I've talked before about the amount of sprawl that the Tappan Zee Bridge has generated west of the river in Orange, Bergen and Rockland counties. One thing that's often overlooked is that this area did not go straight from farmland to sprawl. Before 1950 it had an extensive railroad network, moving goods, travelers and commuters between the areas north and west of the Hudson Highlands and boats on the river.
The New York Central's West Shore Line ran from Albany along the river to Weehawken. The Erie ran from Binghamton and Port Jervis to Piermont, and later to Jersey City, splitting into the Main, Bergen County and Northern branches. The New York, Susquehanna and Western ran from Stroudsburg and Warwick to Edgewater. The various docks and junctions were significant employment centers, but the area also contained vacation destinations, bedroom communities and industrial uses such as rock quarrying and ice harvesting.
With the opening of the various bridges and tunnels and the highways connecting them, truck freight became more economical than rail. At the same time, new refrigeration technologies made ice harvesting unnecessary, and the creation of various mountain parks put an end to rock quarrying in these counties.
The bridges, tunnels and highways also put the area within easy commuting reach of Manhattan jobs. The housing crunch created in the city and inner suburbs by building height restrictions, racism and crime made even houses in Orange and Ulster counties desirable. The result is the sprawl we see today. That sprawl is real, and it represents an outrageous amount of wasted effort. But if we look, we can see the area's transit-oriented past. That can be the foundation for a sustainable future.