The Johnson Trolley Line Trail

Recently, I took a ride on one of my favorite rail-trails. It’s comprised of two currently separate sections in Lawrenceville an Lawrence Township—the Johnson Trolley Line Trail. My original plan was to go north that day (about a week ago) but at the last minute I opted for a ride farther south. Heading for the Columbia Trail I instead made a turn that took me over Sourland Mountain toward Princeton and Lawrence. The Johnson Trolley Line Trail offers a different kind of ride in terms of surface and scenery through the backwoods and neighborhoods of Lawrenceville and Lawrence Township. I ride the South section having made the discovery last year with the TrailLink app. It runs from behind Rider University in Lawrence down to Ewing Township and the outskirts of Trenton. The trail is on my list of ‘regular rotation’ trails that I pick from every week and although it’s relatively short I repeat part of it to get a decent ride of just over 6 miles.

The Restored Trolley Station and Trailhead in Lawrenceville

The North Section

The North section is a shorter disconnected path of about a mile in length on the opposite side of I-295. The highway came through in 1969 and plowed through the old right of way, so the trail lies in two sections. The trail winds through Lawrenceville just west of Route 206 (Main Street), and when I first rode it in Summer 2019 it seemed too short and with street crossings every couple hundred feet I felt it wasn’t worth it for me. It was also overgrown and in need of maintenance, particularly at the north end. But I took another ride just after publishing this post (I hadn’t ridden it since last summer) and decided I needed to revise my assessment.

Although it is indeed short I found it to be a very enjoyable ride. It passes through the backyards and over the side streets of quaint Lawrenceville, a cozy and idyllic town with its historic houses and picket fences. The overgrowth has since been trimmed way back so that the whole length of the trail is now in excellent shape. One of my professional and personal friends, an architect who specializes in historic restorations and is based in neighboring Hopewell, told me about a year ago that he was asked to submit plans for improving the trail. In addition to cutting trees and brush back he said they wanted planters, benches and the like. I haven’t seen those yet but it looks like some of the work has been done and it’s a major improvement from what I remember last year.

Gallery of the North Trail Section

Connecting it to the South section would make for a complete trail that would contribute significantly to the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (CAATS—see the sidebar). Then I could begin my rides at the Phillips Avenue trail head (pictured above) behind Starbucks. Hopefully, that connection will happen in the near future.

A Brief History

The railroad that ran here was operated by the Trenton-Princeton Traction Company and featured an electric-powered, double-ended green and yellow trolley. It cost 10 cents to ride and purportedly reached speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, hence the nickname, “Fast Line.” That’s pretty fast for a train that began operations in 1901. The same company ran another Fast Line trolley from Trenton to New Brunswick, of which a short 2-1/2 mile section is now the Trolley Line Trail in nearby West Windsor. The trolley company ceased service in 1940.

The Johnson Trolley Line Trail’s Varied Surfaces:

A Unique Trail Geography

unimproved trail in ewing township
Unimproved trail at the south end in Ewing Township

To get back to what makes this trail a bit different, the Johnson Trolley Line Trail has the most varied surface of any trail I currently ride. The geography is fairly diverse, too. As you head South you have hard packed crushed stone in the north section (the Lawrenceville segment), to more crushed stone at the north end of the south segment behind Rider University; then some sandy gravel through the Loveless Nature Preserve (I love that name); then paved blacktop leading to concrete sidewalk through a neighborhood just south of Eggert Crossing Road; and back to hard packed crushed stone below that. The trail at the south end in Ewing Township changes to all dirt (with significant mud and puddles) before coming to an end at 5th Street.

Connecting the south section to the Lawrenceville section is…vital in making this rail-trail a part of America’s Active Transportation System…

Photos of the Trail’s southern segment

A Vital Connection

missing trail segment at rider university
Missing trail segment (looking north) and bridge (foreground) at the Rider University campus just south of I-295

Connecting the south section to the Lawrenceville section is, I feel, vital in making this rail-trail a part of America’s Active Transportation System, as put forth in the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System (CAATS) Act (see the the sidebar). Although a comparatively short trail—and it really can’t be lengthened beyond what is currently available due to development over the right of way at both ends—the connection would serve primarily to link the Rider University campus and the communities farther south with Lawrenceville. The unfinished section of trail (at the northern tip of the south segment) lies right along the athletic fields of the university just to the south of the I-295 corridor. Being able to bike or walk between the two locations would be a significant addition to the community.

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