NEWARK, NJ – September 29, 2021 –Always envisioned as greenspace that would offer positive environmental impact, the Essex-Hudson Greenway offers significant opportunities for New Jersey to address issues surrounding climate change, severe weather events, and alternative transportation. This includes severe flooding from the intense rainfall of the remnants of Hurricane Ida as they swept across the Garden State earlier this month.
These environmental benefits would also assist New Jersey in its strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change impacts by 2050 – the goals of the recent report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the New Jersey Energy Master Plan. The proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway Project is a nearly nine-mile, shared-use path, following the former Boonton transit rail line and connecting eight towns in two of the most densely populated counties of northern New Jersey. The Greenway would offer green infrastructure to address significant environmental issues as well as provide safe, off-street, carbon-free transportation options.
According to The Essex-Hudson Greenway Coalition – comprised of the Open Space Institute, New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, and the September 11th National Memorial Trail – the Greenway spans an average of 100 feet or more in width throughout its route, and has the potential to help mitigate storm water issues that plague the region around the proposed linear park. In light of the September 1 storms that ravaged significant parts of New Jersey, the project also represents a “build back better” response to the proposed Biden infrastructure bill and answers the demands of elected officials regarding severe weather events and climate change.
“Unfortunately, severe weather events and extensive flooding are becoming more common across New Jersey, including in areas of the state that have never seen flooding, particularly to the catastrophic levels inflicted by the remnants of Hurricane Ida,” said Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, State Senator – 29th Legislative District (Essex). “Preliminary designs for the Essex-Hudson Greenway call for a green space solution that will positively impact the environmental needs of communities adjacent to the project. The positive, long-term environmental impact will be essential to addressing the quality-of-life for residents and promoting economic benefit throughout the region. The time for this project is now!”
Over the past decades, communities throughout New Jersey have had to deal with storm water overflow events that occur when heavy rains, like those of September 1, overwhelm existing infrastructure systems, resulting in water and sewage backing up into streets, homes, and area rivers. Throughout New Jersey, an average of 23 billion gallons of raw sewage are released annually resulting in growing public health concerns and steep fines for localities.
For all communities along the Greenway, the existing infrastructure includes numerous combined sewer overflows that allow for the discharge of raw sewage into the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers during heavy precipitation events. By including new storm water management practices, through the use of state-of-the-art “green infrastructure,” the construction of the greenway can help to alleviate existing environment issues created by these sewer overflows.
The Greenway project incorporates storm water management facilities into the design and construction of the proposed linear park. Without any impact to the line’s use as a park and multi-modal transportation corridor, numerous green infrastructure components will help storm water seep into the ground – including raingardens, bioswales, and high-tech cisterns.
On August 9, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report stating that even if governments take immediate, drastic steps to reduce emissions, it is now too late to avoid many of the impacts of climate change over the next 30 years. The report further concludes that humans have unquestionably contributed to global warming, but there is still time to make changes that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent climate change impacts from getting worse after 2050.
In response to the report, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently tweeted, “The recent IPCC Report underscores what scientists have said all along: Climate change is real and is impacting us now. We don’t have time to waste.” In New Jersey, under the New Jersey Energy Master Plan, the State has set an ambitious goal to reduce statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 percent by 2050. This “will require an economy-wide transformation over the next 30 years that demands all economic sectors, levels of government, communities and individuals to accept and adopt changes that will reduce the adverse effects of climate change.”
In 2019, GHG emissions from transportation accounted for 41 percent of total emissions, making it by far the largest contributor to the state’s GHG emissions and far above the national average of 29 percent of overall GHG emissions.
To this end, the Coalition recently announced its support of NJ TRANSIT’s recent award for the Innovation Challenge, to find a creative transportation solution for the Meadowlands. The alternative transportation systems being considered can be easily integrated within a portion of the proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway, and is compatible with the long-desired goal of the Greenway to create urban transportation solutions and reduce carbon emissions.
While the Biden administration has placed emphasis on a transition to electric vehicles (EV), research shows that this shift will not be enough to meet climate change goals and reverse predicted impacts. An analysis by the Rocky Mountain Institute points towards a two-pronged approach that requires reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 20 percent in addition to putting 70 million EVs on the road. The need to reduce even electric VMT stems from the less obvious costs, such as fossil-fuel intensive construction of car infrastructure and the associated emissions. Projections also show that a slow transition to an electric fleet would still see gas-powered vehicles on roads for another 15 years at best.
“Advanced technologies and vehicle electrification are certainly part of the path towards a carbon-neutral future, but climate change is happening now, and the situation is urgent,” said Jennifer Coffey, Executive Director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC). “We have procrastinated long enough and a solution now requires drastic changes to our way of living including a careful examination of how we move around.”
Reducing carbon emissions through electrification is part of the solution, but the solution must also include shifting trips from cars to transit, walking, and bicycling. As a result, it is imperative to strengthen safe and convenient walking and biking infrastructure that is well connected to transit systems.
“The Essex-Hudson Greenway offers a tremendous opportunity to change the way we think about transportation in New Jersey. This would create a much-needed green corridor in a very urban area of the state and a viable transportation alternative for our residents and commuters,” said Michele Byers, Executive Director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “There has been a lot of talk over decades about the things that we can do to offset the effects of our changing climate. It’s now time to stop talking and start acting through thoughtful, innovative ideas and strategies.”
The greenway would act as a catalyst for the development of safe, complete streets infrastructure in the towns that it passes through, eventually paving the way for the development of a complete, connected, and safe network which would encourage the use of non-motorist transportation modes. The Essex-Hudson Greenway is a transformational project that can help New Jersey build back better after the pandemic, while drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the devastating impact of climate change.
For more information on the Essex-Hudson Greenway Project, visit www.essexhudsongreenway.org.
About Open Space
Founded more than four decades ago, the Open Space Institute (OSI) has partnered in the protection of 2.3 million acres across eastern North America from Quebec to Florida. Over the past 16 years, OSI has worked to protect more than 21,000 acres of New Jersey farms, forests, and local parkland within the Highlands, the Pinelands, the Bayshore, and the heavily developed northeastern suburbs. In addition to the Essex Hudson Greenway, OSI’s current projects include efforts to help protect land and improve water quality in the Delaware River Basin and provide public access to the 1,200-acre Jersey City Reservoir in Boonton and Parsippany.
About New Jersey
Bike & Walk Coalition
The New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition (NJBWC) is the only statewide advocacy organization for bicyclists and pedestrians and provides a collective voice for everyone who believes that a more rideable and walkable New Jersey means a more livable, equitable, and sustainable New Jersey. NJBWC officially adopted the Essex Hudson Greenway Project in 2014 and has been a leader in building the advocacy campaign to make it a reality.
September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance
The September 11th National Memorial Trail is a 1,300-mile system of trails and roadways that links the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The route serves as a symbol of national resiliency and character and as a tribute to the fallen heroes who perished on September 11, 2001, and the many heroes who have committed themselves to the response for their country.