DOT Unveils New Plans for Empire State Trail in DeWitt and Downtown Syracuse

Mar 29, 2018

Medians along the route of the Empire State Trail, like this one in Syracuse, will be updated to be more bike-friendly under the new plans.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

The State DOT on Thursday presented new plans for the leg of the massive Empire State Trail that will run through DeWitt and the eastern part of Syracuse. Preliminary drawings were unveiled at an open house held Thursday evening at DeWitt town hall. Sam Gordon, Director of Planning and Zoning, says the plan focuses on a four mile section of Erie Boulevard East.

“What people are going to see is the proposal to transform that median into a greenway following the historic route of the Erie Canal, which went from about the intersection of Bridge Street and Erie Boulevard all the way in and through downtown Syracuse,” Gordon said. “It’ll be a big change.”

Gordon says it’s a change many people say they’d like to see. The town has been soliciting transformative ideas and input since they launched the Elevating Erie collaboration in 2015, and this plan from the state partially fulfills that vision. He says a greenway tops the list.

The State DOT's new proposal would transform this median in DeWitt into a greenway that follows the former path of the Erie Canal.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

“In the city of Syracuse you have a wide, grassy median now that actually dates back to the 1920s and thirties,” Gordon said. “And then when you get into the town, we have an asphalt median in the center of Erie Boulevard with weeds growing out of it. We’ve heard from many people that that’s an unacceptable condition.”

Gordon says most people seem to understand the value of closing the 14-mile gap of the old trail between Dewitt and Camillus. He says bicycle tourism is the fastest growing form of tourism in the world, and the trail gets its share of visitors who end up frustrated.

“You get to Central New York and you just kind of get dumped out on the street, and there’s really no guidance right now, there’s no wayfinding,” Gordon said. “We don’t celebrate the Canal Corridor in any way. It’s just kind of, you know, ‘Good luck.’ That’s the experience that people have, and I can tell you lots of stories of encounters we’ve had with people that have gotten lost.”

Gordon says the plan is to ultimately continue the trail from Camillus through Solvay and the fairgrounds, to the county’s loop the lake trail along the southwest shoreline of Onondaga lake, to the creek walk where it ends at Destiny USA, and finally through downtown.

This monument on Canal Street, which stands along the Empire State Trail, was built with stone from locks on the Erie Canal.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER