Connecting the City Through Park Corridors

Cities in the United States have a history of using green space to enhance urban landscapes. During the industrial revolution, Frederick Law Olmstead used green space not only to connect people, but create order in cities worn with strife. Cities in the early 1900s were consumed with filth on the streets and in the air. This polluted atmosphere paired with harsh working conditions led to unrest within the city. Olmstead believed that a connection of tailored green spaces could attack both of these issues, and lead to a more pleasant urban environment.[1] Collections of parks extended across the United States in an effort known as the City Beautiful Movement. However, overtime, the urban landscape has transformed with the addition of roadway and highway connections breaking up many of these park connections. Recently, the idea of park corridors has resurfaced and is being implemented in many ways throughout the country.

“No single park, no matter how large and how well designed, would provide citizens with the beneficial influences of nature; instead parks need to be linked to one another and to surrounding residential neighborhoods.”

—Frederick Law Olmsted.[2]

Parks of all shapes and sizes are an integral part of walking and biking infrastructure. They provide a safe traveling corridor for pedestrians and cyclists who are commuting or just enjoying the outdoors. In addition, they attract people from all areas of life. Parks attract the young and old, as well as employees on break who want to enjoy the outdoors. Parks are utilized during all parts of the day connecting people, neighborhoods, and shopping areas while also promoting exercise and community engagement. With the constant inflow and outflow of people, parks have the potential to create a network of connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists throughout an urban environment.

The most common types of park corridors according to City Parks Blog are[3]:

Running along an old canal path, the Delaware and Raritan Canal Trail connects New Brunswick, Princeton, Trenton, and Lambertville, among others.

Rail Corridors

The rails-to-trails movement has been effective in converting unutilized railroads to public pathways. This is frequently conducted through railbanking, which is an agreement between the railroad company and trail agency to use unutilized railroads for trails as long as the railroad remains out of service (rails-to-trails.org)[4]. Rails-to-trails can be an extremely effective form of connectivity because most of the trails lead directly into the city’s core from suburban areas. Creating parks off of these pathways can generate increased park participation and community.

Waterfronts and Stream Corridors

Waterfront park development has been popular in many cities looking to reestablish brownfield areas. These areas act as natural boarders along the water and have the potential to connect various parts of the city. Waterfront and stream corridors are also excellent for creating park corridors, because they protect and connect natural habitats. By preserving green space through parks and connecting corridors, ecosystems have better connectivity allowing animals and fauna to travel in the urban environment.

Easements

Easements can also be integral in creating park connectivity. They allow cities to join disconnected parks or pathways to create a fluid corridor. Frequently they are used in schools, ports, and other private properties.

Upgrading Streets to Parkways

Upgrading streets into parkways is part of a movement known as complete streets, which works to create safe streets for all modes of transportation: biking, pedestrian, and automobile. This type of park corridor does not require pedestrians and bicyclists with a completely separate pathway from cars. It focuses on creating a safe space for each mode while also providing aesthetic improvements such as greenery. This type of corridor connects parks through improvements in already existing infrastructure.

This dedicated bike lane in Hoboken runs along the redeveloped waterfront, connecting many city attractions.

Bike Boulevards

Bike boulevards can also be integrated into complete street projects. These boulevards are found on low speed streets accommodating bicycle activity. Frequently, these streets run parallel to streets with heavier automobile traffic. Streets with lighter traffic are more appealing to pedestrians and bicyclists and can act as park corridors.

Cycle Tracks and Pedestrian Improvements

Cycle tracks are a step beyond bike boulevards in that they provide a bicycle lane physically separated from automobiles. They may be designated through curbs, paint, or other physical dividers. These tracks are nice extensions of parks or rails-to-trails type infrastructure, because they provide cyclists with a safe route into busier parts of the city where there are fewer green spaces.

When parks are being developed, park connectivity is not always included in the planning dialogue. Parks are not seen as points of connectivity, but rather as islands of isolation within neighborhood districts. The concept of park connectivity is underutilized. In transportation planning, road connectivity and networks are stressed, but this concept is less vocalized when considering pedestrian corridors. Connecting parks through any of the above mentioned methods can provide safe infrastructure to those who want to travel without an automobile and should be discussed when planning for park development.

New Jersey is committed to providing safe and effective connections between parks throughout the state.  The New Jersey Department of Transportation provides a collection of bicycling resources, county bicycling maps and 20 bicycling tour guides, including information on both the East Coast Greenway, the Delaware and Raritan Canal Trail, and the High Point Cape May tour.  To access these resource, click here.


[1] “The City Beautiful Movement.”

[2] McMahon, Ed, and Mark Benedict. “How Cities Use Parks for Green Infrastructure.” How Cities Use Parks for Green Infrastructure.

[3] Welle, Ben. “Getting to Park Connectivity in Built-Out Cities.” City Parks Blog.

[4] “Urban Pathways to Healthy Neighborhoods.” Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

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