NJ Turnpike: Missing the Money for the Trees

Robbinsville officials blocked access to a Turnpike construction site in protest of the state's broken reforestation promise.

The NJ municipalities of East Windsor, Hamilton and Robbinsville have filed suit against the State of New Jersey for the return of funds that were supposed to be used to replace trees destroyed by NJ Turnpike […]

Budget Cuts Forcing NJ Kids to Take a Hike – to Their Benefit?

The economic crisis has forced municipalities across the region to make painful service cuts, but when it comes to school bus reductions, there might be a silver lining. New Jersey schools are not required to provide buses  for elementary and middle school students who live within two miles of school, or high schoolers within […]

If a Train Breaks Down and No One in the Capitol Hears It…

After a fire crippled its switching system on Monday, the LIRR has operated partial service through the week.

This week has been a sobering reminder of the age and poor condition of the public transportation system on which our region depends.  On Monday, a small fire crippled the switching system of the LIRR, […]

Islip Joins Long Island Push for Complete Streets

Between 2006 and 2008, 636 pedestrians and cyclists were injured (in blue) or killed (in red) in the town of Islip. About half of the incidents took place on town-owned roads, which a new complete streets policy will cover. Click to view as a factsheet with more information.

Last week, the Town of […]

Garden State Safer for Walkers in 2010, Belying Fears of “Crosswalk Chaos”

Police in Hillside, NJ conduct a "crosswalk sting," having a plainclothes officer cross the street to see whether drivers will yield.

Fewer pedestrians and cyclists are dying on the Garden State’s roads, sidewalks and bicycle paths this year versus 2009, even as the number of drivers and passengers killed has more or less […]

Albany Wrap-Up: Hard-Fought Victories in 2010, With More Work Ahead

During the 2010 Albany legislative season, transportation advocates put their weight behind six laws: four that dealt with enforcement and prosecution, one that established policy guidance on infrastructure spending, and one that would change the way that New York builds its roads. All four of the enforcement laws have been signed by the Governor. […]

Slow-Speed Rail: the Budding “Trails-to-Transportation” Movement

Photo: Katy Silberger
Photo: Katy Silberger

The Trestle Bridge in Rosendale, crossing over the Rondout Creek.

High-speed rail between major city destinations is a front-page story across the nation. Big players, stimulus money, and a short timeframe are coalescing in a sustained effort to provide alternatives to the interstate and air travel. In rural and suburban communities, where population densities don’t attract major public transit dollars, a less glamorous and more incremental story is unfolding. The “Rails-to-Trails” movement is slowly morphing into a “Trails-to-Transportation” movement.

The “Rails-to-Trails” movement started in the mid-’60s, after a substantial consolidation of the rail industry led to the closure and abandonment of many lines. The movement was driven by a certain ideology—environmentalists wanting to get “back to nature,” redefine public space, and simply go for a walk. The effort was relatively inexpensive and often hurdle-free. After purchasing a portion of the property from the railroad companies, volunteers would take out the tracks, use the old rail ties in their home gardens, and once a year, come out to the “linear park” to cut back the brush.

Today, new ideologies are in place—and with those ideologies come new priorities. Environmentalists, many of whom were a part of the 60s Rails-to-Trails movement, are now looking at rail trails as part of a non-motorized transportation network.  Keith Laughlin, president of the national nonprofit Rails-to-Trails now sees his organization as a transportation advocacy group: “There was a time when people viewed having these trails in their communities as a nice-to-have thing, but not a necessity. But what we’re seeing is an increased demand at the local level, and the trails are now viewed as critical infrastructure for a livable 21st century community.”

In a 2008 survey of Ulster County (NY) residents, 21% of the respondents said they used non-motorized transportation to get to work and 35% used it for shopping and errands; 68% said they don’t use non-motorized transport because there are too many cars or motorists drive too fast. This potential demand for safer routes could be met by a connected network of protected trails. In Manchester, CT, the rate of biking-to-work was ten times greater among those residents who had access to the Charter Oak Greenway compared to those who did not, according to the Capitol Region Council of Governments (the Greenway connects East Hartford with outlying towns).

Building a Network

Perseverance has led to some high-profile wins for trail advocates. Walkway Over the Hudson was an effort that was started in 1992 by Bill Sepe, whose organization eventually bought the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad bridge (built in 1888) for $1. The pedestrian bridge, which in the end cost $38.8M to renovate, opened to great fanfare last October, and is now the longest pedestrian bridge in the world, and a key link to the Amtrak/Metro North station. In August 2009, the Open Space Institute and the Wallkill Valley Land Trust bought the iconic Rosendale Trestle Bridge and 11.5 miles of trail—a missing link between New Paltz and Kingston that had been owned by a private property owner. The two land trusts waited for 20 years for an opportunity, and, amidst the recent economic crisis, the property went into tax foreclosure.

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Still Time For a New York State Complete Streets Law

Click to take action at tstc.org/saferstreetsnow/.

Advocates in New York have not stopped fighting for a statewide complete streets bill (A8587-B/SB5711-B) that would require that pedestrian and cyclist accommodations be considered in the planning, design, and construction of all road projects receiving state or federal funds.

The state legislature’s extended session ended in August with […]

Groundbreaking NYCDOT Pedestrian Study Recommends Testing 20 mph Limit for Neighborhoods

Click to view.

Citing even one crash as “one crash too many,” New York City DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan on Monday released the city’s “roadmap for safety strategies.”  The study recommends four specific engineering and design strategies to improve pedestrian safety:

20 mph zone pilot program in at least 75 residential neighborhoods; dangerous […]

CT Puts Its Money Where Its Mouth Is, Bonding $260M For New Haven-Springfield Line

Gov. Rell and CT legislative leaders stood behind the New Haven-Springfield rail line today, after the State Bond Commission voted to bond $260 million towards the project. The commitment of state funds, pushed by Gov. Rell, should bolster the state’s chances of winning $220 million from the second round of federal high-speed rail grants.