"By the law of nature these things are common to all mankind:
the air, running water, the sea, and consequently shores of the sea.":
Roman Civil Law 500 A.D.
What is the Waterfront Conservancy?
A non-profit organization composed of waterfront stakeholders (local governments, developers, property owners and citizens) created in 1988 to protect the right of the public to have access to and free enjoyment of the Hudson River Walkway. It works with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to achieve the on paper plan and to monitor the maintenance and usage of the walkway
What is the Walkway?
It is a 30-foot wide pathway constructed at the edge f the Hudson River extending over 18 linear miles from Bayonne to the George Washington Bridge. It was adopted into New Jersey Administrative law in 1988. It requires the construction and maintenance of the Walkway by the owner of the waterfront land. It also requires free, unobstructed access to the Walkway 24 hours a day. An easement conveys the conservation restriction to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection which is responsible for the enforcement of the regulation.
Are bicycles permitted on the Walkway?
Yes, bikes are permitted with the same obligations of the biker as found in any urban area. In general, bicycles are ridden 24/7 with the following obligations:
1. The speed of the bike should be the same as that of the walkers present in the area and the walkers as well as runners have the right of way at all times. The bicyclists are to use a bell to warn pedestrians that they are approaching. If the area is congested, common sense should come into play and the bicycle should be walked.
2. The normally required paved width of the pedestrian Walkway is 16 feet. In locations where that is reduced to 10 feet or less, bikes should be walked.
3. Each of the 9 municipalities along the Hudson River waterfront has its own regulations for use of bikes on the streets of its town. Those regulations normally are applied to the Walkway and include bikers using caution and consideration of pedestrians. If the municipality sees areas that require a limitation on bike use, for example during certain hours of the day or over weekends, it may opt to curtail bike usage. Such limitations should be specifically noted in the municipal code and clearly posted so that walkers and joggers as well as bikers are aware of the restrictions.
New York City has a wonderful continuous pathway along the western side of Manhattan. Why has New Jersey been unable to get its Walkway completed?
On the New York side, the City of New York is the planner and primary implementer for the construction of the Walkway. In New Jersey, the State makes the rules for the Hudson River waterfront which requires that the owners of waterfront property construct and maintain the Walkway in order to obtain waterfront development permits. Obviously this latter approach is dependent upon the financial resources and the desires of the owners to develop their waterfronts. As a result, much of the construction comes to a near halt during weak economic times and tends to improve when the economy improves. These variations over the decades have had and will continue to have a direct effect on the completion of New Jersey’s Walkway.
It doesn’t seem fair that the owners of riverfront properties have to bear the expense and maintenance of the Walkway in New Jersey. Isn’t this almost like ”taking” a substantial amount of property while not paying for it?
A. If it weren’t for the Hudson River Walkway almost none of the development that has taken place over the last 40 years could not have been constructed. The Walkway is the main reason that condos and various forms of commercial development have been able to be constructed. Here’s why.
In the early part of the 19th century the State determined that the shores of New Jersey belong to the general public, a declaration based on the Public Trust Doctrine. In the 20th century, the State defined the types of facilities and developments that are permitted. That list includes to this day “marine oriented” uses such as ports, piers, docks, ferry terminals, factories¸ railroads and warehouses dependent upon waterborne deliveries. With the arrival of the Water Development Act the required “marine oriented” uses now include areas for recreation by the general public. Remember any one of the uses noted above must be in existence to warrant a waterfront development permit.
When the condominium development craze hit the waterfront area and the shops, restaurants and shopping malls applied for permits they had no way to meet the marine-oriented require except by adopting recreation for the general public In the Hudson River area that means the development of the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway. Without that pathway most of the waterfront development we see today would not have been allowed. Every owner of waterfront property, every condo association, every mall should be thankful for and protective of the Walkway. It’s the reason they exist.
Isn’t this a “taking“of private property?
The law is based on the Public Trust Doctrine which originated in Roman law and which was passed into English medieval common law. These laws recognized that the ownership of “tidelands” (land below the mean high tide line) resided with the Emperor or King. These common law rights were considered to be inalienable and non transferable by the crown to private ownership. (Urban Harbors Institute, University of Massachusetts Boston 2003). The Public Trust Doctrine was adopted into United States law. In 1972, the federal Coastal Zone Management Act was passed specifically granting public access to the waterfronts of the country. Following the requirements of that law, New Jersey passed its own CZM Act in 1980 with Regulations for the Walkway promulgated in 1984 and 1988. The Walkway regulations were challenged by the United States and New Jersey Home Builders Associations in 1999. The requirement for construction and maintenance of the Walkway was upheld by the District Court based on the fact that 90% of the land in question was under water and had been filled in.
How does the Conservancy interact with the DEP?
We review plans for development of waterfront properties that require construction of the Walkway making comments and recommendations to the DEP. We are currently working to establish a data base regarding compliance with permit obligations and the upkeep and maintenance of the Walkway.
Why doesn’t that state provide funding for the completion of the Walkway?
Unlike New Jersey’s Atlantic shores to which millions of dollars are directed every year for beach replenishment, the Hudson River waterfront in comparison receives a meager amount of state assistance for the completion of the shorefront. However, with the help of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and the work of the Hudson County Administration’s Planning Department, the funneling of grant money has most recently been brought to the Hoboken/Weehawken Cove area so that the long awaited linkage between the Walkway in Hoboken and Weehawken will soon be accomplished. The Infusion of grant funds from federal and state agencies such as U.S. Department of Transportation and the NJ Green Acres creates the main source of money for the riverfront.
When I see problems along the Walkway such as impassable snow-covered areas or overgrown foliage growing into the pathway, what should I do? What if I see shopping carts, benches or a lot of debris in the water? Who is responsible to clean it up?