What is the Northend Greenway?
Good question! We’re so glad you asked. The Northend Greenway will serve three main purposes for the people who use it and for the City of Harrisonburg: it will be a path, a park, and a prototype.
Harrisonburg’s Northend Greenway will be an attractive and safe bicycle and pedestrian path connecting neighborhoods in North Harrisonburg and the downtown district via public green space, easily accessible to all residents, including children, families, and those of low income.
First, the Northend Greenway will be a 2.5-mile multi-use path connecting people in north Harrisonburg with the places they want to go. From Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, to Section 8 housing, and a university, a high school, and two community centers, the path will serve several diverse populations, representing 10-20% of Harrisonburg residents. See the route.
Commuters working or living in downtown and points north will have a scenic, stress-free, and significant segment of their ride off of roadways and along a relatively level route. People needing to buy groceries, attend events downtown, or athletics and plays at Eastern Mennonite University, will have an easy, relaxing way to get where they need to go. Others wanting to travel farther – to James Madison University, Purcell Park, etc. – will be able to easily connect with existing bike and pedestrian infrastructure to continue their journey. For many of the residents along the path’s route, this will provide a sustainable and financially viable means of transportation.
Beyond simply meeting transportation needs, the path will also be a “corridor park,” that passes through neighborhoods and undeveloped land along a scenic route that follows Blacks Run and which reveals some of Harrisonburg’s better-hidden natural beauty. Along the Northend Greenway, this will create public park space in areas where there currently is little. The path will be 8 to 10 feet wide and entirely paved, with a buffer of green space on either side. At different points along the route, this green space will include native plantings, places to sit and rest or have a picnic, informational signs, and potentially stream and field restoration. The park will only be accessible to non-motorized traffic, and will be well-lit.
The Northend Greenway models accessible and attractive public infrastructure and enables affordable, healthy, sustainable, and safe transportation options in Harrisonburg.
Last, and by no means least importantly, the Northend Greenway will be a prototype representing the best in bicycling and walking infrastructure. We see the greenway as the first stage in a larger human-powered transportation network, and one which will set the standard for future development in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. With this in mind, we hope to create a community resource that employs the best practices in bicycle and pedestrian transportation infrastructure and applies them to our context.
We hope the Northend Greenway will be a place for families, individuals, and groups to enjoy themselves, and that it will be an accessible means of recreation and transportation for individuals of many ages, ethnicities, income levels, and physical abilities. We want to bring the best of the world to Harrisonburg!
Now, while the Northend Greenway may be the first of its kind in Harrisonburg, it’s part of a longer story that goes back at least as far as 2002. Around the turn of the millennium, a group of local citizens, city staff, and business owners began planning a multi-use path for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. This project came to be known as the Blacks Run Greenway, named for the stream it would follow, and the planners called themselves the Friends of the Blacks Run Greenway. They developed plans outlining a $14 million dollar path system stretching from Pleasant Valley Road in the south to the northern outskirts of Harrisonburg. It was ambitious and visionary, but a series of logistical bumps slowed its progress. After several years of hard work, the group appeared to go dormant, waiting for a time when funding, easements, and public will were easier to come by.
It was out of a community with this history that in 2010 a group of Harrisonburg residents began to talk together about how alternative transportation infrastructure could be developed in the city. A path connecting neighborhoods in north Harrisonburg and downtown seemed like a logical first step for several reasons, including the lack of existing connective infrastructure between those areas and greater Harrisonburg, the large sections of undeveloped land along the route, and the potential for meeting residents’ existing transportation and recreation needs. A steering committee was formed in September 2010 to first explore and then direct the project.