Back in the late 1990s, three longtime residents of South Orange, New Jersey envisioned a bicycle and pedestrian path that would allow them to safely walk or bike to the train station to reach their jobs in New York City. That imagined path has become a reality and is known as the South Orange River Greenway. To learn more about how this vision was realized, NJAIM interviewed Janine Bauer, one of the project leaders.

The idea for the greenway emerged from a conversation between Bauer and two other commuters, in which Bauer described her vision of a bicycle and pedestrian path, or at least a sidewalk, through the park and along the Rahway River. Such a path would enhance access to downtown South Orange and the NJ Transit train station from the northern end of town. The others shared these sentiments and the three of them brought this vision to South Orange’s governing body and town engineer.  After the formation of a steering committee, a visioning process was undertaken with students from the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and South Orange community members.  These ideas were then incorporated into a Master Plan for the East Branch of the Rahway River, which has since been formally adopted by the South Orange Planning Board and governing body.

Janine Bauer

Janine Bauer at the completed Phase 1 of the South Orange River Greenway.

The project will have five construction phases. The first three segments of the trail will be located within South Orange while phases 4 and 5 will connect to Maplewood. The first phase is complete and the second phase will be done within the next year and a half. These two phases will connect the northern end of South Orange to the village center and train station and phase three will connect the northern and southern ends of South Orange to each other.  As Bauer explained, the first two phases are utilitarian, but also beautify the area around the river, which had become an unsightly urban ditch.  However, as Bauer explained, it is the third and final phases that will enhance connectivity to other places and provide community members with serious trip options by modes other than car.

In addition to overseeing the planning, design and construction, Bauer and the rest of the River Greenway Committee are working with the South Orange community to encourage biking and walking to the train station and to the middle school, which sits adjacent to the river and bicycle path.  Last week, they completed their first bicyclist and pedestrian count of the greenway and streets near the middle school to gauge usage.  Bauer explained that the greenway path has become very popular among the South Orange community, and the count will create a baseline for comparison to help secure funding for future phases of the project.  More information about the South Orange river greenway project can be found in the East Branch of the Rahway River Master Plan.