About the Erie Canal
In order to open the country west of the Appalachian Mountains to settlers and to offer a cheap and safe way to carry produce to a market, the construction of a canal was proposed as early as 1768. However, those early proposals would connect the Hudson River with Lake Ontario near Oswego, NY. It was not until 1808 that the state legislature funded a survey for a canal that would connect to Lake Erie. Finally, on July 4, 1817, Governor Dewitt Clinton broke ground for the construction of the canal. In those early days, it was often sarcastically referred to as "Clinton's Big Ditch." When finally completed on October 26, 1825, it was the engineering marvel of its day. It included 18 aqueducts to carry the canal over ravines and rivers, and 83 locks, with a rise of 568 feet from the Hudson River to Lake Erie.
The canal was dug from Albany to Buffalo, 4′ deep and 40′ wide, with stone locks 15′ x 90′. The locks were the limiting factor on boat size, and their efficiency of operation dictated the allowable traffic flow. A 10-foot wide towpath was built along the bank of the canal for the horses and mules which pulled the boats and their drivers. Additional canals were dug from the Hudson River to Lake Champlain, from Montezuma to Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, and from Syracuse to Oswego.
The growth of steam power on the canal and steel boat construction eliminated the need for a waterway as protected as the Old Erie. A 20th-century canal of grand dimension with cast concrete structures and electronic motors was begun. The Barge Canal system, utilizing canalized rivers and lakes and enlarged sections of the Old Erie, opened in 1918. Today it continues to use several of the old routes, Champlain, Erie, Cayuga-Seneca and Oswego, and has been renamed the New York State Barge Canal System. (1)
Despite the ongoing use of the Canal System, many cities filled in the old Erie canal for vehicular use during the mid-1920s. In Syracuse Erie Boulevard is a major transportation corridor that runs east to west through the City. The portion of the corridor that runs through Syracuse and DeWitt, is a highly-trafficked road lined with strip malls, shopping centers, gas stations, fast food establishments, local and big box retail stores, and massive parking lots.
About the Canalway Trail
The Canalway Trail is a network of approximately 400-miles of multi-use trails across upstate New York. The Canalway Trail follows the towpaths of both active and historic sections of the New York State Canal System, as well as adjacent abandoned rail corridors.
Major portions of the Canalway Trail follow the legendary Erie Canal route from Buffalo to Albany. Along the way, the Erie Canalway Trail links the cities of Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica. Over 75% of the Erie Canalway Trail is completed off-road.
The Canalway Trail is not only a long-distance bicycling destination, but also a recreational resource for biking, walking, jogging, and other types of seasonal trail activities. Trailhead parking and interpretive kiosks with historic information about the Erie Canal and New York State Canal System are located at many points along the Erie Canalway Trail. The Canalway Trail primarily consists of a stone dust surface with some asphalt segments. (Source: http://www.canals.ny.gov/trails/about.html)
In Syracuse the Canalway Trail has an entry point in DeWitt heading east and an entry point in Camillus heading west with a roughly 14-mile gap between them. Arguably the most challenging section of that gap, and the area with the most opportunity, is the segment of Erie Boulevard in question.
Erie Boulevard continues to convey goods and commerce just as it did two hundred years ago, but this auto-centric and bigbox commercial monoculture has left the corridor deprived of social, recreational, and environmental activity. The Boulevard is poised for a rebirth: to become a new example for how cities throughout the Northeast can repurpose a single-use typology and leverage the rich history of the canal into a corridor with social, ecological, and strong economic purpose.