As of late, Hoboken’s waterfront park has become too popular for its own good. People, mostly confined to their homes for the past several weeks, have sought fresh air and a chance to stretch their legs. Like the “inlanders” in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, they have gravitated to the riverfront. Being at the Hudson River with its fresh harbor-breezes, vast open spaces and usual spring sunshine has brought sanity and solace to our community as the coronavirus threat loomed.
But it has been these very crowds at Hoboken’s waterfront and the failure of people to adhere to social distancing that caused Mayor Bhalla at the end of March to close all of Hoboken’s parks. In response, the Fund for a Better Waterfront, Bike Hoboken and several other groups put its petition on hold that asked the City of Hoboken to close Sinatra Drive to traffic to allow for more social distancing along the waterfront. At the Union Dry Dock property the sidewalk and bike path narrow to just a few feet, making six-foot social distancing problematic.
Each day, the statistics have become ever more alarming as the coronavirus strikes closer to home. On April 4, news broke that Weehawken Finance Director and Board of Education President Richard Barsa died from complications due to the virus. Two days later, another public figure, Jersey City councilman Michael Yun succumbed to the illness.
New Jersey Governor Murphy announced that the coronavirus was expected to peak in the next two weeks. Monday night, April 6, Mayor Bhalla in his daily Nixle Alert stated, “For the next two weeks, I’m directly asking each and every resident to curtail outdoor activities to the greatest extent possible. That means if you’re normally jogging, biking, doing yoga, lifting weights, going for long walks, or more outside, I ask you to exercise inside for the next two weeks. And if you’re going out for fresh air for 5-10 minutes, I’m also making the direct ask to please do so away from the waterfront.”
On Tuesday, April 7, Gov. Murphy ordered the closing of all state and county parks as coronavirus deaths hit the highest single-day increase in New Jersey. Public spaces are being closed elsewhere across the country. Chicago closed its Lakefront Trail. New Yorkers can no longer walk the High Line. Public pathways in San Francisco are now closed.
For the past 30 years, the Fund for a Better Waterfront has been an advocate for parks and open space, most especially along our waterfront. But for now, we must heed the warnings of our public officials and health experts. All our lives are at stake.
So how long will our parks stay closed? When will it be safe to enjoy our beloved waterfront park? Clearly, isolating at home over the long term becomes increasingly difficult and unsustainable.