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Designing for Nonmotorists

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Shared Use Paths: Protruding Objects

  • Avoid protruding objects in the treadway:
    • Poles, wires, signs, other objects.
    • Tree branches, hanging vines.
    • Mark unavoidable objects with retroreflective markings.
    • Covered in Accessible Design Course.
Graphic of man using a walking cane walking dangerously close to protruding object. Graphic of man using a walking cane walking dangerously close to protruding object. Photo of man using a walking cane walking dangerously close to object protruding from light pole. Graphic of man using a walking cane running into a campaign sign sitting in middle of sidewalk.

Bottom left and middle drawings: From FHWA's Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Best Practices Design Guide.
Photo: US Access Board archives (reversed).
: U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section: ADA Checklist for Polling Places, page 17.

Shared Use Path Crossings

  • Use Public Rights-of-Way Guidelines.
  • Treat as an intersection.
  • Who gets the right of way? Where is the volume?
  • Include detectable warnings.

Graphic of man using a walking cane  approaching an intersection marked with detectable warnings. Photo of a man with 2 young kids and a dog standing on a trail crossing at roads edge.
Drawing: From FHWA's Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Best Practices Design Guide.
Photo: High Line Canal Trail, Cherry Hills Village, CO. Photo by Stuart Macdonald, American Trails.

Trails in Freeway Rights-of-Way

QUESTION: Can trails be built along an Interstate or other freeway right-of-way?


Photo of a paved trail adjacent to eleveted section of highway. Photo of snowmobilers on a bridge crossing a highway.
Left photo: Joseph J Kracum, Kracum Resources LLC. Published in FHWA's Public Roads Magazine, March/April 2004.
Right photo: Red Creek Bridge over I-75, near MI-134 (Upper Peninsula). From Coalition for Recreational Trails, Recreational Trails Program Annual Achievement Awards.

Shared Use Paths Near Railroads

QUESTION: Can Shared Use Paths (or other trails) coexist with railroads?


  • It depends.
    • Right-of-way.
    • Safety
    • Security
    • No trespassing!

Shared Use Paths Near Railroads


  • Good examples of shared use paths.
  • Low grade, good sight lines, wide, stable base.
  • It could handle trains, it can handle bicyclists and pedestrians!
  • Access points must be accessible.
  • Pay attention to property rights issues.

Photo of a trail bridge crossing small stream.
Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange (TrADE).
Silver Comet Trail, Georgia.

Bollards: A Bad Idea. Why?

What are some possible problems?

Photo of bollard at entrance of pedestrian bridge. Photo of bollards at entrance of pedestrian bridge.

Photos: Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange (TrADE).
Left: Union Street Railroad Bridge, Salem OR.
Right: Big Dam Bridge, Little Rock AR.

Bollards: A Bad Idea.

Photo of bollards at trail entrance and unintended trail tread going around bollards.
Photo: Delaware and Hudson Rail-Trail, Pawlet, VT.
Jon Kaplan, Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager,
Vermont Agency of Transportation.
  • Bollards should never be a default treatment.
  • Don't use unless intrusions are documented.
  • Bollards are a potentially fatal safety hazard.
  • Unjustified bollards may create liability.
  • Bollards, gates, fences, or other barriers can slow emergency response access.
  • Bollards are often ineffective: people go around, or damage the bollards or area.
  • A landscaped median is better.

Bollards: A Bad Idea.

If installed, bollard, gates, fences, or other barriers:

  • Must not restrict access for people with disabilities.
  • Must be easily visible in low light conditions.
  • Have enough sight distance so users can adjust speed.
  • Should permit passage, without dismounting, for adult tricycles, bicycles towing trailers, and tandem bicycles.
  • Accommodate all users legally permitted to use the trail.
  • Must be easily removable for emergency vehicle access.
  • Never use even numbers of bollards, possibly creating head-on collisions... (see previous examples).

Environmental Impacts

Shared use paths may qualify for Categorical Exclusions, but they can impact:

  • Drainage patterns and wetlands.
  • Wildlife: threatened and endangered species.
  • Historic, cultural, archaeological resources.
  • Privacy perceptions for adjacent properties.
  • Light pollution.

Bridges: Essential Links

Bridges are needed in any transportation network.

  • Union Street Railroad Bridge, Salem OR.
  • A half-mile span over the Willamette River.
  • The project improved bicycle and pedestrian safety and access, and provided a critical link in local, regional, and State transportation and trail networks.
Photo of pedestrian bridge. Photo of pedestrian bridge.
Photo of pedestrian bridge. Photo of pedestrian bridge.
Photos: TrADE Image Library.
Union Street Railroad Bridge, Salem OR
Photo credit: City of Salem OR.

Bridges: Essential Links

  • Be creative.
  • Reuse historic bridges.
  • Reuse railroad flatcars.
Photo of bridge work.

Rail Bridge to Trail Bridge

Walkway Over the Hudson Poughkeepsie - Highland NY

Photo Collage of bridges and walkway over river.
You might want to make sure this can hold tractor trailers!
Photo source: Stuart Macdonald, See more photos at: American Trails

Big Dam Bridge
Near Little Rock AR

Photo of Bridge Photo of Bridge Photo of Bridge
Over Lock & Dam. - Built and managed by by Pulaski County.
Photos: TrADE Image Library.
Big Dam Bridge.

Tunnels and Underpasses

Photo of an Underpass Photo of an Underpass
Photos: TrADE Image Library
Left: Dalecarlia Tunnel, Capital Crescent Trail, Montgomery County MD.
Right: Silver Comet Trail, Georgia.

Design for the tallest likely user:

  • Maintenance vehicles
  • Equestrians
  • Snow level

Think about maintenance.


Tunnels and Underpasses

Design for Perception of Security

Photo of a man riding a bike under a tunnel
  • Good visibility through the underpass:
    • No hiding places.
    • Lighting if needed.
  • Highway underpasses:
    • Underpass approach grade may be easier than a bridge over.
    • Drainage issues.

Clear Creek Trail crossing under Burlington Northern Railroad embankment, Jefferson County, CO; photo by Stuart Macdonald, August 1, 2009.


See MUTCD Chapter 9:

Figure 9B-1. Sign Placement on Shared-Use Paths - Click on Image for text description.

Support Facilities

Trailside and Trailhead Facilities

  • Rest rooms, water.
  • Benches along trails, hitching posts, bike racks.
  • Buildings and built site facilities must meet accessibility guidelines for built facilities.
  • Not our job: Park amenities: picnic pavilions, campgrounds, ball fields, boat launches, etc.
  • Not our job: school running tracks, field lighting, etc.

Motorized Use on Shared Use Paths

  • Generally prohibited. Exceptions:
    • Motorized wheelchairs
    • Snowmobiles or electric bicycles at State or local option
  • Framework for Considering Motorized Use on Nonmotorized Trails and Pedestrian Walkways -
  • Electric vehicles: currently not allowed (except electric bicycles at State or local option).

Motorized Use or Larger Vehicles on Shared Use Paths

Coming soon to a trail near you?

Photo of a golf cart on a golf path. Photo of a pedal car. Photo of a group of people in a pedal car.

Left: Golf cart on a golf cart trail system, Peachtree City, Georgia.
Middle: Surrey Company:
Right: North Dakota Department of Transportation


  • What do you see that you like?
  • What do you see that you don't like?
Photo of multiple users on a trail.

TrADE Image Library
Capital Crescent Trail, Bethesda, Maryland

Questions, Comments, etc.???

Photo of a trail bridge under a road. Christopher B Douwes
Community Planner
Recreational Trails Program
Transportation Alternatives Program
Federal Highway Administration
FHWA HEPH-10 Rm E74-474
1200 New Jersey Ave SE
Washington DC 20590-0001
Phone: 202-366-5013; Fax: 202-366-3409

Return to Presentation Index

Updated: 10/20/2015
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