be meeting on September 14 at 10am at the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (1645 Ferry Ave, Camden, NJ 08104) to go over the completed toolkit and to discuss next steps in terms of outreach and implementation strategies for roadway safety improvements. The toolkit will go a long way towards prioritizing these next steps and will be utilized to aid in connecting some of the wonderful green spaces in Waterfront South, including the new Delaware River trail.

No One Can Do it Alone

One of the most powerful aspects of the Shaping NJ program is that it brings various organizations and volunteers together to create change that is bigger than any one group could produce alone. Throughout the duration of the “Walking Towards the Green” health impact and livability assessment in Camden’s Waterfront South neighborhood, our partnerships have continued to blossom, aiding in the implementation of this grant and spurring future collaborations.

We had the pleasure of interviewing one of our original project partners, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s (NJCF) Olivia Glenn, who was able to expand on the assessment’s successes and to offer future strategies for continuing to enhance access to walking and biking routes in Waterfront South. Below are Olivia’s responses to our interview questions.

What do you see as the primary role of NJCF in the Shaping NJ Waterfront South Assessment? New Jersey Conservation Foundation takes great pride in preserving land statewide for the benefit of all. We know that there are clear health benefits in access and utilization of preserved lands and health outcomes. It was our great pleasure to participate in this assessment to work with Waterfront South neighborhood residents in safely accessing their locally preserved lands to prospectively improve their health outcomes.

In your opinion, what are the most essential follow-up steps to the walking assessment? I think it is imperative that we do all we can to ensure that the street corridors are safe. This can be achieved through enhancing ongoing efforts to reroute truck traffic outside of residential neighborhoods and improving major crosswalks with pedestrian friendly features. Examples include painting crosswalks, installing planters and improving lighting for residents.

What most surprised you about the assessment process, or what was the most interesting thing you discovered? Many of the items we discussed for improvements are “low hanging fruit.” By continuing to work together and bring in additional partners, many improvements can be installed in short order.

Going forward, who needs to be informed about the assessment results and how can additional outside partners help move us towards implementation of study recommendations? We should bring in additional transportation professionals to properly install proposed safety features on the roadways.

We are lucky to be able to work with such a strong and passionate group of local residents, non-profit groups and agency officials. Feedback from Olivia Glenn and all project partners will certainly aid in our efforts going forward to make Waterfront South a safer and more convenient place to walk, bicycle and incorporate exercise into people’s daily lives.

Moving Ahead: Planning for future connections in Waterfront South

As we reach the halfway point of the Waterfront South health impact and livability assessment, it is a good idea to consider what we have accomplished so far and plan for the upcoming months.

On May 15 and 16, over twenty-five neighborhood residents, non-profit organizations, and institutional and community leaders analyzed local amenities, such as parks, schools, community gardens and sidewalks, and looked for ways connections between these amenities could be improved.

Assessment participants stand in front of a sign that says "NO BIG TRUCKS!" Truck traffic has been a persistent issues in Waterfront South.

Assessment participants stand in front of a sign that says “NO BIG TRUCKS!” Truck traffic has been a persistent issues in Waterfront South. Image: Tri-State Transportation Campaign

While some areas of Waterfront South had well maintained parks and community gardens and wide sidewalks that were in good condition, assessment participants noted a number of impediments to walking and bicycling throughout the neighborhood, including:

  • High levels of truck traffic on local roads,
  • A lack of bicycle lanes,
  • The need for more crosswalks, median islands and pedestrian signals,
  • Broken or cracked sidewalks with a high number of curb cuts that are not marked for those with visual impairments.

To move towards the goal of creating transportation improvements in Waterfront South that will promote healthy and active lifestyles, Tri-State Transportation Campaign is working with local partners to complete a toolkit that will incorporate feedback from local residents and provide recommendations for connecting local parks and open spaces with safer streets. The toolkit will demonstrate how changes such as better sidewalks, bicycle lanes and safer crosswalks would allow a greater number of area residents to walk or ride bicycles as a primary mode of transportation or for leisure purposes more safely.

In mid-July, we will be working with New Jersey Conversation Foundation, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership and the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids (along with countless other assessment participants) to hold the first of a number of follow-up meetings to discuss the toolkit and to create an action plan for working towards implementation of assessment recommendations. These sessions will focus on working with agency, government and business partners to seek planning and funding opportunities that advance the goal of improving conditions for walking and biking in and around Waterfront South.

Camden: Assessing the Assessment

Local residents, community leaders and Shaping NJ partner organizations took to the streets on May 15 and 16 to assess conditions for walking and bicycling in the Waterfront South neighborhood of Camden, New Jersey. The health impact and livability assessment focused on ways to make active transportation connections between local parks, schools, community gardens and businesses.

The single most important factor that has helped with the assessment so far has been the wide range of community partners that have become involved and have brought their knowledge and local expertise to the effort. Neighborhood residents, some who have lived in the area for decades and others who are relatively new to the area, took time out of their Friday and Saturday to carefully document conditions that must be improved to make local pedestrian and bicyclist travel safer and more convenient in the area. These efforts were documented in the media, who have helped to get the word out about the assessment. Invaluable support has also included the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority lending their meeting facilities and technical expertise to the assessment, and the participation of Father Michael Doyle, who has been a tireless advocate for improving environmental conditions in Waterfront South for four decades.

The Shaping NJ team seeks to knit together open spaces with additional trails, sidewalks and bike lanes.

The Shaping NJ team seeks to knit together open spaces with additional trails, sidewalks and bike lanes.

Going forward, the biggest challenge is also the key to the whole effort – implementing assessment recommendations. Olivia Glenn, South Jersey Metro Regional Manager for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Shaping NJ partner echoed this sentiment, “We protect open space for the benefit of all. A key to reaping the health benefits of time spent outdoors is safe and easy access to these green spaces. We look forward to learning how we can assist this neighborhood in enjoying and accessing their open space.”

To move forward with implementing area active transportation improvements that promote healthy lifestyles, Tri-State Transportation Campaign is working with local partners to put together a toolkit and set of maps that will incorporate assessment observations and provide recommendations for moving toward the creation of safer streets. As part of this process, we will be working with partner organizations to hold a series of follow-up meetings with assessment participants to discuss the toolkit and to create a concrete action plan for working towards implementation of associated recommendations. These sessions will focus on developing relationships with agency and business partners that can be helpful in moving forward with plans to connect local parks and community gardens with safe streets and trails, ultimately creating the conditions that support walking and biking and the incorporation of exercise in people’s daily lives.