Trail User Counts

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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

Each year since 2005, PTNY and the NYS Canal Corporation have conducted trail counts along the Canalway Trail system.

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Who’s on the Trail: Canalway Trail 2023 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, the Hudson River Valley Greenway, and Warren County.

This year's report estimates that the Erie and Champlain Canalway Trails together receive an average of 3.9 million visits per year, with investments in the trail continuing to drive visitation. The Erie Canalway Trail alone sees approximately 3.84 million visits annually, while the Champlain Canalway Trail boasts about 112,000 visits each year. These numbers, based on data from thirty-three count locations from the last five years, highlight the immense popularity and economic importance of these scenic trails.

Interactive Map & Dashboard

To view the interactive map & dashboard fullscreen, click here.

READ THE REPORT:

WHO'S ON THE TRAIL FROM PREVIOUS YEARS


Who's on the Trail: Genesee Valley Greenway

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As part of the Genesee Valley Trail Town Initiative, PTNY conducted a trail count analysis on three years of trail use on the Genesee Valley Greenway. The data gathered and analysis presented in that report 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.

Download the report: Who's on the Trail: Genesee Valley Greenway

Companion document: Who’s on the Trail: GVG Methodology


Resources for Volunteer Manual Trail Counts


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:

Funding

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.

Performance metrics

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.

Prioritize projects

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.