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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Equestrian and Other Nonmotorized Use on Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities

Posted May 23, 2008. Revised September 26, 2008 and February 24, 2011.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) receives occasional inquiries about equestrian and other nonmotorized use of facilities funded with Federal-aid highway program funds under Section 217 of title 23, United States Code, especially for projects using Transportation Enhancement funds.

Equestrian and other nonmotorized recreational use may be allowed on shared use paths and trails that use Federal-aid transportation funds. Federal transportation laws and regulations do not prohibit equestrians, in-line skaters, skateboarders, cross country skiers, snowshoe users, or other nonmotorized users on shared use paths or trails. States or local managers may choose to prohibit these uses; but it is a State or local determination, and not a Federal requirement. Various design options may allow equestrian use, such as providing both a paved path and an unpaved path within the same right-of-way. See Resources below.

Note: 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.

Related Provisions and Implications

Transportation Purpose Requirements

Section 217(i) states: Transportation Purpose.--No bicycle project may be carried out under this section unless the Secretary has determined that such bicycle project will be principally for transportation, rather than recreation purposes. This requirement only affects bicycle projects. It does not require a transportation purpose for pedestrian, equestrian, or any other use.

Transportation enhancement (TE) projects must relate to surface transportation. This is a flexible provision that accommodates recreational use as long as the project relates to surface transportation. See FHWA’s Guiding Principles and Questions for Transportation Enhancement Activities for more information.

Trail Sharing

The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) encourages trail management practices to serve a wide variety of trail users, including equestrians. The philosophy of trail sharing and cooperation should extend to trail projects using other Federal-aid highway program funds.

Many trails provide both a recreational and transportation purpose. RTP funds may be used on any trail which provides recreation. Using RTP funds on a trail project does not make the trail ineligible for other Federal highway funds if the trail also provides a transportation purpose.

RTP funds may match other Federal programs including other Federal-aid highway programs. For example, a State may match Transportation Enhancement (TE) or other Federal-aid funds with RTP funds. The RTP also allows matching funds from other Federal programs. For additional guidance on matching funds, see:

Accommodating Previously Existing Uses

When a State uses Federal-aid transportation funds for a project affecting a shared use path or recreational trail, the use of Federal-aid transportation funds should accommodate existing legal recreational uses that are consistent with the management agency's plans. A manager may change land use consistent with management goals and plans, but State or local officials should not require a change in existing legal uses solely because Federal-aid transportation funds are being used for a project. For example, if there is existing legal equestrian use, a Federal-aid project should not require a change in use; it should accommodate the equestrian use.

Motorized Use

Nonmotorized trails and pedestrian walkways, by their nature, do not permit the use of motorized vehicles. However, there may be exceptional circumstances where motorized use should be permitted on segments of nonmotorized facilities. FHWA developed a Framework for Considering Motorized Use on Nonmotorized Trails and Pedestrian Walkways to provide a consistent framework for determining when to permit an exception for motorized use on nonmotorized trails and pedestrian walkways under 23 U.S.C. § 217(h)(5).

Shared Use Path Surfaces

There are no Federal laws or regulations that require a shared use path to be paved. Equestrians (and many runners) usually prefer unpaved surfaces. Shared use path planners and designers should consider various user desires, accessibility requirements, material costs, surface longevity, and long-term maintenance costs when deciding about appropriate surfaces.

Shared Use Paths Along or Near Freeways and Bicycles on Freeways

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) receives occasional inquiries related to shared use paths or other trails or bicycle use related to Interstate highways or freeways.

Buggy Lanes on Highways and Buggies on Shared Use Paths

[Section added September 26, 2008]

FHWA received questions about the possibility of using Transportation Enhancement (TE) funds to construct or pave highway shoulders for use as buggy lanes. Using input from several States, FHWA also considered other nonmotorized use of highway shoulders, and horse and buggy use on shared use paths.


Equestrian Publications
These resources provide additional information about accommodating equestrian use.

Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Missoula Technology and Development Center. This guidebook provides information for developing trails, trailheads, and campgrounds that are sensitive to the needs of riders and their animals. The emphasis is on developed facilities and programs in urban, rural, and some wildland areas. The information can be adapted for a variety of settings and levels of development, as well as jurisdictional requirements.

Recreational Horse Trails in Rural and Wildland Areas: Design, Construction, and Maintenance. By Gene W. Wood; with major contributions from 16 contributing authors from around the nation. Available from Clemson University's Forestry and Natural Resources website: Designed as a textbook as opposed to a "how to do it" manual, the book guides readers in how to fit design, construction, and maintenance of equestrian trails to the environments in which they work, as well as the kinds and intensities of use that their trails will receive. Readers are reminded that the trail must fit ecosystem capacities to accommodate sustainable equestrian use.

Website Resources

Funding Sources

Additional Information

If you need additional information, please contact:

Gabe Rousseau
Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager
Federal Highway Administration

Christopher Douwes
Trails and Enhancements Program Manager
Federal Highway Administration

Historical Note

For the first edition of this webpage, see the November 1, 2005 Version (with updated contact information).

The Administration and the Senate reauthorization proposals for SAFETEA in 2005 had proposed amending Section 217 to state: "Shared use paths may be used by pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters, equestrians, and other nonmotorized users." The purpose of including the additional uses was to counter the claim that, if not mentioned, then they had to be prohibited. The proposed amendment was not included in the final SAFETEA-LU legislation. However, the fact that this new language was not adopted still did not change any Federal law or regulation, which prompted the development of this policy statement.

Updated: 12/8/2016
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