It’s a familiar sight for Tom Benevento, founding member of Harrisonburg’s Northend Greenway Steering Committee: walkers and bikers attempting to navigate the difficult intersection at the trailhead. “I see people trying to get to the path right now and it’s not easy. It’s a busy intersection, the road is right there, and you have to cross the railroad tracks. It’s also dangerous for bikes to ride through because it’s all uneven. That’s why I’m super happy that VOF is funding this. It’s going to make a big difference.”
Benevento is talking about the Northend Greenway Connection, a 10’-wide, paved, ADA accessible shared use path that will close a gap between where the greenway currently ends and a new segment slated for construction in 2022. In addition, the funds will pay for improvements to the intersection, including widening, relocation of curb ramps, realignment of crosswalks, and pedestrian signals.
The project will not only complete a vital connection on this segment of the trail, it will also get the city one step closer to the steering committee’s goal: linking all of Harrisonburg’s diverse communities through a north-south trail that parallels a restored segment of Black’s Run. That vision is shared by the city, says Erin Yancey, planning manager at Harrisonburg’s public works department. “The citizen’s group came up with a concept plan, coordinated with staff, started private fundraising that the city was able to use, along with its own funding, to match a state grant. It was a great public-private partnership, but it took some time.
“It’s all to connect neighborhoods to Black’s Run as well as to downtown,” she adds. “There is one neighborhood, Park View, that has no pedestrian or biking paths that extend all the way to the greenway, so right now people parking-lot hop to get to where they need to go. They really need an alternative. There is also a Walgreens at that intersection that people from nearby neighborhoods should be able to walk to.”
As the mixed-residential Park View neighborhood benefits from the newly connected trail, so will a university, a retirement community, two low-to-middle income neighborhoods, two mobile home communities, and several Habitat for Humanity housing units. Benevento says, “Harrisonburg is a diverse community with different cultures and socioeconomic levels. We wanted to create a greenway through places that would not normally get one.”
Once completed, Benevento says, the 6.5-mile north-south axis will “hook everything about Harrisonburg together: from the farmers market to the university, the retirement community, downtown, The Court Square Theater, low-income residential communities, trailer communities. It’ll transform the city once it’s all built.”