Thursday, December 5, 2013

Getting around the Meadowlands

If you've spent enough time in New Jersey, you know that it actually has some really nice, walkable, pretty towns, and some hip urban neighborhoods, and some beautiful parks. The challenge is getting between them. Buses and trains help, but some of us like to walk, or ride bikes.

One time I just got on my bike and ride west. That was an experience. I took the ferry to Hoboken and rode over the Palisades, and then I got to the Meadowlands. I got through, but it was miserable. If you've ever tried to get between Jersey City and Newark without a motorized vehicle you've basically got two options, the Lincoln Highway or the Newark Turnpike, and they're both as unwelcoming as they sound. I thought at one point that I should have taken the PATH train to Newark.

It makes sense for the Meadowlands to be not such a walkable place. It is a swamp, after all. As much as we've abused it, it's probably more sustainable not being filled with housing. Why would it be worth anyone's time to make it easy to walk through a swamp that doesn't have much more in it than sparsely placed industrial sites, many of them abandoned? But it is on the way from one interesting place to another. Or rather, it's in the way.

Eventually, I got to thinking: you could walk around the Meadowlands. At a certain elevation the swamp stops and there are some really nice, walkable, pretty towns, and some hip urban neighborhoods, and some beautiful parks. But there's also some yucky sprawl, the kind of stuff that inspired that "what exit?" joke.

When I go for a nice long walk (or bike ride), I want to be treated with respect. I want nice, well-maintained sidewalks and stop lights. I want to walk through friendly towns, past interesting buildings, with welcoming places to eat, drink and rest.

View Getting around the Meadowlands in a larger map

So in the past year I've walked around the Meadowlands, and I found a nice route for you, from the George Washington Bridge to Newark Broad Street Station. I can't promise you it will be like walking through Park Slope or Ditmas Park the whole way. There are occasional spots that are pretty unpleasant, mostly crossing the highways, but they're short. You'll never be too far from a place with wifi and ice coffee. A lot of those are Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks and Panera, but some are funky independent shops. And when I say funky independent, I mean cute Korean coffehouses in Fort Lee, old Italian-American bakeries in Lyndhurst, and new Brazilian cafes in Kearny. Those don't all have wifi, but they all have atmosphere.

This route is approximate. There are some interesting alternatives, like through the Flat Rock Brook Nature Center in Fort Lee, or down Main Street in Hackensack, or a number of different routes through Teaneck. I routed it mostly along walkable commercial streets, and the major residential corridors connecting them. Feel free to switch over to quieter parallel streets as you like. The one area where I wouldn't counsel much divergence is in West Englewood, where even Palisade Avenue loses its sidewalk for half a block - but the other streets are sidewalk-less for more than that.

You may find it useful if you're planning a long-distance bike or walk through the area, but it's also quite nice for short trips. It's intersected by Red and Tan bus Routes 9, 11 and 20, and New Jersey Transit's Morris and Essex, Main, Bergen and Pascack Valley lines and the Route 4 vans, which can all get you to or from Manhattan in a relatively short time, as well as numerous local routes. So you can, for example, take the Pascack Valley line to Essex Street, grab lunch in Hackensack, walk across the river to Bogota and then north until you get tired, and catch a bus back to the city. Just remember that there's tunnel traffic during rush hour.

If you try this route, or if you know the area, let me know what you think. If you have suggestions or corrections, please leave them in the comments.


Christopher said...

I'd love to try this out some day. Is there a turn-by-turn version buried somewhere on Google Maps I could print out or magically export to my smartphone?

West said...

Hey, I have been gathering data on the bergen bike routes for two years and have mapped many of them on the public google map - the West Englewood route runs through VOtee Park at the Point where the sidewalk is lost. But many of the other streets in the area are suitable for cycling witht he noatbale exception of Teaneck Road, north of Degraw Ave.

West said...

Also, be aware that Flat Rock does not allow bikes and is unsuitable for road bikes if you manage to get in.

I would have made it a preferred google route if not.