TENAFLY, N.J. — Alex Philliou of Haworth, a junior at Dwight-Englewood School, has collected 1,215 signatures on a change.org petition proposing a rail trail along unused CSX train track.
The portion in question is on the Northern Branch Line.
The vision is for a walking and cycling trail that would run from Tenafly north through Cresskill, Demarest, Closter, Norwood, and Northvale until it meets the Joseph B. Clark Rail Trail.
The idea has been floated for years.
It enjoys the support of Shepard Grinker of the Tenafly Bicycle Workshop, Fred Silber of Tenafly, and Christine Evron, president of the Tenafly Chamber of Commerce, among others.
“Alex has stirred interest again,” said Grinker, who helped spread Philliou’s petition around social media for the past month.
“Signatures always help,” he added. “The petition has gotten the attention of the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition, which has expressed interest, and they’re the heavy hitters.”
A rail trail would be an upgrade, said Philliou, who took a research course at Columbia University to help him prepare a great petition.
“With over 1,200 signatures, I think we have a real movement to improve our community,” he said.
“Research from around the country shows there are countless benefits to creating rail trails.”
Those include increased business for local stores and the positive health effects that come with exercise, Philliou said.
For instance, he cited that more than 19 million calories were collectively burned throughout Denver, Colorado when a bicycle program was created there.
“That helps Denver have one of the lowest obesity rates in the nation,” said Philliou, who added the value of homes along trails increases by roughly 6 percent.
But the Bergen project has a long way to go before any of those benefits are seen.
For starters, Philliou will present his petition to Bergen County Executive James Tedesco, the Bergen County Parks Commission and the mayors of Demarest, Cresskill, Tenafly, and Closter.
Next steps include getting CSX to lease the land, government support for the idea, and money.
“The key thing now is whether Tenafly is behind the concept,” Grinker said. “If towns are behind it, then we’re looking at a feasibility study.”
At that point, a team to spearhead the process would be in order, he added.
In the meantime, the track along the unused Northern Branch remains a danger and a detriment, according to Grinker.
He rides the route to work every day.
“I ride through the glass, hypodermic needles, and everything else that’s along the tracks right now,” he said.