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The new MJM Northside Line in Poughkeepsie gives people a safe way to go from residential areas to parks, hospitals, schools, and shops — no car required. (Photo: Jeff Mertz / Scenic Hudson)

New Bike Trail Connections Make Cycling More Doable and Accessible

Poughkeepsie's new MJM Northside Line is just the first of the connectors designed to make commuting, not just recreation, feasible by bike.

by Joni Sweet
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The Hudson Valley is a dream place to live for recreational cyclists. You can spend days pedaling scenic rail trails, tackling rugged gravel roads, or braving steep descents in the mountains.

But try using your bike to commute from place to place, and it’s a different story. Many key trails lack connections to one another or to community assets (like shopping centers), forcing cyclists to compete with large, fast-moving SUVs and trucks on busy streets to reach their destination. And many trails fail to link with lower-income, diverse neighborhoods, leaving too many people cut off from the leisure, practical, and eco-friendly advantages of cycling.

Things are changing for the better, though. New and proposed trail connectors promise to strengthen the network of existing cycling trails, make biking more accessible to a more diverse group of people, and increase environmental justice in the process.

Connected trails can offer “a non-motorized conduit for people to get out of the cities and bike or walk into more naturalized landscapes,” Duane Martinez of Scenic Hudson says. (Photo: Jeff Mertz / Scenic Hudson)

Here’s a look at planned and recently developed trail connectors in the Hudson Valley and why they’re important.

Recently Opened Northside Line in Poughkeepsie

Visitors and residents of Poughkeepsie can now reach many essential community assets by bike, thanks to the recent opening of the first phase of the Marcus J. Molinaro (MJM) Northside Line. The 16- to 22-foot-wide, 1.2-mile-long pathway for cyclists and pedestrians runs along a former CSX rail line from Hudson Heritage Plaza in the Town of Poughkeepsie to Parker Avenue in the City of Poughkeepsie. It gives people a safe way to go from residential areas to parks, hospitals, schools, and shops — no car required. In 2019, Scenic Hudson negotiated and funded the acquisition of the former rail corridor. The following year, the Dutchess County Legislature voted unanimously to assume ownership of the corridor.

“The multi-use path is a linear park, so it [helps people step] out of the car-dominated landscape of cities and allows people to be at a different pace,” says Duane Martinez, director of the River Cities Program at Scenic Hudson. “That’s great for the mental health benefits of being away from screens and cars and using our bodies to get around and be in quieter spaces.”

Other Proposed Trail Connectors and Their Potential Impact

That’s just the beginning, though. Several other proposed trail connectors promise to increase cycling connectivity in Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, and other parts of the Hudson Valley.

The proposed second phase of the MJM Northside Line would link with Marist College, the One Dutchess residential community, Upper Landing Park, Waryas Park, and the Poughkeepsie Train Station, creating even more safety and convenience for cyclists who want to use their bike to commute to the train or green spaces.

The MJM Northside Line is a 16- to 22-foot-wide, 1.2-mile-long pathway for cyclists and pedestrians that runs along a former CSX rail line from Hudson Heritage Plaza in the Town of Poughkeepsie to Parker Avenue in the City of Poughkeepsie. (Photo: Jeff Mertz / Scenic Hudson)

Advocates for cycling, sustainability, and thoughtful urban planning are also pushing for the Newburgh-Beacon Regional Connector, a 1-mile path that would run from the Metro-North station in Beacon to the bike lane on the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, giving pedestrians and cyclists a safe alternative to traveling on Route 9D. If it comes to fruition, it would provide a dedicated non-motorized way to go between Beacon and areas of Newburgh, where nearly 27% of residents live in poverty, per the U.S. Census, and 30% of residents don’t have cars, according to data from the Newburgh Transportation Advisory Committee cited by the Highlands Current.

“There’s a motivation to make Newburgh and Beacon sister cities because we’ll be stronger together,” says Naomi Hersson-Ringskog, an urban planner in Newburgh and member of the Regional Connector Coalition. “It’s not just Newburgh accessing Dutchess County — it’s also Dutchess County accessing jobs in Newburgh.”

For more than 20 years, community advocates in Newburgh have been envisioning the Quassaick Creek Greenway. The proposed multi-use path project would run 2.5 miles along a post-industrialized urban waterway, connecting neighborhoods and community assets with the Hudson River and Scenic Hudson’s Snake Hill Preserve, says Martinez.

Considering the fact that communities of color are three times as likely as white people to live in “nature-deprived places,” the trail (and others like it) could be a step in the right direction for environmental justice.

“It’s an opportunity to connect residents of these urban centers to larger landscapes that have been conserved by Scenic Hudson and others, providing a non-motorized conduit for people to get out of the cities and bike or walk into more naturalized landscapes,” explains Martinez.

More Barriers to Overcome

The momentum in motivation to build trail connectors offers hope for safer, car-free ways to get around the Hudson Valley. But building these paths isn’t enough to make cycling equally accessible to all communities, notes Martinez.

Increasing bike commuting would chip away at our dependence on cars and offer a more sustainable alternative to getting around the Hudson Valley. (Photo: Matthew Fass / Scenic Hudson)

“There are practices of exclusion from nature, open space, and leisure sports that have been ingrained in U.S. culture for centuries, so providing infrastructure and access doesn’t necessarily mean there will be an uptick in use by historically marginalized communities,” he explains.

Engaging with local community members about proposed trails in their neighborhoods is key to making trails feel accessible to those living in close proximity. For example, in planning for the Quassaick Creek Greenway, Martinez says that there’s been community engagement every step of the way. He emphasizes that there needs to be a sense of community ownership of the project.

“It will be public infrastructure, so we need to look at how the voices and visions of community members inform and drive the design and the right fit for culturally appropriate spaces,” he says.

Overcoming these, and other challenges, to create a well-linked network of trails for cycling and walking can provide long-term advantages to the region, though. Not only would it be a boon for leisure and recreation, it would also chip away at our dependence on cars and offer a more sustainable alternative to getting around the Hudson Valley as the population continues to grow.

“We shouldn’t be planning for now — we should be planning for future growth of the region,” says Hersson-Ringskog. ‘We need to build infrastructure networks that aren’t reliant on the car so they can be accessed through other modes of transportation.”

​​Saugerties native Joni Sweet writes about health and travel from her Beacon home. She’s the author of the National Geographic guidebook 48 Hours: New York, and her work has been published by Lonely Planet, Forbes, SELF, Health, and Real Simple. She loves hitting the Dutchess Rail Trail on her 4130 road bike from State Bicycle Co.

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Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

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We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
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  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
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