Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to create a paved hiking and biking trail from New York City to Canada has given new hope to local environmental activists who have struggled for decades to establish Riverdale’s link to a greenway that already winds it way along the Hudson River in Manhattan and Westchester.
In his state of the state speech in Purchase, NY, on Jan. 10, Cuomo proposed spending $200 million over the next three years on creating 750 miles of two intersecting paved trails across the state. One would run from Manhattan to the border with Canada, and the other from Albany to Buffalo.
“The Empire State Trail, once completed, will be the nation’s largest state multi-use trail network, providing residents and visitors alike unprecedented access to New York’s outdoor treasures, driving tourism and economic activity to communities across the state and helping to protect our environmental resources for generations to come,” Cuomo said.
The trail from New York City to Canada would incorporate parts of the Hudson River Valley Greenway, the waterfront trail that local supporters have been trying to create for 20 years. So far, about half of the greenway is complete.
Cuomo’s “plan calls for the creation of the greenway right through our backyard, which is what we’ve been seeking for decades now,” said Cliff Stanton, a leading advocate of the greenway and the project’s coordinator at the Kingsbridge Riverdale Van Cortlandt Development Corporation, a group known locally as KRVC.
“We can’t overstate the importance of what Cuomo announced,” he said.
The state already owns most of the land needed for the future Empire State Trail. But the problem is that some of the land along which the greenway could run is already being used be the Metropolitan Transit Authority for a service road and a maintenance track known as “track six.”
“They both present obstacles. And the MTA said they are both off the table [as possible greenway routes],” Bob Bender, the chairman of the parks committee of Community Board 8 and a co-chair of the Hudson River Greenway special committee, told The Press on Jan. 17.
Stanton concurred: “It’s something the MTA doesn’t want to give up,” he said. But “now that their boss has gotten behind this, I feel more confident about the prospects of getting this done,” he said.
Despite the remaining difficulties, environmental advocates on Community Board 8 applauded Cuomo’s proposal.
The plan seems to give “further impetus to completing the greenway in the Bronx,” Bender said. Laura Spalter, Bender’s fellow co-chair of the greenway committee and the chairwoman of the community board’s environment and sanitation committee, welcomed Cuomo’s proposal as “very exciting news.”
MTA’s reluctance to move its service and maintenance routes means that parts of the greenway “will have to be over the river,” Stanton told The Press on Jan. 17. But “there will be parts of the greenway that... will be placed on land where there’s enough space between the shoreline and track six,” he said.
Squeezing the greenway trail into the narrow spaces between MTA roads and the Hudson, or building a raised passageway about the water raises “all kinds of engineering questions,” Bender said.
State Sen. Jeffrey Klein allocated $250,000 last year for an MTA study in the project’s feasibility and engineering issues. The transportation authority, which contracted a private firm to do the research, is expected to report on stages of the project to Community Board 8, Bender said.
The decades-long dream of creating a trail along the Hudson has received support from other local politicians. Councilman Andrew Cohen introduced a resolution last year calling for the creation of the greenway.
“Yes, it’s symbolic, but it’s also a critical piece of this thing, because we want this on the radar [of local officials],” Stanton said. His group, KRVC will host a meeting in March in an effort to muster public support and ideas.