I shocked a few of my neighbors when I said I was biking to Philadelphia this past weekend. It takes an hour to drive using I-95 so it seems crazy far to bike … and besides, how would you go?
OK, it was 50 miles on Saturday, 58 on Sunday. One day for the Pennsylvania side, one for the New Jersey side, using parts of the Philadelphia area Circuit Trails network. We’d biked sections of the two routes so what we really wanted to know is which way is better.
The museum celebrates the company that built the Brooklyn Bridge, which opened 137 years ago to the day of our ride. I admit, I only learned that after we got home, but still, pretty cool. (And yes, the museum is closed because of coronavirus but it was the turn-around point for a ride a couple of years ago. Then we could say we’d ridden all the way to Riverside, about 5 1/2 miles from the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge into Philadelphia)
The more immediate reason is that a new section of the Delaware River Heritage Trail is under construction and will push the route south to Roebling (and eventually all the way to Camden and the Ben Franklin Bridge to the heart of Philadelphia). Right now it’s the alt route for the East Coast Greenway between Trenton and Philadelphia — we’ll see which route gets finished first.
So I wanted a look.
We used an app called Komoot to map out our route. Enter start point, enter end point and it maps out a bike route for you. Think Google Maps, and easier for mapping than Ride With GPS. And it was super easy to tinker with (for example, it kept us on Old Trenton Road toward Mercer County Community College longer than I’d like, rather than having us turn left at a traffic light onto Robbinsville-Edinburgh Road and then right onto Line Road, where there’s no through traffic for motorized vehicles at the West Windsor-Hamilton line but is open to bikes.) It was going to be about 21 miles each way.
The new trail didn’t show up, but hey, it’s not quite finished. We heard it was rideable anyway… Add on a few miles for that — maybe 25 miles each way?
But first we had to get through Hamilton, Mercer County’s largest city. I had to wonder if officials there have heard of bike lanes …
Traffic was light, but I credit the coronavirus for that. Otherwise we were biking on a road that crossed one major retail strip and crossed roads that led to other big retail centers. We crossed Interstate 195 and then US 130 a couple of times. I’d be happy to weave through residential neighborhoods, but not to get dumped out on an even busier road. (If I ever try this during normal traffic, I’m avoiding Hamilton and adding on a few miles via Allentown.)
Bordentown also is where we picked up the Delaware River Heritage Trail. It does go north toward Trenton — it shows up on Google Maps as the D&R Canal, but I’m told the entrance from Trenton is hard to spot, that it doesn’t connect with the D&R Canal sections further north.
However, we were headed south, through Fieldsboro and to the QuickChek gas station at the corner of US 130 where the new segment of trail begins and lets us avoid this busy highway. Green paint at an intersection for bikes — that’s new for my part of NJ! The trail took us through Crystal Lake Park, onto a quiet road (fresh sidewalk for those who want it), then back to trail and under US 130.
And then …
New Jersey Transit isn’t quite ready for this trail to cross the RiverLine tracks. It has blocked off the next section of already-paved trail with a fence, and we weren’t ready to look for the goat paths to get around it.
More of what we saw at the railroad crossing:
Nor was there an easy way to get onto US 130 at that point and brave two lanes of fast-moving traffic by using the shoulder for a mile or so until we could turn right into Roebling.
A 15-mile route from Riverside, NJ, to the Roebling Museum.
This is part of an old Roebling factory, the company that built the Brooklyn Bridge. The East Coast Greenway goes past it — now on the road but eventually (I hope) on an off-road trail. That would be the Delaware River Heritage Trail, which is slowly pushing south from Trenton and Bordentown, and then up from Camden. It would be an alternative to riding from Trenton to Philadelphia on the Pennsylvania side. (And it’s no secret what I think of the current route.)
Like the mini bridge outside the Roebling Museum? Stopping for a proper museum visit next time! Several picnic tables too, so it’s a prime rest stop.
We decided to explore from Riverside, following the Delaware River north. Our route took us through small communities and shuttered factory sites, like a large one for U.S. Pipe, once the largest employer in Burlington. (here’s some history about the company in New Jersey.)What will become of this prime riverfront location … and how much environmental cleanup is needed? Can gentrification reach this far, aided by transit? Waterfront condos one day? Or a new warehouse? The RiverLine light rail (which tracked our route) is right there … but so is a freight line. I just hope there is public access to the river (and yes, a trail).
Today, the 15 miles to Roebling are almost all on road; the East Coast Greenway route has a brief trail moment through a park, and we tested out a riverside walkway with a sign ordering you to walk your bike past an apartment building, per city ordinance. While there is usually a shoulder (I would not call them bike lanes), this is a route for people comfortable riding on roads, even on a Sunday morning. As we rode through an industrial area, I wondered about truck traffic during the week. One had a multi-use path out front… that dead-ended in the grass.
For those who don’t want to bike back (and yes, we did bike) or suffer mechanical trouble, there’s always the RiverLine. We were never that far from a stop.
Here’s a bonus for those who don’t ride on a Sunday: Junior’s Cheesecake. We biked past the company bakery in Burlington (sorry, New York). There’s an outlet there, apparently selling both “perfect and imperfect” cakes. Of course, you’d then have to balance it on your bike. Or be with a large group of hungry cyclists who can eat it all at once. (We went for a Portuguese restaurant in Riverside with scarily huge portions.)