A continuous Maine-to-Florida cycling path that’s been kicking around since the first Bush administration has been getting a whole lot of attention as of late.

But seriously, what's with all the chatter about the 15-state-spanning East Coast Greenway, a somewhat low-key project described as "the nation's most ambitious long-distance urban trail," now?

It could have something to with news that the Durham, North Carolina-based nonprofit East Coast Greenway Alliance (ECGA) has reached a modest yet significant milestone in its 25-year history: the 30 percent mark.

That is, one-third, or 850 miles, of the nearly 3,000-mile trail — in actuality, the greenway is a series of trails linked together to form one long, right-of-way path that will eventually exist sans gaps — has been established as off-road.

Following a couple solid decades of planning, promotion and exploratory tours, the East Coast Greenway in its entirety was officially established and mapped in 2008. However, as it stands, 70 percent of the path is shared with roadways. Some of these roadways are major and not entirely hospitable to bike or pedestrian traffic. The alliance aims to close existing gaps and move the whole shebang onto vehicle-free recreational pathways within the next 15 or so years. This video outlines all the progress made on the East Coast Greenway in 2015:

The ECGA anticipates that an additional 200 miles of off-road paved pathway will be added to the project by 2020.

Off-road urban travel

Stretching from laid-back beaches of Key West Florida to the Canadian border-straddling burg of Calais in far southeastern Maine, the East Coast Greenway is remarkable in that, unlike other epic hiking/biking trails that span multiple states (i.e., the Appalachian Trail), it is predominately an urban trail. Sure, it passes through lengthy stretches of rural countryside (this is particularly true within Connecticut) but the East Coast Greenway, above all, is a car-free city connector that links upwards of 25 major population centers. These include, traveling north to south: Portland, Maine; Boston; Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, Connecticut; New York City; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; Richmond, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Miami.

It's pretty amazing to think that one could ostensibly cycle (or even walk) along a continuous designated path from Augusta to Savannah; Myrtle Beach to Daytona Beach; Wilmington, Delaware, to Wilmington, North Carolina.

Of course, to complete such a journey one would need to set aside ample time. From terminus to terminus, the complete trek would take roughly two months at 50 miles traveled per day.

East Coast Greenway

Aide from serious cyclists with a few weeks to spare, the East Coast Greenway has been developed with local bike commuters. Case in point is the New Jersey section, which bypasses seriously soul-crushing turnpike traffic to connect cities including Newark and Jersey City and, beyond that, New Brunswick and Trenton.

The ECGA has also positioned the trail as a new "new tourism venue" that can "entice domestic and foreign tourists to explore the Eastern Seaboard in a leisurely and intimate manner."

While not the largest stretch of the route by any means, the 44-mile segment of the East Coast Greenway that passes through New York (it picks up north of New York City in Westchester County before traveling south through parkland in the Bronx and eventually crossing via ferry or the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey) is the largest off-road segment in the entire system at 62 percent. In New York City proper, the path, which includes Manhattan’s Hudson River Greenway, is 90 percent off-road.

Georgia, on the other hand, has the least off-road sections — only 6 percent of the 160-mile segment has been liberated from highway shoulders along the Georgia seacoast. However, a sizable chunk of off-road pathway is in development. Most states average in the 25 to 35 percent off-road range although some join Georgia on the lower rung, including South Carolina (15 percent) and Virginia (16 percent).

At a little over 16 miles, the shortest segment of the East Coast Greenway can be found in New Hampshire. Currently, the Granite State's entire coastal route — the New Hampshire Seacoast Greenway — is shared with an existing roadway although there are plans to develop an entirely off-road section open exclusively to "walkers, cyclists, wheelchairs and other muscle-powered users."

Lined with kiosks and alternately heavily urbanized and charmingly bucolic, New Jersey's 98-mile-long segment is second only to New York's in terms of having the most off-road sections at an impressive 54 percent. The Garden State is also home to the longest completed segment of the East Coast Greenway, the 35.7-mile Delaware & Raritan Canal Towpath.

The nearly 50-mile section of greenway found in America's daintiest state, Rhode Island, also breaks the 50 percent off-road mark.

Not surprisingly, the longest segment of the East Coast Greenway can be found in the Sunshine State. Incorporating over 20 existing trails, greenways and paths, the 600-mile Florida section is roughly 31 percent off-road and includes a whole lot of bridges. Work is underway to close existing gaps and develop dedicated traffic-free sections en route to the greenway’s southern terminus of Key West.

A patchwork of trails

Hudson River Greenway, New York City Manhattan's Hudson River Greenway is one of several established pedestrian paths/trails that comprise the 44-mile New York section of the East Coast Greenway. (Photo: Tom Kairos/flickr)

In terms of the slow-but-steady development of the East Coast Greenway, it's easiest to think of the path as a coast-hugging jigsaw puzzle or a mammoth patchwork quilt in linear park form given that it requires the participation of dozens upon dozens of local nonprofit partners and governmental organizations.

To be clear, the ECGA does not own or have any sort of jurisdiction over any individual sections of the path — these sections, well over 100 in total and growing by the month, function as their own independent entities that are part of the greenway. The ECGA, which employs regional field staff, serves as a central organizer as towns, counties and municipalities gradually establish crucial pieces (an existing or in-development path or trail) into the complex, 15-state-large puzzle. Essentially, the alliance ensures that everything fits together seamlessly and to identify missing pieces/gaps.

As the ECGA explains:

The Alliance promotes the vision for connecting local trails into a continuous route, provides strategic assistance for states, counties and municipalities tasked with building local trail sections, officially designates trails as part of the ECG trail system, posts signage and makes maps to facilitate use of the Greenway.

The ECGA does not own any of its trail system but does play an important role in ensuring its continuity and in monitoring trail conditions to ensure long-distance users consistency in trail quality. ECGA will support local trail agencies in securing the funds to maintain their trails.

Good stuff. Do you have a section of the East Coast Greenway in your own backyard?

Inset photo: David/flickr

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Florida-to-Maine bike path picks up speed along Eastern Seaboard
Stretching from Key West to Calais, Maine, the East Coast Greenway is one-third complete.