During the planning process of our bicycle trip across the United States we tried to incorporate as many bike paths into the route as possible. In the end we included the Katy trail in Mo., various trails in Ohio and the Erie Canal Trail in New York. By far the most disappointing has been the Erie Canal Trail (ECT).
The PTNY web site uses statements like “Cycling the Erie Canal bike tour across New York State along the scenic and historic Erie Canal”, “Erie Canalway Trail route follows both active and historic sections of the Erie Canal” and “Do the ride of a lifetime, ride from Buffalo to Albany on the Erie Canalway Trail”. What they don’t directly tell you is that the path ends in many places and there is no information on the road to continue to the next segment!!
I started the trail in the south west end of Buffalo near the original Erie Canal entry. Within 4 miles I was dumped onto city streets three times with absolutely no way of finding my way to the next segment. Each time I had to find someone on the street side or in a local shop to help me on my way. One spot in downtown Buffalo actually has a bridge that is closed in the evening, not one mention of that!
At the time, I though I was on a connecting segment leading up to the “ECT” and that once I was on “the trail” everything would be marked. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Leaving Buffalo and continuing to the east was every bit as unmarked as before. Approaching Rome there was even a segment that lead right into an ATV trail with no mention that the bike trail ended. We figured it out a mile or so up the trail when the vegetation closed in and the turns became banked then climbed up onto a rail bed.
So you may be thinking “well if you had bought the guide everything would be fine you cheapskate”. Well I got a hold of a copy of the guide for the trip across Syracuse. When I looked at the city street names identified in the guide there were only a few of the 30 or so required to make your way across the town. This is, of course, the same for every on road transition in the guide. The only way we could easily make our way through our transitions was to take the end and start points for each trail segment from the web site and re-plot the route in Google Maps then print the turn-by-turn instructions. The guide is a POS and a waste of $25.00
This brings me to another interesting little problem with the guide and the free maps of the trail, they are wrong. Roads and the trails are pictured in the opposite direction from where they are. Coming into Weedsport the trail is depicted to the south it really intersects to the north. Road 89 before Port Byron is pictured to the east it’s to the west. Leaving Weedsport the trail is pictured to the south it’s to the north. These anomalies are everywhere and we weren’t the only ones to to be victims of them. The folks that we met with the guide were frustrated too and we found them lost in Syracuse.
The one and only saving grace was that I had a smart phone and a netbook to refer to the interactive map on the website for guidance. I feel bad for most others who would certainly not have that resource. Of course the interactive map was not without its’ problems. Instead of using one of the big map providers like Google (it’s free to public sites) they use the really polished and popular “spatialweb” map. Let’s just say it’s not Google maps. But the biggest problem is that you can’t zoom in close enough to read the street names and there is no way to print directions for the street portions. That my friends is why I had to re-plot in Google.
This crap goes on and on, so where does this leave us and can I provide a solution… You bet!! The first thing that needs to be done is the PTNY site needs to stop billing this thing as an end-to-end bike solution and admit it’s just a loose collection of trail segments. In addition they need to warn people, on the web and in print that there is no on street markings to help you along on this so called trail. Next, you the rider, need to take control of your ride and make sure you have street by street directions for each on road portion of the trail you plan to traverse.
One other little gem you need to be careful of while plotting your routes. Some of the recommended paths, Syracuse specifically, is DANGEROUS. It takes you through industrial areas and so called disadvantaged areas (in the real world we call them slums) and right through down town!!! We were lucky in that we went through on Saturday. I pity someone crossing during the week.
Only use the interactive map to determine start and endpoints of the trail. The print materials are very unreliable!!
Now for the trails.
What trails there are, are decent, if you have a 32mm tire or bigger and it hasn’t rained, but don’t even consider this if you have a carbon bike with 23s. We had 35mm tires and it was dry the whole way so it was fine. We had done the Katy trail with the same surface so we were prepared for the experience.
Riding by the towns and locks was absolutely great and the only reason we didn’t abandon the trail. The history was another big attraction. To stand in the bottom of one of the original locks and take photos was fantastic. There was another section that the wooden trough was reinstalled in a aqua duct and they had a boat running up and down the canal from a great museum. All worth the ride.