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The East Coast Greenway vision is for a long-distance, urban, shared-use trail system linking 25 major cities along the eastern seaboard between Calais, Maine and Key West, Florida. It will serve non-motorized users of all abilities and ages. A 3,000-mile long spine route will be accompanied by 2,000 miles of alternate routes that link in key cities, towns, and areas of natural beauty. This green travel corridor will provide cyclists, walkers, and other muscle-powered modes of transportation with a low-impact way to explore the eastern seaboard.

Trail Surface

Our vision is for a continuous firm-surfaced route, mostly paved, but some of it on packed stone dust tread, all of it suitable for walkers, wheel chairs, and road bicycles. In the future, a continuous route serving equestrians and in-line skaters is envisioned, as well. Some sections of the Greenway already accomodate those users.

Route Selection

While seeking a relatively direct connection between 25 major eastern seaboard cities, the route has been chosen to offer a traffic-free travel experience so we’ve applied routing criteria where existing or potential trails can be identified.

Our route has also been chosen to provide the traveler with an ever-changing, interesting, and scenic landscape (urban, suburban, small town, industrial, rural) and to provide access to public transportation and other points of interest like downtowns, public parks, and nature preserves. It links with a host of other greenways, trails, and on-road bicycle routes within the region, providing the north-south spine artery for a vast east coast network of bicycle and pedestrian routes. The ECG functions much like I-95 does within the system of east coast roadways.

Local Trails

While the constituent local trails function as local facilities, providing for exercise, recreation, quiet walks, and commuting or safe routes to school, as ECG-designated trails, they will enable residents to travel distances from their homes to local points of interest or for a few days or even weeks to explore the rich history and culture within the east coast region. Tourists from around the world will flock to this new tourism venue. We want each local trail to retain its local character and identity with a distinct local name while assuming a new additional identity as part of a larger trail system.

Trail Services

We envision a range of wayfinding, information, and user services that will facilitate public use of the Greenway. We are marking the route with ECG trail markers, producing cue sheets, user maps, guides, and weekend trip planners. This urbanized corridor is already rich with services such as food, accommodations, bicycle shops, and emergency services, but the East Coast Greenway Alliance will encourage any gaps in such services to be filled.

Demystifying the ECG Routes: spine versus alternate; permanent versus interim. And, what is the current travel route?

Spine versus Alternate Routing

Spine Route. Our central vision is for a single north-south travel route, linking cities and towns along our corridor. We call this our spine route. A number of alternate routes have also been identified and approved by the Alliance as part of the system. Currently, the Alliance is committed to putting most of its effort into completing the spine route as off-road trail. However, those working at the state and local levels may also be advancing the alternate routes.

Spine and alternate may be distinctions only during the development phase of the Greenway, dropping away over time as the Greenway becomes more complete and we become more involved in marketing it for use, which we will do equally for all strands in the Greenway route.

The spine route is currently about 3,000 miles in length, but that length may vary as more of the route is defined by specific trail. Completed spine trail exists in each of the 16 states where the ECG passes except for New Hampshire. 29% of the spine route is complete on trails; 18% is under development with much of this likely to open for use in the next several years, and 27% has been defined, but is not yet under development. And 27% of the route has not yet been defined as off-road routing. These “gaps” need further study to identify ways to bring the route off-road.

Alternate Routes. A limited number of alternate routes have been defined to enable travelers to access key cities along the coast that are not on the spine route and to provide more than one option for travel within a city, thus offering a way to experience different parts of the city and to distribute ECG travelers within these heavily traveled areas so that they do not burden a single trail.

An example of spine and alternate routing in VA and NC. The alternate route (in red) takes travelers on an historic coastal route.

Signage will be posted at junctures where our route splits to help the traveler make a choice among options. The routes will assume descriptive names like Scenic Coastal Route or NJ Delaware River Route.

Permanent versus Interim Routing

Permanent Route. The permanent route is that portion of our corridor that now or in the future will be on off-road trail or otherwise separated from motor traffic. Any on-road sections are viewed as interim, and our goal is to continue working until we can find a means to move them off-road. Our goal is as close to a 100% off-road route as physically possible, with bike lanes, sharrows, cycle tracks, and sidewalks in the remaining sections. Still, because we aim to serve people of all ages and abilities, we will maintain our efforts to find off-road solutions, even in challenging locations. We theorize that as more of the route is completed and use grows substantially, the rationale and support to do these more difficult (and expensive) sections will emerge.

The route is being signed with standard ECG trail markers.

Users of all abilities can experience the Greenway today on these completed trail sections.

Interim Route and Current Travel Route. To provide a way for experienced cyclists to travel the Greenway today, we have carefully chosen and field-checked on-road (interim) routing to link completed trails. The combination of interim and completed trails along our spine route make up our Current Travel Route. Cue sheets and maps for our current travel route can be found here. Detailed user maps will be posted on this site as they are completed.

71% of the spine route currently is on interim routing. We are signing it with interim route signs to assist with wayfinding. Because it mixes our users with motor traffic, and despite our efforts to select the safest routes, we do not encourage inexperienced road cyclists or other types of users, such as walkers or wheelchair users, to use most of these routes. At some point, we hope to grade these routes and provide this information on our maps so that users can better assess the level of skill required since some of the on-road sections have sufficiently light and/or slow traffic to make them quite safe, even for families with small children.

This interim routing will be abandoned incrementally as we move onto off-road trail in line with our vision of an entirely off-road and traffic-free ECG.

Relationship to the Appalachian Trail

Our route will be an urban complement to the legendary Appalachian Trail (AT). It parallels the AT, but at no point do these trails meet or cross one another. The ECG is always to the coastal side of the AT, which follows the Appalachian ridgeline. They are similar in being continuous, non-motorized pathways extending along the eastern seaboard. But, the differences are notable:

  • The ECG (3,000 miles) goes border to border (Canada to Caribbean) while the AT (2,178 miles) has its endpoints in northern Maine short of the Canadian border and at Springer Mountain in Georgia.
  • The ECG is a relatively flat route, located in the coastal plain instead of along the ridgeline. Much less challenging, it can thus serve users of all abilities.
  • The ECG has a smooth, firm surface, accommodating not just walkers, but also wheeled travelers like bicycles and wheelchairs.
  • The ECG threads its way through the urban core of the eastern seaboard, crossing the heart of 25 major cities, as well as scores of smaller cities and towns. It passes through counties with 45 million residents. Services will be found all along this urbanized route, making it possible to travel lightly and find comfortable lodging.
  • The landscape along the ECG is highly varied, passing at times in the shadows of skyscrapers, at times winding through suburban neighborhoods, but also taking the user into surprisingly rural areas that still exist within our east coast megalopolis, in addition to abutting historic or currently active industrial areas. Frequently, the trail winds by a river, canal or other water body.

Finally, by providing another trail for walkers closer to population centers, the ECG will help to reduce demand on the AT, which, being a soft-surface trail, is facing capacity issues in some locations.

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Fay, Spofford & Thorndike is an established regional leader in the development of shared use paths/trails. To date, we have completed or have underway more than 500 miles of recreational trails in various stages of planning, design, and/or construction throughout New England and New York. FST's bike team has a unique understanding of the path/trail development process from the initial study phase through design, permitting and construction.


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© East Coast Greenway | 5315 Highgate Dr ste 105, Durham, NC 27713 | info@greenway.org | phone: 919-797-0619

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