Making Green

Designing New York City's Greenway System

What's a greenway? Ask a city planner and you'll probably hear the buzzword "linear park." The idea being you got a trail with a cushion of plants all along it. If the trail actually goes someplace—a bigger park or a downtown area, so much the better. The other buzzword is "non-motorized transportation." So no cars, no motorcycles, no snowmobiles. Just walkers, bikers, bladers, maybe a wheelchair or two.

In 1991 the greenway movement got a shot of adrenaline by the passage of (take a deep breath) the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). The Act recognized that our cities are overloaded with automobiles, and besides, many people prefer a brisk walk or bike to their destination rather than being completely hooked on cars. As they say, question internal combustion. So there's a federal policy supporting greenways, and where there's a policy, there's usually money. And there is, and New York City recently got 50 million dollars of it.

New York City's greenway has been added to piece by piece over the years. The man who's been a kind of mastermind behind pulling it together is Dave Lutz with the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition. A booklet, available from the city's planning department, that goes more deeply into the issues affecting the development of the greenway, is largely Dave's brainchild.

How do you plan a greenway? The same way you blaze any other hiking trail: You get out a map, figure it out, and then you try to walk it. I was with Dave once on a group hike through the Bergen Arches, which is an abandoned railroad cut through the New Jersey Palisades. To get on the trail took a couple glances at a battered map, a traipse across a muddy industrial field, a climb up brushy slope, then a clamber over crumbling wall. Our destination was a hidden, artificial canyon that was once a busy railway, and is now being reclaimed by nature. It took a little looking past the trash thrown down the cliffs above to experience the enchantment of this hidden gorge, with a stream running through it and its edges softened by reeds, volunteer trees, and at one surprising point, a grove of young birch trees. Periodically, the canyon was spanned by an arc of a railway bridge. It was like being under the flying buttress of a gothic cathedral, or what I imagine a hike through Arches National Park might be.

I called up Dave to ask him how the city transportation department was going to spend the money. Since the New York city greenway is so complex, there are a lot of different pieces to fit together. Among the slated projects are. . .

Paving a new path in front of Floyd Bennett Field in Gateway National Recreation Area. This path will provide better entrance to Gateway NRA and be the first permanent new bike path in 40 or 50 years in New York City.

Rebuilding parts of the old system, some of which was designed by Frederick Olmstead, the 19th century landscape architect who designed Central Park.

Extending North Bronx Bikeway from Pelham Bay Park to Orchard Beach.

Studying the feasibility of a pedestrian and bike path over the Verrazano Bridge. When this is done, you'll be able to see down the Palisades into NJ, "an incredible visual corridor" according to Dave.

Providing signage and a guide for the entire way length of the Brooklyn Queens Greenway.

Building a new greenway from Prospect Park to the 69th Street Ferry Pier.

This is just a partial list. As far as what else, suffice it to say that there's going to be a lot of exciting work carried out on New York City's greenway over the next few years.

And you can experience Dave Lutz's favorite part of the current greenway—the Rockaway Gateway Greenway. According to Dave, "This greenway provides access to not only the nature reserves, but Riis Park and the Queens Beaches of the Rockaway. You can't ask for anything more in a Greenway."

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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