One of the barriers to increasing pedestrian movement is appealing walking space. This requires having well maintained infrastructure such as flat sidewalks and safe intersections, as well as design elements that make walking comfortable. Natural elements such as trees, flowers, and grasses, are not only aesthetically pleasing but also create a more comfortable walking environment by reducing heat and direct sunlight.

As a highly urbanized state, New Jersey is susceptible to heat island effects. Heat islands are urban areas that are hotter than nearby rural areas.[1]  These temperature differences are due largely to expansions in the built environment. When vegetated areas transition into urban areas, vast amounts of green, natural systems are lost which can lead to water management issues, poor air quality, higher energy costs, and hotter environments. Urban areas tend to have more asphalt, concrete, roads, and parking lots, which attract the sun and make nearby areas warmer. “The annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1.8–5.4°F (1–3°C) warmer than its surroundings. In the evening, the difference can be as high as 22°F (12°C).” [2] This increase in temperature leads to increases in air-conditioning usage, pollution, and heat-related illness.

shade on a street in Jersey City

Providing shade is essential to creating an inviting pedestrian environment.

These conditions are neither appealing nor healthy for pedestrians or bicyclists who endure these conditions most directly. The Complete Streets movement provides guidelines for street improvements, such as adding greenery, which can mitigate many of these issues. Trees provide shade in the summer, protecting buildings and surfaces from attracting heat and can also allow direct sunlight during winter months. In the summertime about 10%-30% of sunlight reaches beyond the tree canopy through to the ground below. This number can increase to 80% in the winter depending on if the trees are deciduous or evergreen providing pedestrians and bicyclists with more direct sun in the coldest months.[3] Shading is not only aesthetically pleasing but is functional.

New Jersey has set in place several incentives and programs to green its neighborhoods and pedestrian sidewalks.

  1. In 1996, New Jersey passed the Shade tree and Community Forestry Assistance Act. This act allows communities to remove any tree related liability that may discourage municipalities from planting trees. Under the act, municipalities can receive grant assistance in creating a Community Forestry Management Plan and can then use that plan to move forward and receive funding for implementing the plan.[4]
  2. The Green Communities Grants is available to communities that are wanting to plant trees on their own. This is a $3000 grant that assists communities who want to create a Forestry Management Plan. This grant is then followed up by the Community Stewardship Incentive Program Grant (CSIP), which can be used to actually implement the Forestry Management Plan.[5]
  3. In 2007, New Jersey passed the No Net Loss Reforestation Act, which requires development projects that span over once acre to replace any tress they take down in the process. Developers must have a reforestation plan in tact before construction. These plans typically include tree size, the number of trees, and how the trees will be managed.
  4. The Cool Cities Initiative was set in place to the direct purpose of minimizing heat islands. Through this program, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) work together to plant trees and plants in residential neighborhoods to minimize urban heat islands. Trees are only planted on public lands such as streets, parks, near sidewalks, and on school grounds.
  5. Groundwork Elizabeth, of Elizabeth New Jersey, is a local initiative for mitigating heat islands. It is a private/public partnership that works to promote “the sustained regeneration, improvement and management of the physical environment by developing community-based partnerships which empower people, businesses, educational institutions and other organizations to promote environmental, economic and social well-being.” [6] Groundwork Elizabeth accomplishes this mission through reclaiming vacant land, cleaning up neglected areas, returning brownfields, promoting environmental education, and tree planting through the States Canopy Program.
urban tree canopy

A well developed urban tree canopy has many benefits, including reducing heat island effects.

These programs not only improve the aesthetics and environment of the city, but also instill residents with a sense of pride in their community. Urban settings are a necessary product of the human environment, but need to maintain natural elements in order to minimize their carbon footprint on the planet. As a national leader in Complete Streets, New Jersey Department of Transportation has pledged to create walking areas that incorporate landscape and streetscape improvements that improve water and air quality. New Jersey has available several programs that can be used to make these improvements. The shading programs set in place serve to both protect the urban environment as well as create a comfortable walking space for pedestrians.


[1] “Heat Island Effect | U.S. EPA.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency

[2] “Heat Island Effect | U.S. EPA.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency

[3]  “Reducing Urban Heat Islands: Compendium of Strategies Trees and Vegetation.”

[4] Division of Parks and Forestry. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

[5] Division of Parks and Forestry. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

[6] Mission – Groundwork Elizabeth.