Erie Canalway Trail: The Missing Link

By Jeff Olson, Architect and Planner, Alta Planning 

Jeff really likes the Elevating Erie billboards...

Jeff really likes the Elevating Erie billboards...

Elevating Erie is one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever been involved in.  This is a signature project, the keystone in the 325 mile Erie Canalway trail across New York State. This ‘missing link’ through DeWitt and Syracuse is a diamond in the rough.  It is one of the most important trail connections in the country. More than four million people live within ten miles of the Erie Canalway Trail.  When completed, this project will provide the most direct connection to a major urban area along the entire trail from Albany to Buffalo – providing access for the trail, and economic benefits for the communities.

The competition process and the proposed designs have been extraordinary.  It’s great to see billboard ads promoting the project, and the media coverage has been significant.  It’s so important that this effort has elevated the public’s understanding of the fact that Erie Boulevard was once the Erie Canal, that this place was a key for America’s westward expansion, and that the 20th century literally buried this history.  Even more important is how Elevating Erie has communicated the value of this project today. Each competition entry provided a unique response to connect the trail to its past, present and future.

I have biked across the state and have always enjoyed the completed sections of the Canalway Trail. I know how much this project means at the local, state and national levels. The challenge for so many years has been to create a consensus on how to solve this critical section - a major suburban/urban corridor built literally on top of the former canal. Elevating Erie is creating this vision. The competition has made the future visible, and it is now possible for community leaders, state officials, and project partners to see the way forward. It has been an honor to serve as part of this process. Now let's make this happen, and build a legacy for future generations.


Jeff Olson is an architect, planner, and author who has been involved in greenways, open space, active living, and alternative mobility projects for more than 25 years. He has had a diverse career with national, international, and local experience in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. This experience was recognized in 2014 by the Association for Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals with a Lifetime Achievement Award. His unique vision and leadership ability are important assets to projects ranging from regional planning to site-specific projects and programs. Jeff teaches America’s first university course in bicycle and pedestrian planning, and is Co-Director of the UAlbany Initiative for Healthy Infrastructure, which creates model plans connecting public works with public health. He is a frequent inspirational speaker at conferences, public meetings and other events.