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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Walk this way

Let me start by saying I think the Walkway Over the Hudson is a great thing - a tremendous new use of a dilapidated old eyesore (the long-abandoned Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge) and another wonderful venue from which to view the beauty of the Hudson River and its surroundings.

But let's rein in all the ridiculous exaggerations about its potential benefits. It's a nice addition to the region's already numerous attractions, to be sure, but suggesting, as Gov. David Paterson did during Saturday's opening-day festivities, that the Walkway will encourage businesses to relocate here and young families to settle here is just silly.

Families looking for a new place to live will choose the Hudson Valley because of a 1.25-mile cement path across the Hudson River? Sorry, Dave - not likely. Families choose places to live based on things like job opportunities, the cost of living, the quality of schools, cultural offerings and the proximity to necessary destinations. The ability to walk across a river on a refurbished train trestle isn't likely to be high on any family's checklist.

And ditto for businesses. Top-notch companies long have bypassed New York state, and the Hudson Valley in particular, because of high taxes and numerous government obstacles to development and growth. Those problems haven't disappeared simply because pedestrians now can look down on the Hudson River from 212 feet above the water.

And while we're at it, how about we also refrain from overstating the span's popularity.

A local newspaper (not the Freeman) had a story on its Web site this week that was headlined "Walkway Over the Hudson draws 40,000 people on 1st weekend." That seemed impressive - until I read the story and discovered the number was nothing but a guess from the woman who oversees local operations for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The woman, Jayne McLaughlin, admitted she wasn't using any scientific method to estimate the crowd's size (nor was there any official count, because no tickets are needed to get onto the Walkway, and it has no turnstiles). No, McLaughlin merely was tossing out a figure based on a rough count of vehicles in Walkway parking areas, the fact that shuttles to and from the site were fairly full, the presence of many chartered buses and visual observations of people traversing the span. In other words, she could have been right on the money or off by tens of thousands. Saying "I have no idea how many people used the Walkway over the weekend" would have been far more honest but probably not as catchy in a newspaper story or promotional materials for the span.

I truly hope the Walkway Over the Hudson will be a popular attraction for years to come. But I believe it can achieve that popularity without all the puffery from the likes of David Paterson and Jayne McLaughlin.



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