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Could a 1,650-mile trail network connect New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut?

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The Regional Plan Association thinks it’s possible

The Hudson River Greenway, proposed to connect to the Empire State Trail network
Curbed Flickr Pool/john

Could a more robust system of trails be in the cards for New York City? The Regional Plan Association thinks it’s possible; the group has released a report [PDF] that proposes connecting New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut with 1,650 miles of biking, hiking, and walking trails. The report says that while all three states boast thousands of miles of trails, "they are largely disconnected from each other."

The report continues, "The trails provide recreational opportunities within the region’s preserves and parks but fail to facilitate greater connections between this natural beauty and the communities where most people live."

One goal of a better connected, regional trail network is to help to boost the economies of the "trail towns" along the route, according to the RPA. Such a network will also make it easier for residents of "urban cores" in New York and New Jersey to access these towns and trails without a car.

There are three proposed routes that would extend from New York City, all of which already have existing trails that would need to be expanded or connected. The first is the Harbor Ring, which would connect Lower Manhattan via ferry to Hoboken, Jersey City, and Bayonne, across the Bayonne Bridge to Staten Island, then over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge over to the Brooklyn Greenway and across the Brooklyn Bridge.

The second is the Manhattan Trail, which proposes reducing Broadway to a single lane of traffic from 14th to 59th streets and employing traffic calming measures for bikes and pedestrians. From 59th Street, the trail would continue through Central Harlem, from Central Park West to Frederick Douglass, St. Nicholas, and Edgecombe avenues to Highbridge Park. Ultimately the trail could provide a pathway for residents of upper Manhattan to reach the Long Path, Empire State Trail, and Merritt Parkway Trail.

Finally, there's the Inner Sound Shore Loop, which would extend the proposed South Bronx greenway and move it closer to the waterfront where possible. The loop would connect with a new route along the North Queens waterfront, then to a shoreway circumnavigating Rikers Island.

Another proposal seeks to build off Governor Cuomo's announcement early this year to establish the Empire State Trail, a 750-mile path for bikers and pedestrians that will stretch from Manhattan to northern New York, across to Albany and Buffalo.

One of the RPA’s proposed routes could connect New York City to upstate landmarks like Walkway Over the Hudson, making use of existing stretches of the East River Greenway, Hudson River Valley Greenway, the Croton Aqueduct Trail, the Dutchess Rail Trail, and the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. Another approach could utilize inland trails in the Bronx and Westchester County.

One of the most ambitious trail proposals—but feasible for a full-day trip—would be the NYC-to-Mohonk Day Trip. Imagine this: a car-free jaunt between Grand Central Terminal and upstate's Mohonk Preserve, utilizing the Empire State Trail and some simple roadside connections by bike to the Mohonk Preserve visitors’ center.

So what needs to be done to make it happen? The report suggests the organization of a regional trail network coalition that could study routes, allocate funding, and provide resources to local governments and trail groups. Of course, it will require plenty of money to get it done—though the report doesn't offer estimated costs.

Ultimately, the main goal is to connect the existing trail networks to facilitate more cohesive routes throughout the three states. But it won’t be without its challenges; in New York City, for instance, it may get tricky when it comes to bridge crossings. "Investments to integrate stronger bike and pedestrian connections into these existing structures, along with new pedestrian/bike-only crossings such as those in the Inner Sound Shore Loop, will help to advance the success of the network," says the report.