Essex Hudson Greenway New Jersey
Essex Hudson Greenway

At the December 14th City Council caucus, Debra Kagan, Executive Director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, presented a slide show detailing plans for a bike and pedestrian walkway that would run from Jersey City to Montclair. We’ve transcribed her comments below the slides that went with the presentation. The City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution supporting the project at its next meeting.

The Essex Hudson Greenway is a proposed Greenway that runs along the old Booton lines, 8.6 miles. And it’s really a project that we’ve been talking about for the area and dreaming about since the railroad stopped using that line for service. And that was around 2002. So this has really been almost 20 years in the making this project. In 2014 the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition who had been building support for a number of years, took this on as a major campaign, got resolutions from most of the communities and municipalities along the line. And we negotiated to try to get the railroad to agree to sell the right of way. The Norfolk Southern Railroad, which owns owns the property today, was not interested in selling until fairly recently. A few years ago we brought on the Open Space Institute to negotiate a purchase and sale agreement. That purchase and sale agreement was signed this past July. It was in negotiations from the beginning of the year and we now have this a window of opportunity to keep the corridor intact so that it will not be sold off individually.

This is to give you an overview of the towns that it goes through. It goes through Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Bellevue across Kearny, Northern Newark across the Meadowlands, Secaucus and goes into Jersey City just North of Journal Square and we’ll show you a closeup of that map in a minute. So it’s the two counties and eight towns and cities.

Some basic facts about the proposed Greenway. It would bring approximately 135 acres of new green space to the residents along these two counties. That’s approximately half a million residents, two of the most densely populated counties actually in the country. It would provide biking-walking as transportation alternatives for what’s approximately 300,000 commuters. It can incorporate green infrastructure, environmental design to help mitigate flooding and as part of the purchase and sale agreement. We also have the subterranean rights underneath the right of way, which will allow for the development of internet services of broadband infrastructure. And it links to a number of the through trails in the area, which will also show you a map of in a minute. And most of the right of way is approximately a hundred feet wide, most of the way.

So this project, this potential to have a Greenway in this space really addresses a number of major benefit areas for the region. Certainly recently we have seen an increase where people are walking and biking more and need to get outside for central exercise, both for physical and mental health. And this will provide public open space through, as I said, two of these very dense counties. In many areas there is not easy access to open space or parks for this kind of recreation and exercise. It also would provide a critical and new transportation corridor for biking-walking between the western suburbs and the eastern cities of the area. There is nothing like this in the area. It would be a continuous corridor from Montclair all the way through to Jersey City. And of course, in Jersey city with the potential to connect to New York City. It reduces car usage by providing this alternate transportation and in so it reduces congestion traffic and as a result, it also reduces air pollution for the area. There is a strong environmental benefit. Because it’s intact and continuous it provides a wildlife corridor. It provides space for rain gardens and bio-swales for mitigating flooding and the potential for tree coverage in areas where right now there is no tree coverage, and particularly in parts of Newark and some of the more industrial areas. So being able to plant new trees to have natural plantings, to have bio-swales creates this green open space both for recreation and transportation. A result of the development of these kinds of trails across the country has proven to be a real catalyst for economic development and local business districts. It brings in new people, it brings a new business. People want to go to restaurants, they want to rent bikes. They come into explore the towns and the actual properties that are close to the Greenway all show an increase in value. The estimates are a little all over the place, depending on the location and the trails, but somewhere between about five and 20% increase in property values.

This is a quick overview of the diversity of the communities that this will go through. This particular slide shows language other than English spoken at home. And you can see that there’s large areas where there’s over 50% of other languages than English spoken at home. So it really represents the very diverse communities that we have in the area and would connect these communities where there is not an easy connection for transportation.

This is a map that shows access to schools. The blow up on the left is the area in Jersey City around Journal Square. The little green dots are schools. The medium green area is a quarter mile from the center of the quarter and the lighter green is one mile. So you can see the potential for safe routes to school, for connectivity to the corridor. And I’ll just point out one other feature of this map. So that the white circles with blue around them is where the railroad is at grade level or at street level. And then it obviously goes below grade level and above grade level in a lot of the different places.

As I said before, it’s on the average about a hundred feet, but where it comes into to Jersey City near Journal Square, it’s actually very wide. And one of the things that this is important for is that it gives space for all kinds of amenities. So there’s potential for playgrounds, for restrooms, for bike rent, for all kinds of things along the corridor. And because it’s so wide and in certain areas, it also gives us access to think about doing CSO (Combined Sewer Overflow) storage underneath the Greenway. And they’re having conversations with a number of towns about the potential for space for CSO storage. And I believe Jersey City is one of those. So that’s a major problem in a number of the towns along the way, including Jersey City, Newark and Kearny. So this has the potential to mitigate some of that flooding with some storage underneath.

This is a little closeup of the access point where it comes into Jersey City. So you can get a sense of where it is. It crosses the Hackensack Bridge over the Meadowlands, comes in just past Laurel Park up in Secaucus and across this area near the Creek just meeting at ?.

You can get a sense of the importance of this corridor to a whole network of trails in the area and in particular the trails that go through Jersey City. So we have been in conversation and are aware of the Bergen Arches and the Embankment projects that are proposed and of interest in the city. And recently heard Mayor Fulop talk about that potential for Jersey City. There are also other trails in the area, including the Mill Creek trail, the Hudson River waterfront the East Coast Greenway, the Morris Canal. So the East Coast Greenway and the 9-11 trail are all looking at using the Essex Hudson Greenway as a major corridor to go through this area.

This is a closeup just to give you an idea of how close it would be to the Bergen Arches and to Journal Square.

This is just a small piece of the the proposed Jersey City bicycle network. And again, you can see the potential for connectivity here to your whole bike network.

This is a visual rendering, just an idea of what might be possible. We have no design plans in the making yet. We are just really focused on an acquisition phase, which I’ll talk about in a minute.  But you can see here some of the features that we were just talking about, biking and walking pathways, areas to sit and gather, potential for art projects, bio-swales on the left, tree coverage and the potential underneath to have internet infrastructure.

This is another rendering with a vision. This particular rendering is from Newark. You can see the Tiffany Tower in the back. But it’s an idea of what it can look like going through a more urban section of the Greenway and the potential to have new park space, again to have real open space for community gathering, for walking and biking as well.

And here’s another vision rendering as it goes over the Meadowlands. There’s a really beautiful area that it goes over. It’s difficult to get out there right now. The property is still owned by the railroad. So we’re not encouraging people actually to walk on it. But this is to give you another idea of the potential to connect to some of the natural spaces that are so close to Jersey City but difficult for people to actually enjoy. So the connection to trail networks that are in the Meadowlands, to water recreation, as well as to biking and walking. It’s actually a very beautiful space once you’re out there.

So to talk a little bit about the status of where the project’s at. The purchase and sale agreement that was signed with Norfolk Southern this year was for one year with the ability to have an extension going into next year if there’s significant progress shown. There is a price tag that was agreed on with the purchase and sale agreement. And the railroad has since secured official abandonment status. What that means is because railroads are quite complex there’s a lot of regulations, federal regulations in order for them to stop being used as rail line. And that’s the abandonment process. They have gotten permission from the National Surface Transportation Board for abandonment. What that means is they now have the ability to legally sell any part of this corridor. What’s keeping the corridor intact right now is the agreement with the Open Space Institute that this would be bought from the railroad, that it would be turned into a Greenway, a multi-path Greenway, and that it would be owned by the counties together. So by ownership of Essex and Hudson. If the agreement is not completed to purchase it and that the counties do not take on that responsibility, then that agreement would lapse and the railroad would be able to sell off pieces to any kind of development they wanted. And we would basically lose what is a once in a lifetime ability to keep this corridor intact. So there are engineering studies, environmental studies that are going on right now. And you of course know that Essex and Hudson County at least has passed general resolutions of support. That was at the end of September and October. So where we are at now is we are in conversations right now with elected officials and key stakeholders in the region to put together a funding package that will not tap into any COVID related funds, that would be from the state, and that will help the counties to be able to actually complete the acquisition.

We see this as a brief window of opportunity before the Open Space Institute purchase and sale agreement lapses. So we have been working very hard to make sure that the county commissioners and county executive here from constituencies across all of the municipalities, including Jersey City. We’ve been doing presentations and working with different groups and beginning a real campaign of community engagement outreach. There is a letter of support, a digital letter of support, on the Essex Hudson Greenway website, that people have been signing and there have been over 1400 digital letters sent to the commissioners and executives. So at this point we’re also encouraging anybody who supports this project — and we’ve been encouraged by the conversations that have been going on with elected officials. And we are encouraging everyone, including municipal and local officials, to contact not only the county executives and commissioners but also Governor Murphy since this is a major project that impacts the region and the state as a whole, to show support. So basically the letter of support says, we thank them for passing resolutions of support and we’re encouraging them to continue this process. So at the essexhudsongreenway.org website there’s great drone footage of the whole project. You can go look at this lots of information. We encourage you to go to that site in any of the social media from the site for updates on the project and to go to the support sight and show your support.

We’re looking to do further community outreach. We have made some contacts with some of the neighborhood associations in Jersey City that Lauren can give more specifics on. We want to hear which ones. And we’re interested in hearing and working with you to do further outreach in the community in Jersey City. This is both to let people know what the project’s status is and what its potential is, but also very important as we move from acquisition into the planning and design phase, how important it is to hear from you constituencies what they want for this project. This has the potential to have all kinds of amenities, to have opportunities for community identity through cultural programming and art, and it’s really critical that people know about it and have their voices heard so that it actually does reflect what the community wants for the project.

Featured photo by John Matrix

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