Trail User Counts
Confirming the popularity of New York State's trails
Decisions regarding design, funding, operation, maintenance, and promotion of New York State's growing network of multi-use trails are based in large part on understanding the level and type of trail usage. Estimates of annual trail traffic volume inform current and future expenditures for construction and maintenance; they also demonstrate the economic impact of these trails on the counties, towns, villages, and cities across the state.
Parks & Trails New York began using trail counts in 2005 to support anecdotal claims of the Erie Canalway Trail’s popularity among walkers and cyclists with more objective evidence. PTNY has taken the lead in New York State in using the most innovative and accurate methodology to measure trail usage. In partnership with the New York State Canal Corporation, the Department of Health, the Capital District Transportation Committee, and local municipalities, PTNY has conducted trail user counts in dozens of locations across the state since 2005.
Who's on the Trail: Erie Canalway Trail
Who’s on the Trail 2022: Canalway Trail summarizes the 18th annual trail count conducted by Parks & Trails New York for the New York State Canal Corporation in an effort to develop a comprehensive profile of trail usage across the Canalway Trail system. The report includes a profile of trail use at more than 20 locations across the state, and covers data collected by electronic counters, by volunteer observational counts, and from statewide partners including the Genesee Transportation Council and the Hudson River Valley Greenway.
Who's on the Trail 2022: Canalway Trail estimates that the Erie and Champlain Canalway Trails together receive an average of 3.55 million visits per year. The report also profiles the impact of the hundreds of cyclists who ride the entire length of the Canalway Trail, known as "End-to-Enders"
READ THE REPORT:
- Who's on the Trail 2022: Canalway Trail
- Appendix 1 - Trail Use at PTNY Electronic Count Locations 2015-2022
- Appendix 2 - Who's on the Trail: Methodology
WHO'S ON THE TRAIL FROM PREVIOUS YEARS
Who's on the Trail: Genesee Valley Greenway
As part of the Genesee Valley Trail Town Initiative, PTNY conducted electronic trail counts at three locations along the Genesee Valley Greenway during 2021. The data gathered in that report will be available for trail town committees and serves as a valuable promotion and advocacy engagement tool. Trail user data can help decision makers understand the demand for maintaining and enhancing trails, justify current and future levels of support for the trail, and provide a base from which to evaluate the impact of the trail on surrounding towns, villages, cities, and counties.
Resources for Volunteer Manual Trail Counts
- Watch the recording of the May 23 Volunteer Manual Trail Count Webinar
- Review the presentation PDF from the May 23 Trail Count Webinar
- Download the Volunteer Trail Count 2023 Protocol counting instructions
- Download and print the Volunteer Trail Count 2023 Worksheet for recording data at the counting site.
- Submit your trail count data using the online form.
Why Count Trail Use?
Why count trail traffic or use along the Erie Canalway Trail? Trail count data can help us understand and improve the Erie Canalway trail network in several key ways:
For agencies seeking grant funding for trail projects, demonstrating the level of potential use is one of the critical pieces of information needed to make the case for a project, and it is frequently required for grant applications. Data can demonstrate not only the number of trail trips but trip purpose (transportation vs. recreation), especially critical in making the case for funding from federal, state and local funding sources. For corridors where new trails are proposed, data from existing trails can provide empirical support for estimates of future trail users. Parks & Trails New York uses this data in an annual report that we share with local municipalities, agencies, and other groups that need this information to further justify project requests.
Demonstrate the Value of Trails
Assessing the value of trails is critical for ensuring that local public officials continue to steer public investment into the construction, operations and maintenance of trails. Where data has been collected, it has demonstrated the power of trails as an economic driver or as a commuter route. Used more broadly, trail counts are an important way to generate support for trails from elected officials, transportation professionals, economic development and public health interests and the general public. The Statewide Greenways Trails Plan offers a framework for future trail development across New York State. Using this document and supporting data to reinforce the popularity of regional and statewide trail networks like the Empire State Trail, can be an effective way to convince our elected leaders that the state needs to create a dedicated funding source for trail construction, maintenance, and land acquisition.
Trail-count data will establish baseline trail-usage levels, demonstrating changes in usage patterns over time and enabling jurisdictions to evaluate the effectiveness of their trail investments. These metrics can illustrate how the expansion of the regional trail network increases overall connectivity and generates more biking and walking. The data can also be used to inform trail management, including how to address issues such as intersection controls, modal conflicts between users, hours of operation and seasonal maintenance.
Local and regional bicycle and pedestrian plans rely on many factors to prioritize projects for implementation. The historical lack of bicycle and pedestrian data has often resulted in underinvestment in these modes, despite the fact that bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure investment is one of the most cost-effective strategies for improving mobility and public health while reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Demonstrate effectiveness of government funding
Federal and state funding programs have established rigorous criteria for evaluating funded projects, with a growing reliance on quantitative data. The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) provides funds to the States to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both nonnotarized and motorized recreational trail uses. The selection criteria for grant awards is based on various project considerations. The Commissioner may award up to ten points for any project that can demonstrate how an underutilized facility will be accessed or developed for public use. Collecting data on can help illustrate how the proposed project can help the facility expand and enhance its public use.