In the future, we will look at the Essex Hudson Greenway in awe: A nine-mile vertical park running from Montclair to Jersey City, passing through Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny, and Secaucus. The state of New Jersey is taking an abandoned rail line and converting it into a walk and bike trail.
When done — and it will take years — it will be a recreation and transportation masterpiece, a source of envy to all.
Will there be complications along the way? Of course. This is New Jersey: We can expect turf battles, cost overruns, funding fights — and maybe a little corruption — along the way. If that were enough reason to scuttle a project like this, nothing would ever get built in the state.
While we hope that public officials can minimize these negatives, let’s keep our eyes on the prize:
- Once it is completed, the Essex Hudson Greenway will reclaim land that is currently dormant, dilapidated, decrepit and turn it into green space. There will be trails for walkers and bicyclists, and, at various places along the way, there will be bump-outs for parks, playgrounds, scenic vistas, and the like.
- Studies have shown that greenways promote economic activity. All over the world, trails like this spur environmentally appropriate development.
- The greenway will serve as a model for alternative transportation. An amateur bicyclist will be able to pedal the entire greenway in less than an hour, about the same amount of time most commuters need to travel this route.
- There are currently efforts to connect the greenway to the greenways in Hudson County, including trails that could run all the way to the Hudson River. This would offer access to New York City via the greenway.
Sure, there are obstacles; the question is how to deal with them.
While building the Essex Hudson Greenway will not be cheap, it’s peanuts compared to the obscene effort to extend the New Jersey Turnpike in Hudson County. If we just take a tiny fraction of the $10 billion — yes, billion — slated for this absurd project, we could pay for this greenway and fix all the state parks at the same time.
While there is some contamination along the route, the result of decades of train use, this is comparatively small stuff. In Hudson County, for example, a notorious landfill that burned for 14 years and yielded 30,000 barrels of toxic waste is now being turned into what will be Jersey City’s largest municipal park. Cleaning up the abandoned Boonton line should be simple in comparison.
The trail that will soon be the Essex Hudson Greenway has already been cleared of most railroad remnants. Almost two miles of it in Hudson County is already bike friendly and will need minimal remediation.
And hopefully, the new greenway will not be paved but will instead utilize one of the many permeable surfaces now available for both biking and walking. Rather than encouraging flooding, a well-designed greenway will help alleviate flooding.
While one big obstacle to completing the entire nine miles is getting across the Hackensack River, we could build segments when they are ready — as many sections already are. Finishing the entire project may be years off, but with minimal effort, a large portion of it could be ready in the next few years.
For many of us, it will be a dream come true.
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