New Brunswick to Princeton on the D&R Canal + East Coast Greenway

The D&R Canal towpath was a mess after the one-two punch from Henri and Ida in late August and early September of 2021. Eight months later, it was time to check out how much repair work had been done and how rideable the route is.

The D&R Canal towpath was a mess after the one-two punch from Henri and Ida in late August and early September of 2021. Eight months later, it was time to check out how much repair work had been done and how rideable the route is. So we hopped New Jersey Transit to New Brunswick to find out.

Continue reading “New Brunswick to Princeton on the D&R Canal + East Coast Greenway”

OMG this global food tour from Newark to New Brunswick to home on our bikes

Lead me to a food adventure on the East Coast Greenway in New Jersey.

Pastries! Giant dosas! Exotic ice cream flavors! All on the East Coast Greenway in New Jersey.
Lead me to a food adventure

We finally repeated our “Portugal to India” bike ride of two years ago, and I have to say I love it just as much the second time around. And so many more discoveries!

This is a North Jersey section of the East Coast Greenway that will shock those who only know this part of the country as congested, smelly highways. It’s not very scenic, is it, one puzzled friend asked. Another person was surprised we never have to ride on U.S. 1 — and that there is a network of well-used paved trails going from one Union County park to the next.

Nope. Try this, in one of the state’s most densely populated counties:

Continue reading “OMG this global food tour from Newark to New Brunswick to home on our bikes”

A bike ride from Portugal to India without leaving New Jersey

We ate our way around the world on this 46-mile jaunt through northern New Jersey.

Northern New Jersey may be the last place you think of for a bike ride: densely populated urban areas with way too much traffic (and potholes) to make a cyclist happy.

This East Coast Greenway adventure showed us we had it all wrong. And it highlights just what a melting pot this state is.


Where is New Jersey’s big Portuguese area? Newark’s Ironbound section, of course. It’s a stone’s throw east of Newark Penn Station, where just about any New Jersey Transit train will take you (yes, we were on an early morning one), and not far from Newark Broad, the other Newark train station. There are at least three Portuguese bakeries on Ferry Street, and we only had to bike about a half-dozen blocks before we hit the first one.

Now we’re no connoisseurs of Portuguese pastries, so we were happy with egg custard tarts and their version of a croissant. But you could get a full breakfast if you wanted. It even opens at 5 a.m. — on Sunday!

There was plenty of indoor seating, but we wanted to stay near the bikes. Only later did we realize we just had to turn the corner and we’d have found several tables with chairs outside!

Fueled up!

And off the three of us went.  Biking through downtown Newark to University Heights, past the new Whole Foods, and then through residential areas was surprisingly pleasant. I know this was Sunday morning, and I’m not claiming it’s like this during the week. I’ll also admit our expectations for Newark were pretty low — and that we were wrong about it.

The Garmin struggled (OK, maybe our fault as newbies to this gadget) and East Coast Greenway signage was spotty at times (faded turn arrows!), so I’m glad we had old-fashioned cue sheets as backup. (The Garmin should have had the same information but whatever…) The Newark Greenway leading us to Weequahic Park was a treat. It would be even better if those signs had a small East Coast Greenway logo on them, just to reassure us that we’re on the right route.

Oh, and there’s an East Coast Greenway kiosk in the park!


If you want to avoid Newark (miss the Ironbound?!), the route at the southern end of the park seems to go a handful of blocks from the North Elizabeth station. I have no idea what the route is like. Newark Airport isn’t far away either — though I can’t imagine biking there.

At this point, we started going a bit west and clearly into the close-in suburbs. Hillside Township. Union. (The Union train station is only a handful of blocks off the route.)

Oh, and then we reached Italy. Just a short, unexpected layover.

Carmen is no longer around, but his bakery remains in the family, as it has been for about 40 years. Before that it was a Bavarian bakery.

I’d have liked a Nutella tart (hey, what are calories when you are on a bike?) but they aren’t sold individually. Guess I have to get a group together for the next time just so I can try one.

So I settled for a sfogliatella with sweet ricotta cheese.

(And yes, it’s all about the food. Always.)

Now we started riding through a string of parks (and a golf course). Locals may know which trail to take, but a few more signs would be helpful for us out-of-towners.

Just not this kind. Though I suppose knowing that we were supposed to stick to paved paths did limit the potential for wrong turns. A local called it an oxymoron — more moron than anything else.

More suburbs. Kenilworth. Cranford. Again, a few blocks from a train station. We found the short cut under the railroad tracks (not on the cue sheets). Winfield Township. Rahway and another train station. A busy crossing between two trails that really could have used a pedestrian-activated signal. (On bikes, the extra block each way to a traffic light is no big deal. But it is for pedestrians. Thank you motorists who stopped and let us cross.) Woodbridge. An unpleasant 0.7 miles on St. Georges Avenue. The southbound route could easily avoid half of it by routing people on Midfield Road instead.

Finally, Oak Tree Road, just off the route. This is New Jersey’s true Little India. There are plenty of Indian grocery stores and supermarkets in my area, plus restaurants, but this was so much more. Plus stores selling saris, jewelry, religious items … we only touched a bit of it and will be back to explore it properly.

Yes, we stopped for a spot of lunch —  big samosas, mixed pakora and (not in the photo) a mango lassi. We had no idea where we “should” go, so we stopped at a small dive of a place. From our table, I watched one person press fresh sugar cane juice for a couple of customers. I wonder what that tastes like — Gatorade on steroids?We could have called it a day after close to 30 miles and hopped the train home at Metropark. But we kept going. We gave the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park (not to be confused with the National Parks Service site in West Orange) a miss and rode on to Metuchen.

Oh, the Middlesex Greenway. This is what we wanted in some other spots — a wide rail trail with no traffic in sight! We left the East Coast Greenway here, turning right onto the Middlesex Greenway instead of left and going into Metuchen. We wanted to quickly check out the construction going on near the train station — lots of luxury apartments, plus a Whole Foods opening in October. Some locals think it’s too much, too many people. Apparently all the projects boast bike rooms, as if they were in hipster Brooklyn.

I’m guessing this will make the Middlesex Greenway even more popular. Metuchen, add some signage from the trail as well as a wide path for just those few blocks for those who don’t want to deal with traffic.

The East Coast Greenway’s interim route from the other end of the Middlesex Greenway, in Woodbridge, takes you a good 8 miles on a busy road. (The goal is to extend the Middlesex Greenway to Perth Amboy and create a better, more pleasant route.)

We instead followed a quiet route (at least on weekends) known to the third member of our group: at the Metuchen end of the Greenway go left very briefly on Middlesex Avenue, then right on New Durham Road, past the on and off ramps for I-287 and to the next traffic light, where we turned left on Talmadge and then right on Ethel Road. (If you were going the other direction, you could stay on Ethel, crossing Talmadge until you hit New Durham, but it was easier for us to use the traffic light.)

We stayed on Ethel for a good while, until it ended at a T intersection. By then we were on the edge of the sprawling Rutgers campus. Left on Suttons Lane to the end, then right on Road 2 (what a name!) until it ends, then right on Cedar Lane all the way down until a traffic light at River Road and straight across into Johnson Park. Stay left, eventually getting back on the River Road sidepath, turn right at the light across the river and into New Brunswick.

Stay on Albany Street and you’ll get to the New Brunswick train station.

This time we hopped the train. Otherwise we might have reached Honduras or Colombia (in New Brunswick) in our jaunt around the world.

It was a great 46-mile whirlwind day of travel by the time we got home.

A word of warning for anyone wanting to do this: you must be comfortable cycling in traffic. Yes, there are many quiet residential roads and trails through parks. But there will be places where you need to be confident and take your lane to make a turn. This is not like the East Coast Greenway route south of New Brunswick that uses the D&R Canal towpath and just crosses roads, often with the help of a pedestrian-activated signal.

It’s also not a fast ride, and not just because we stopped to eat a few times. It’s urban cycling, with lots of turns to watch for and lots of traffic lights.

And yes, I would do it again.

UPDATE: A ice cream place on Oak Tree Road to try next time, even though it means biking up a hill.

The sights of New Brunswick’s Ciclovia

Here’s what I saw at Ciclovia and what I discovered in Johnson Park across the river.

Today was a chance to explore a bit of New Brunswick and Johnson Park in Piscataway, as New Brunswick shut down a few miles of street to traffic and turned it over to the people in one of the year’s three Ciclovias. We — a group of five — arrived just as it began, and by the time we left after  ice cream, er lunch, kids had taken over with their bikes and trikes, found the bouncy castle and were cooling off with a temporary fountain:

ciclovia little girl

ciclovia water splash

I got a smattering of that spray and oh did that feel good in the day’s heat!

A colleague took us beyond Ciclovia and guess what I found:

ecg mileage sign in new brunswickecg nj sign

Yes, New Brunswick wants to make one of the river crossings more bike-friendly!

What else did we discover off the bike-friendly trails in Johnson Park?

We wandered around the East Jersey Old Time Village and saw a man going around the racetrack with a horse and carriage. We glimpsed a cricket match:

cricket in johnson park

and rode under the railroad bridge:

johnson park rr bridge

And if blogs could smell, I’d share a whiff of sun-ripened fresh strawberries at the pick-your-own place we cycled past on the way home.

Gearing up for Ciclovia in New Brunswick

cicloviaOn Sunday I’ll be riding with some friends (and the Brit!) to New Brunswick for the summer Ciclovia — one of three times in the year when some city streets are closed to traffic and opened to the people for biking, walking, playing.

Though New Brunswick is on the East Coast Greenway, we’re passing up the trail (ie towpath) and opting for a shorter 20 miles of mostly quiet roads instead. And there’s always the train for those who don’t want to ride another 20 miles home. Our experience at last summer’s Ciclovia was that the streets aren’t anywhere as packed as when New York City shuts down Park Avenue for Summer Saturdays in August — but then New Brunswick is never as packed as New York!

A bonus: One of the people in the group has only recently become comfortable riding with traffic — but he’s now so comfortable that he’s ridden out to the Shore!

A bike ride to New Brunswick

My take on New Brunswick’s summer Ciclovia

New Brunswick is on the East Coast Greenway, but we took the road, not the towpath (and ECG), for this ride to check out New Brunswick’s Ciclovia (more than 3 miles of streets shut to motorists and opened to people to bike, play and more). While we knew the first few miles, we’d never been to East Brunswick and Milltown even by car. So the bike option on Google maps it was.

And it was a nice route on generally quiet, flat roads well to the east of U.S 1. On weekdays, a few spots might be a bit hairy, but Saturday traffic was light, even by shopping centers. We crossed U.S. 130 at a light — easy. And when we finally did encounter U.S. 1, the overpass over it was straightforward, and on the way back, the driver of a white Mustang on the off ramp slowed and waved us in front. Sometimes New Jersey drivers surprise you.

Total miles, including wandering around New Brunswick: 42.

Random people at New Brunswick's Ciclovia
Random family at New Brunswick’s Ciclovia

As for Ciclovia … it’s not Manhattan’s Summer Saturdays, but then New Brunswick doesn’t have the density of New York. It was great to see little kids on their bikes, and there were some cool spots, like a rock-climbing wall and a skateboard trick park, and of course a fire hydrant turned into a sprinkler. There was a dance contest for little kids, a repair spot from New Brunswick’s Bike Exchange and a mobile New Jersey Hall of Fame that I thought was cool (and not just because of the air-conditioning break on a hot, cloudless day). But it felt too spread out for the number of people we saw, and you found stuff more by chance, such as the Hall of Fame that was hidden at the end of a side street.

New Jersey Hall of Fame
Lots of Jersey roots

Ciclovia went beyond “downtown”, and it lacked a block party atmosphere in the neighborhoods.

So here’s my outsider’s take, fwiw: Ciclovia needs to be marketed more widely in the region, to get it filled up with people from neighboring towns, as happens with Communiversity is in Princeton, and to work with New Jersey Transit and New York bike groups to get the word out there and people coming down by train with their bikes. I’d open up space to every nonprofit that wants to be there, no matter where they are from, to help fill up the quieter spaces. I’d encourage downtown merchants to have sidewalk sales or bring restaurant tables outside. Actually, I’d have had it kick it off Restaurant Week, which we inadvertently discovered was also starting. Or play on the range of ethnic groups in New Brunswick and create a list of participating food stops and pitch it to the foodies. Honduran specialties, anyone?

And at one end, have a spot for teenagers and their bands, or high school bands, all of which would bring in their friends and families. It certainly works for our local farmers market. (Too bad there’s no Saturday market in New Brunswick that it could brush by from the side.)

But it’s also early days. New Brunswick’s first Ciclovia was last October, and this was the second of three planned for this year. Maybe it’s more crowded when Rutgers is humming with 41,500 students. And maybe it’s just a matter of time.

At any rate, it certainly was more popular than what we saw of Princeton’s Ciclovia in May, which took over a long stretch of underused roadway.

%d bloggers like this: