Erie is in proximity to Cleveland, Ohio, Buffalo, New York, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Once teeming with heavy industry, Erie's heavy manufacturing sector now consists mainly of plastics and locomotive building. Known for its lake effect snow, Erie is in the heart of the rust belt and has begun to focus on tourism as a driving force in its economy. More than four million people each year visit Presque Isle State Park, for water recreation, and a new casino named for the state park is growing in popularity.
Erie is known as the Flagship City because of the presence of Oliver Hazard Perry's flagship Niagara. Erie has also been called the Gem City because of the "sparkling" lake.
As of the census of 2000, there were 103,717 people, 40,938 households, and 24,480 families residing in the city. There were 44,971 housing units at an average vacancy rate of 8%. Erie has long been declining in population due to the departure of factories and dependent businesses. The city has lost over 40,000 people since the early 1970s, allowing Allentown to claim the position as Pennsylvania's third-largest city behind Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Erie's population was spread evenly among all age groups, with the median being 34. About 13% of families and 19% of the population were below the poverty line. Most of the people who reside in Erie are of European descent.
Since the mid 1990s, the International Institute of Erie (IIE), founded in 1919, has helped with the resettlement of refugees from Bosnia, Eritrea, Ghana, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, the former Soviet Union, and Vietnam. The inclusion of refugees in Erie's community augments religious diversity and prompts community events such as cultural festivals.
In the early 20th century, Erie had a significant Russian immigrant community, many of whom worked in the shipbuilding plants along the bayfront. Unusual for a Great Lakes city, a substantial number of these Russian immigrants were Priestless (Bespopovtsy) Old Believers. In 1983, most of this community united with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and became Priested Old Ritualists. Even today, the gold-domed Church of the Nativity, on the bayfront near the former heart of the Russian community, is an Old Ritualist church. Bishop Daniel of Erie, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, is based in Erie and is the Vicar President of the Synod of Bishops for the Old Ritualists.
Erie has a Jewish community that is over 150 years old. Temple Anshe Hesed, a member of the Union for Reform Judaism, is served by its spiritual leader, Rabbi John L. Bush. Erie is home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie, covering 13 counties (9,936 sq mi- the largest in the state). Its diocesan seat is the Saint Peter Cathedral in Erie, which has a 265 feet (81 m) central tower flanked by two 150 feet (46 m) towers. Donald Trautman is the current Bishop of the diocese.
According to the Association of Religion Date Archives, Erie County had a total population of 280,843 people in 2000, of which 103,333 claimed affiliation with the Catholic Church, 40,301 with mainline Protestant houses of worship, and 12,980 with evangelical Protestant churches.
Erie's Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) generates an annual Erie Area Transportation Study for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). There are 15 MPOs in the state, each consisting of local elected officials, representatives of major modes of transport, PennDOT officials, and others. Federal and state transportation regulations require urban areas of 50,000 or more in population to have an MPO to oversee short-term (four years) and long-term (20+ years) transportation planning.
Erie is well connected to the Interstate Highway System. Six highway exits from Interstate 90 connect travelers to Erie from Boston, Massachusetts and points east, and from Cleveland, Ohio and points west. Those traveling north to Erie on Interstate 79 can merge with Interstate 90 or continue north for several local Erie exits before the road merges into the Bayfront Parkway in downtown Erie. Southbound travelers on Interstate 79 can connect with Interstate 80 for points east to New Jersey or west to Akron, Ohio or Youngstown, Ohio, or continue south on Interstate 79 to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Charleston, West Virginia. Interstate 86, also called the "Southern Tier Expressway," splits from Interstate 90 at North East, Pennsylvania and heads southeast through New York State to Binghamton.
The city has several arterial roads. Pennsylvania Route 5 (12th Street), U.S. Route 20 (26th Street and Buffalo Road), and 38th Street are major east-west routes through Erie's municipal roadway grid. The town is divided east from west at State Street, a major thoroughfare in downtown Erie. U.S. Route 19 is a major southwesterly route from downtown to a shopping area north of Interstate 90 known to locals as Upper Peach Street.
The Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority (EMTA) operates local and regional bus service seven days a week. A new city bus terminal opened in 2006. Connections are available to water taxi, rail services, and the airport. The Intermodal Transportation Center, which opened in 2002 at the Holland Street Pier, includes a commercial bus terminal. Greyhound Lines and Fullington Trailways (owned by Fullington Auto Bus Company) provide daily bus service, including routes with local stops between Erie and DuBois and Pittsburgh, with connections to other destinations.
The former "Water Level Route" of the New York Central Railroad (now the CSX mainline) travels directly through Erie. This is a major mainline for the railroad and sees scores of trains a day. The mainline of the Norfolk Southern Railway at one time ran directly down the middle of 19th Street in the city. Norfolk Southern decided to remove the 19th Street tracks in 1998. The 19th Street rail traffic is now routed onto the transcontinental mainline. Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited arrives at the Union Station, in downtown Erie, twice daily. Although there has been much discussion in recent years in favor of adding trains along the southern shore of Lake Erie to link Buffalo with Cleveland and beyond, there are no near-term plans to begin this service.
Erie International Airport (IATA: ERI; IACO: KERI), located 5 miles (8 km) southwest of the city, hosts general aviation, charter, and scheduled airline service. Airlines serving Erie include Continental Airlines, US Airways and Northwest Airlines. Tom Ridge Field was recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation as the fastest-growing airport in the state and by the US Department of Transportation as the 3rd fastest-growing airport in the United States in 2004.
The Port of Erie is in Presque Isle Bay, a natural harbor formed by Presque Isle. The Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority provides water-taxi service in the summer months between Dobbins Landing and Liberty Park in downtown Erie, and the Waterworks ferry landing on Presque Isle.
A channel on the east side of Presque Isle allows ships to transit between the bay and Lake Erie. Cruise line services land at Dobbin's Landing rather than the Cruise Terminal built in 2002. A Great American Waterways cruise makes a 15-day run from Chicago to Warren, Rhode Island, with a stop in Erie on the eastern leg of the journey. The Great Lakes Cruise Company and the American Canadian Cruise Line advertise this cruise.