In 2002, NJTransit Mid-town Direct train service came to Montclair, leaving in its wake an 11-mile stretch of unused railroad property called the Old Boonton Line. This segment of out-of-service railroad presents an exceptional opportunity to build a greenway for the residents of Essex and Hudson Counties. The potential greenway, known as both the “Essex-Hudson Greenway” and the “Ice and Iron Trail,” would offer safe, off-road recreation -- walking, bike riding -- for residents of the seven towns the line currently runs through: Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny and Jersey City. The greenway would ultimately provide access to Manhattan via the PATH train or ferries, as well as areas in northern New Jersey via the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.
Greenways connect neighborhoods with local businesses, parks, nearby communities and other destinations, as well as offer residents safe off-road options for commuting and recreation. Residents and visitors can choose to use greenways as their mode of transportation and thereby avoid driving on congested highways.
Organizations like the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and the Friends of the Ice and Rail Trail are working diligently to promote awareness of this greenway proposal and their efforts have not gone unnoticed. The proposal has caught the attention of both the East Coast Greenway Alliance -- a long-distance, urban, shared use trail linking cities from across the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Florida -- as well as the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance -- a trail built to honor the victims of that horrible day in 2001 by connecting the three crash sites and memorials. Both of these trail organizations wish to use the Essex-Hudson Greenway as their trail alignment through northern New Jersey.
The Old Boonton Line, currently owned by Norfolk Southern, has not been used since 2003 and was designated “out of service” by the Surface Transportation Board in 2005. The rail line is presently showing signs of neglect and decay, with mass amounts of garbage accumulation as well as evidence of crime and drug use. The property values of landowners and tenants, both residential and commercial, could begin to suffer greatly due to this neglect.
The greenway would operate as a linear park, offering safe access for all citizens to walk and bike without fear of motor vehicles. New Jersey has one of the highest numbers of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities as a percentage of all road deaths. In 2015 and 2016, more than 30% of all road fatalities in New Jersey happened to pedestrians and bicyclists, while the national average was half that, at 14-16%.
The Essex-Hudson Greenway would profoundly influence the seven towns from Montclair to Jersey City and would provide transportation and recreation options to these communities, including underserved communities in Newark, Belleville and Bloomfield, where many residents do not own cars. There is nothing yet like the Essex-Hudson Greenway in northeastern New Jersey. Greenways contribute to the overall livability of a community and innovative, forward-thinking communities in New Jersey would be well-served by integrating greenways into their overall plans for economic vitality and future growth.