Closing Gaps in the East Coast Greenway

The ECG Alliance focuses on completing the long-distance system of trails and bike routes.

by Chuck Flink, Owner, Greenways Inc.

In June 2007, I led a group of riders on a bicycle journey from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to Union Station in the heart of Washington, DC. Joining me on this inaugural ride was East Coast Greenway Alliance (ECGA) vice-chair, Mark Fenton, Jeff Olson, a member of the ECGA national advisory committee and Bob Searns, chairman of the board for American Trails.

The East Coast Greenway is a 3,000-mile urban trail that extends from Calis, Maine to Key West, Florida. To date, the ECGA has worked in partnership with local governments and other organizations to build and open for use approximately 20% of the total project, or about 600 miles of off-road trail.

The goal of the 100-mile ride from the Inner Harbor to Union Station was to promote the concept of “closing gaps” in our long-distance route. We also wanted to serve notice that significant sections of completed trail are now open for use, and can be enjoyed by the millions of Americans that live along the route, and by millions of other trail enthusiasts throughout the world.

We began our journey on a sultry summer morning in downtown Baltimore, and, in a scene that would be repeated several times during our bicycle ride, we were joined by local and state government officials and others that support the goals of the ECGA. We began with a “gap closing” ceremony, by unveiling new signage at the Inner Harbor that provides direction of travel information for Greenway users through downtown Baltimore. In fact, the ECGA has taken a proactive approach to both identifying and closing gaps in the 3,000-mile route.

The vision of a 3,000-mile continuous route

Our organization is completing detailed blueprints for future trail development in all 15 states and we have begun the process of identifying, signing and marketing 100-mile signature segments that trail enthusiasts can enjoy immediately. Our organization recognizes that with the high price of gasoline and a challenged national economy, many American families are looking for close-to-home vacation and leisure opportunities that are fun, affordable, accessible and capable of being experienced by the whole family. The Greenway can become a regional destination tourist and vacation destination.

photo credit: Chuck Flink
Along Delaware’s Brandywine Trail

Along Delaware’s Brandywine Trail

The route of travel from the Inner Harbor to Union Station is relatively flat and easy to traverse. Our group of riders included ECGA Trustee Beth Brody, an active senior citizen and an inspiration to our traveling troupe, who bicycled the entire three-day ride at a comfortable pace. The ECGA traverses some of the most scenic and historic landscapes in America. It is intentionally urban by location and design. The Greenway can be thought of as the urban equivalent of the Appalachian Trail. But unlike the AT, our goal is to connect city-to-city, metro area-to-metro area, all along the Eastern Seaboard. The trail winds its way through industrial landscapes, along waterfronts and rivers, through the outskirts of America’s suburbs, and right through the heart of our nation’s largest cities.

So “gaps” in the system come in many forms and create a variety of challenges. For years, the approach of the ECGA was somewhat haphazard and catch-as-catch can. Much of the current 600-miles fell into place quickly. For the past four years we have begun to sharpen our focus and take a more business like approach to achieving our stated goal: an off-road trail corridor along the majority of the planned route.

To accomplish our vision and mission, the ECGA has undertaken three major initiatives. First, we reorganized ourselves to become a more strategic organization and to take on the challenges of accomplishing the goal of a 3,000-mile greenway. Second, we have worked to strengthen our partnerships, particularly with state governments and like-minded locally based trail organizations. Third, we are implementing a strategic plan that includes detailed mapping of our entire route to identify gaps and propose solutions for building more off-road trails.

Reorganizing for success

Our reorganization process began in the Spring 2004. The goal was to build a new framework for our organization that would enable us to more effectively accomplish our mission. This involved creating regional trail liaison positions and dividing our project into four regions: New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic and Southeast.

We also created a Trail Council, comprised of volunteers from each of the regions, as an internal working group to focus on working through issues related to trail facility development and designation. We also recast our Board of Trustees as a strategic policy and fund raising group that serves as caretaker of the vision and mission, and works with the Executive Director to guide the organization.

The ECGA does not build trails and our organization does not own land or trail segments. Our goal is to work with local, regional and state governments to build trail segments and have them become designated elements of the Greenway. Case in point, during our Close the Gaps Ride last year, the riders split into three teams and explored different routes of travel from Bowie to College Park, Maryland. We were looking for the best route of travel in a densely urbanized landscape. At the end of the day, we were able to meet with local trail enthusiasts and representatives to share our views and define a preferred route for East Coast Greenway designation.

Through our reorganization process, we have also worked to build new partnerships with local, regional and state governments. In particular, we have reached out to Departments of Transportation to better understand the unique goals for a region or state, and to figure out how the Greenway can be a completed element of the transportation network. As one example, we have worked with the New Jersey Department of Transportation to examine the route of travel, off-road and on-road, from Trenton, to Newark, to Jersey City.

During our June 2007 Close the Gaps Ride, we held a public ceremony in front of Union Station and were joined by the District of Columbia Department of Transportation to unveil plans for a shared use facility parallel to an existing Metro train from the Maryland state line to the heart of the District. The ECGA is specifically structured to work in partnership with others to build a network of urban trails that will connect American communities together. A significant byproduct of our work will be the creation of regional commuting trails that can serve the emerging interest in bicycle transportation, and provide regional residents with a quality choice in daily travel.

Blueprints for action

Finally, our increased staff resources coupled with our strategic plan has enable the ECGA to begin producing specific blueprints for each of the 15 states along our route. These blueprints for action take advantage of the latest technology and GIS mapping to pinpoint gaps in the system that require the attention of our organization.

Armed with this information, we can be more strategic with our work program, and marshal our forces to focus on opportunities for success. For example, in the Triangle Region of North Carolina, our regional liaison Steve Bevington, is working with the cities of Durham, Apex, Cary and Raleigh to identify a route of travel for the East Coast Greenway. Through Steve’s work, a half dozen gaps have been identified and discussed with local park and transportation officials. A plan is in the works to resolve these gaps by focusing attention on future trail development. At the same time, Steve is working with the local jurisdictions to nominate completed sections of local trail for East Coast Greenway designation. The benefits for the local communities include providing a much needed and highly desired cross-metro bicycle commuting route.

The ECGA fully understands that to build a 3,000-mile greenway, one must have a plan and be prepared for a lengthy journey. During the past 15 years, the ECGA has enjoyed success and gained acceptance as an important concept for linking the cities of the East Coast together, through a continuous, off-road trail that can support transportation, health and fitness and economic development. We have a lot of work ahead to achieve our goal, and we intend to close the gaps one segment at a time until we fulfill our objectives and complete our mission. For more information about the Greenway and to support the efforts of the ECGA, go to

About the Author

Chuck is an award winning author, planner and landscape architect who has completed work in 250 communities, in 37 states, and in 7 foreign countries. He is the recipient of four dozen national, regional and local awards. Some of his most notable projects include the Grand Forks Greenway Master Plan, North Dakota, Charleston County Greenbelt Program Master Plan, South Carolina, American Tobacco Trail Master Plan, North Carolina; the Miami River Greenway Master Plan, Florida; and the Grand Canyon Greenway, Arizona. Chuck is a Fellow in the American Society of Landscape Architects, and coauthor of Greenways. A Guide to Planning, Design and Development, and Trails for the Twenty First Century. His most recent book is entitled “The Greenway Imperative: Connecting Communities and Landscapes for A Sustainable Future” (University Press of Florida)

Contact: [email protected]

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