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Designing for Nonmotorists

Designing Shared Use Paths and Trails

Presented at the FHWA Field Engineers Learning & Development Seminar
April 20, 2010, Dallas, Texas

Christopher Douwes, Trails and Enhancements Program Manager,
Federal Highway Administration

(Download Powerpoint Version / 8.6 MB)

Off-Road Facilities: Shared Use Paths

Photo of a group of people attending opening day and dedication of the Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway in Texas.

Photo from the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse
Mineral Wells to Weatherford Rail-Trail, Mineral Wells, TX.
Opening day and dedication of the Mineral Wells to Weatherford Rail Trail.
(Photo: Texas DOT).

Course Overview

Part 3: Off-Road Facilities

  • Shared Use Paths

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What is a Shared Use Path?

  • The term "shared use path" means a multi-use trail or other path, physically separated from motorized vehicular traffic by an open space or barrier, either within a highway right-of-way or within an independent right-of-way, and usable for transportation purposes.

  • Shared use paths may be used by pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters, equestrians, and other nonmotorized users.

Photo of Peter Axelson in his wheelchair along a trail marked with sign detailing trail accessibility. Photo of people biking and walking along a paved trail.
Left photo: Peter Axelson, Beneficial Designs.
Contractor for FHWA's Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Best Practices Design Guide.
Right photo: Town Lake Trail, Austin TX.
Photo by Stuart Macdonald, American Trails.

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Sidewalk or Trail?

What is the difference between a sidewalk and a trail? Part function, part location.

  • If it acts like a sidewalk, it's a sidewalk.
  • If it acts like a trail, it's a trail.
  • If it is in between...
    • Facilities on park land parallel to streets.
    • Doesn't matter who maintains (parks or streets department). The function matters.
    • People will always argue fine details...
I could give a lot of examples from Fairfax City, Virginia.
Mostly bad examples of what not to do.

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If you build a shared use path...

  • Make sure it works for all users.
    • Accommodate pre-existing legal users, including equestrians.
  • Ensure Accessibility: to be covered in the Accessible Design course.
  • Ensure construction to guidelines: Verify!

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Good Examples

Oregon integrates recreational trails and transportation facilities:
Portland Esplanade

Photo of wide paved trail over water.
Portland OR

Trails connect parks and recreation:
MKT Trail, Columbia MO

Photo of wide paved trail over water.
MKT Trailhead Project
Columbia MO.

Photos from Coalition for Recreational Trails,
Recreational Trails Program Annual Achievement Awards.

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Bad Example

Photo of a paved trail with excessive curves.

What do these curves do?

  • Landscape architect vs Engineer?
  • Practical vs pretty?
  • Transportation vs recreation?
  • Opposite side of the road from a high school and other origins or destinations; no crosswalks.
  • It may be part of a larger plan.

Photo: Ahsanhka Road (SR 7) in front of Orofino High School in Orofino, Idaho. Photo by Tony Powers, Dokken Engineering.

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Shared Use Paths: Guidelines

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

Cover photo of Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities.
Cover photo of Guide for the Planning, Design, and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities.

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Updated: 02/10/2014
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