Why I Love the Traction Line: 10 Years of Walking and Biking the Path

A long, slow trip on a very short bike path.

When I first saw the headline in the Patch about the Traction Line being extended into Madison, I was thought, "Yay!  Finally!" and then I read how the Madison council had voted to not extend the Traction Line, and going a bit further was going to write some letters to the state and county saying they def did not want this at all, I guess ever.  My "yay!" quickly turned into dismay.

I first noticed the Traction Line, which is a paved path that runs next to the NJ Transit line, from Washington Headquarters in Morristown to Danforth Road in Madison, from the train.  I'm sure I noticed people walking and biking and skating on it on trips into New York.

Sometime in the late 90s/early 2000s, my now husband and myself quit some bad habits and picked up some healthier ones, and at the same time picked up a matching pair of hybrid bicycles that were on clearance at Whippany Cycle.  

We headed over to the Traction Line from our apartment near Assumption Church in Morristown, and while my husband took off, I struggled to get up the slight incline towards the bridge and Normandy Parkway.  

I remember thinking a couple of things, "This hill and entire bike ride sucks," and at the same time thinking "this path is totally for babies." I am not sure why the babies thing popped into my head—I guess I thought I would hop on my new hybrid and immediately be some sort of cycling hero, riding at top speed or winning some award or actually I'm not sure what I thought.  

I hadn't been on a bike since I was 15, so I'm not sure what I was thinking bike riding was like.  I guess we'll never know, but I definitely thought the Traction Line was a little bit too mild mannered for me.

After that, it was some time and I started working a part time job in Madison, and occasionally would ride my bike over taking the Traction Line.  Not knowing anything about how to ride in the road at the time, I'm sure I took the sidewalks into town.  That job ended and I started another one in Morristown and it wasn't until 2003 that I rediscovered the awesomeness that is the Traction Line.

In 2003, I got rid of my car and started working as a dog walker (I also got married, and I'm glad to say all 3 of these things seem to be working out).  My car wasn't great and it kept breaking down in expensive ways, and , which I never did.

My first paying gig as a dog walker was in the Washington Headquarters neighborhood, and I would take the dog down to the Traction Line and walk it for 30 minutes or so.  This is when I started to get first started to get a "These are the people in my neighborhood" feeling about Morristown.  

I started walking more dogs on the Traction Line and would pass people every day, and they would say hello or comment about the weather, and while this sounds pretty boring, it was really nice.  

There was a nurse who would push her elderly client in her wheelchair on sunny days, other dog walkers, fitness walkers, people walking to the train or to the post office at Convent Station, and bike riders with rusty chains and some with aero bars, all using this space and at very least giving a nod. Having someone say hello to you is something I missed all those years in my car, and also pretty great when you spend your entire day talking to dogs.  

Sometime after I have settled into biking and walking to my jobs, a group of people in Morristown started showing up for Morristown monthly community bike ride, and there was a committee and lots of chatter how to make Morristown better for bikes.  It suddenly occurred to me that maybe I could quit dreaming of a move to Portland, and Morristown would be the next amazingly bike friendly town.  I have since learned that this takes a lot of time, and infrastructure changes can take decades, sometimes more.  (This slow speed is one reason I was so disappointed in the extension being turned down, what if it is 20 years before it comes up again?)

I added a cargo extension to my bike and started riding over to Madison's Whole Foods and loading up, and then riding home on the Traction Line.  It was sort of a personal challenge to me to see how much stuff I could haul on my bike  We'd ride over to the garden store across from Whole Foods and get a shrub and I'd haul it home.  We would hit the rummage sale at a church and then get coffee at Drip before heading home with my new treasures.  The Chatham Bookseller, the , Blue Ridge Mountain Sports, and the all became destinations, and part of my personal quest to just haul stuff on my bike, because I could.  Cases of cat food, sure?  Get 2.  Going to visit my mom?  Have the nice woman at the boutique help me pick out something that matches. Load up on cookbooks and clearance mysteries at the book shop, no problem.

My husband works near the Madison High School, and at some point during my transformation into the world's biggest Traction Line fan, he started riding his bike to work.  Sometimes we would pass on the Traction Line and

I have trained for 5ks on the Traction Line. I have done 5ks on the Traction Line! I trained for the NYC marathon, and am training for the NYC marathon on the Traction line.  If it extended into Madison, for the people who have tried it out, it would only be something more to love.

I want to be fair to the people who are against extending this bicycle and pedestrian path so people can more easily reach Madison. Here are some of the worries I have heard people have:

There will be graffiti.  Probably!  A few years ago, there was the zim2 incident, and zim2 left his mark all over the Traction Line (and downtown Madison).  I sort of feel like zim2 was also responsible for this Posers Go to School Here, which for some reason, people started taking pics of their bikes next to.  There is some good graffiti - I love this one that says , and this ," but for the most part the parks department does a great job of keeping graffiti covered up.  There is quite a bit more graffiti under the bridges on the NJ Transit side of the, and that seems to stay forever.  Some of the graffiti under the Normandy Parkway bridge seems charmingly vintage.  But yes, there will probably be some graffiti at some point.

Loss of Privacy.  I think this is a valid point.  I stopped and asked one person who was working on their garden next to the Traction Line about some issues, and they felt like there were some privacy issues, and that's why they put their garden betweeen the path and their house.  Just the awkward fact that I could ask her something while I was passing by her house made her privacy compromised.    

Many houses along the Traction Line at the Morristown end have privacy fences; maybe this is an option for Madison residents.

I am also not sure that residents realize that people from the train can see directly into their back yards now.  If this is a major concern for someone along the proposed path and current NJ Transit line, you might want to hop on the train to Morristown and check out the view.

Safety/Security.  People seemed concerned that the Traction Line will attract people looking to break into their houses.  I am not a security expert, but this does not seem to be a problem on the Morristown end.  The resident out gardening that I spoke to said that the police watch the trail, security wasn't something they worried about.  I do think this is an important issue, and something that the Madison Police Department, along with the Morris County Park Police could address.  How often is the path patrolled?  What if there is a problem?  How high is the chain link fence and are there any stats on criminal activity on this path or paths like it?  Let's find out and just not assume that it will be full of bad guys or good guys.  

To me, having a path that has regular users that will recognize when something is wrong seems safer than having a train line by itself behind your house, but my theory might be wrong.  

Trash and Maintenance.  The Morris County Parks does have a few trash cans on the path.  I think they are trying to encourage 'a carry in, carry out' sort of thing, so there aren't a huge number.  The path itself is pretty clean, but there are bottles and whatnot on the NJ Transit side.  Bike and Walk Morristown has cleaned up the Traction Line and entrance at the Morristown side, and this year there wasn't that much.  I'm guessing it is because we did such an awesome job the year before.

The path is plowed in the winter and seems to be clean of debris.  I think the parks service goes a little bit overboard with salt in cold weather, so dogs would have to avoid it or wear those doggy booties.

I love this path. I love paths like it.  I have planned vacations and booked hotels near paths like it.  I have had people ask me where it is.  I am hoping that Madison will reconsider and find ways to extend the path and invite more people to visit their town. The person who was gardening next to the Traction Line said they enjoyed using it themselves, and clearly other people do, because there are plenty of foot paths from nearby yards to the Traction Line.   Other people, like Linda Lopez, of Morristown love it because it feels safe to get away from cars, you can see bunnies and finches and get to the path near Giralda, which will take you to Loantaka.

Ride and Walk the Traction Line to Morristown.  If you are Madison person, I hope you will get out this summer and fall and check out the Traction Line; Morristown would love for you to come walk or bike over and have lunch, go shopping and see a show.  Bike and Walk Morristown is having a picnic with bicycle art and music on Friday, July 27 at the Vail Mansion; heading over on the Traction Line would be an awesome way to get to know the path we in Morristown love.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kendra Arnold July 17, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I guess I'm not clear on what you mean. Does the path go through your backyard? It was my impression (so could be totally wrong), that this path was on a right of way either owned by nj transit or the morris county parks. I haven't heard anyone saying they were taking people's property for this project. If you find out any details on this, I'd love to know. If this project is looked at again by Madison, it would be great if there were some plans shared online or all of these questions answered in some sort of public meeting, besides the meeting where it was voted down. On the current Traction Line, there is a portion that has chain link fences on both sides, but also another segment that only has chain link fence on the nj transit side, leaving either the yards open to the path, or they put up their own privacy fence (tho many have gates to the path).
Katie July 17, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Hi Alice! I'm actually a drainage engineer. The impacts on neighbors would most certainly be taken into consideration, as they should be, but I see no way that this would be a deal breaker for the project moving forward. I can't speak to the specific requirements that would apply to this project as I don't know which jurisdiction it would be under, but with a responsible designer on the project there should be either no impact or a reduction in stormwater runoff onto neighboring properties. The traction line is really minimal development compared to other residential and commercial sites, and new technologies allow engineers to reduce the impacts even further. It would be great to see some low impact development approaches taken, even pervious pavement would be a great alternative in this situation. I can understand and relate to many of the concerns/cons listed as they pertain to homeowners in the area, but I can assure you that no professional engineer would jeopardize any homes to complete a project such as this. That goes directly against our code of ethics, as public safety is always our priority.
Madison Cyclist July 17, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Morris County already owns the right of way, i.e., the property alongside the NJ Transit tracks. Thus, property lines won't change. However, the County has previously identified residential encroachment on the right of way as an issue. So if someone built a fence or swingset on the right of way, that would be impacted. It's relatively easy to see something like this getting tied up in litigation.
Interested Observer July 18, 2012 at 03:03 AM
According to the tax records, the County owned parcel is at least 25 to 30 feet wide throughout its entire length, up to 40 feet wide in some spots. This is more than adequate to have extend the Traction Line Trail and enhance an already valuable recreation asset. If someone has built something within the County parcel, then it has to be moved since it isn't their property. Sounds like this project is inevitably going to be bogged down in local politics. Too bad.
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