Head of Clara Maass Medical Center and Local Health Leaders Tout Greenway’s Potential Impact to Create Healthier Communities, Particularly in the Wake of COVID Pandemic
Northern New Jersey – June 25, 2021 – Local northern New Jersey health leaders, including the head of Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, have joined forces with the Open Space Institute, New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance in support of the creation of the Essex-Hudson Greenway, citing the far-reaching physical and mental health benefits associated with greenways and linear parks.
“The Essex-Hudson Greenway project would contribute to make our community healthier and stronger, especially in a post-pandemic period where people are evaluating ways to improve their overall health and to safely socialize and interact with their neighbors and friends,” said Mary Ellen Clyne, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of Clara Maass Medical Center.
The need for easily accessible green space was underscored during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people flocked to the outdoors for physical, emotional, and mental health. The distinct need for parks and outdoor space was even more dramatic in those communities that lack adequate access to outdoor recreation — the very same communities that have vast health and economic disparities.
For walkers, runners, cyclists, hikers and others, the proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway would create nearly nine miles of linear park, connecting Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny, Secaucus, and Jersey City.
According to the advocate groups, the overall health of the public benefits greatly by ease of access to attractive, safe, accessible places to bike, walk, hike, jog, skate and enjoy nature. Greenways and related trails offer better opportunities for an active lifestyle, especially in more urban areas, becoming sources for individuals to meet the national health goals of 30 minutes per day of moderately intense, daily physical activity for adults (or 60 minutes per day for youth).
“Greenways and multi-use trails create healthy recreation and transportation opportunities, making it easier for people to engage in activities that enhance their physical and mental well-being. As our communities surface from the COVID-19 pandemic, people are looking for more outdoor, safe alternatives to exercise and enjoy nature,” says Kathleen Smith, Program Director for the Partners for Health Foundation. ”By making the Essex-Hudson Greenway a reality in northern New Jersey, we make our communities more exercise-friendly and more attractive to new residents, businesses and more.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), physical inactivity causes numerous physical and mental health problems and is responsible for an estimated 200,000 deaths per year, directly contributing to the obesity epidemic in America. A 2017 study by the Eppley Institute of Indiana University found that 67 percent of greenway and trail users report increasing their exercise because of the presence of a trail, and trail users reported better overall health, fewer sleep problems, less pain, and less stress.
Greenway projects positively impact equity and environmental justice issues, especially projects in more urban communities like the proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway. “Overburdened communities,” those municipalities where a majority of residents are low income, minority and/or have a limited understanding of English, are often in urban locales where housing density, as well as levels of greenhouse gases, emissions and other pollutants are high. As a result, these areas are home to higher rates of obesity, asthma, heart disease and other chronic conditions, and saw higher than average rates of COVID-19 infection and related deaths. Many of the municipalities adjacent and near the path of the proposed Greenway fall into these classifications, making equitable access to open green space and more positive health outcomes that much more important for residents in these communities.
“I am excited about the prospect of how the Essex-Hudson Greenway would complement efforts to strengthen the Mount Prospect neighborhood and the City of Newark,” said Michelle Lolo, CEO of Hope & Esperanza Community Health Center. “The growing investments in medical and health related enterprises in this community will not only generate opportunities for job expansion and support area businesses, but, like the planned linear park, will promote a healthier lifestyle for our residents. The Greenway and we are all part of the puzzle that leads to a healthier Newark.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, people might have taken their neighborhood park for granted, passing it by on their way to a gym or health club. But, when the pandemic closed gyms and confined people to their own “family bubble,” with many at risk for infection tightly packed into apartments, green spaces of all kinds became vital places for folks to exercise, get fresh air, reduce stress, and get a glimpse other people. Cities that have greenways noticed a huge uptick in use. St. Louis, which has a vast greenway system, realized a 50 percent increase in trail traffic. The city maintains a 128-mile network of outdoor spaces linking neighborhoods and natural settings that impact more than 100 municipalities and institutions.
Residents of communities all along the proposed length of the linear park have been campaigning for more than a decade to create a greenway that would serve as a “shared-use path” for people walking, riding a bicycle, running, rolling, or just relaxing along this corridor. Access to greenways and other public spaces for recreation is an important factor in the ability to exercise, especially in areas with significant population density and where residential properties are compact and offer little open space. Studies show that 30% of people who are physically active exercise in public parks and green spaces, while 50% are more likely to meet health and exercise recommendations if they have easy access to these public spaces.
According to a 2017 study by the Outdoor Industry Association, investments in outdoor recreation infrastructure and programming can significantly lower long-term individual and public health care costs through a reduction in stress and obesity rates, improved physical fitness, and strengthening social bonds with family and friends. A portion of the East Coast Greenway, located in the Triangle Region of North Carolina, has seen significant and deep returns in terms of health benefits for those in the surrounding region. Changing the ability of residents to get out and live active lifestyles stimulated a boost in wellness and has saved over $14 million in healthcare costs per year through an average of 3.592 million hours of physical activity on the trails and greenways each year. A study by the American Heart Association found that for every $1 spent on the construction of walking trails, approximately $3 or more is saved in medical expenses.
In July 2020, the Open Space Institute (OSI) reached a preliminary purchase and sale agreement with Norfolk Southern Railway Company for property in Essex and Hudson Counties for the purpose of the Greenway. The purchase agreement has a sale deadline of January 2022.
The Open Space Institute and its partners have already begun investing in planning, surveying, environmental assessments, and more. This preliminary work is already supporting jobs associated with planning and acquisition work that will lead to hundreds more design, engineering and construction jobs. The project also offers the potential to reduce traffic and storm water runoff in towns along the rail line, improve transportation options for residents and allow for improved infrastructure connectivity for things like broadband and emergency response.
About Open Space Institute
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.
About the 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.