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Designing for Nonmotorists

Recreation: Where Engineering and Art Meet

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 / 5.1 MB)

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 4: Off-Road Facilities

  • Recreational Trails
  • Motorized Trails

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Recreational Trails

  • Why do we care?
  • Eligible for Recreational Trails Program funds.
  • May be eligible for Federal Lands Highway funds.

Photo collage of trails.

Photos from the Recreational Trails Program website.
Left: Mountain bike trails at Butte State Park, Montana.
Top right: ATV trail on the Bull Run Guest Ranch near Cascade, Montana.
Bottom right: Snowmobiles at Eagle River, Wisconsin.

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Recreational Trails

What is a recreational trail?

A thoroughfare or track across land or snow, used for recreational purposes:

  • Pedestrian activities, including wheelchair use;
  • Skating or skateboarding;
  • Equestrian activities, including carriage driving;
  • Nonmotorized snow trail activities, including skiing;
  • Bicycling or use of other human powered vehicles;
  • Aquatic or water activities; and
  • Motorized vehicular activities, including all terrain vehicle riding, motorcycling, snowmobiling, use of off-road light trucks, or use of other off road motorized vehicles.

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Shared Use Path or Trail?

What is the difference between a shared use path and a trail?

  • A shared use path is a trail that is readily usable for transportation.
  • A recreational trail is primarily for recreation, but may provide a transportation link.
  • Historic and cultural trails: National Historic Trails, Civil War Trails, Underground Railroad.
  • Tourism trails: birding trails, scenic routes.

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Recreational Trails

Recreational trail purpose:
  • A primary purpose is the user experience.
  • Less concern about getting from Point A to B.
  • Less concern about engineered designs.
  • These are not narrow highways!!!

Photo of a person standing along the side of a trail. Photo of a person riding a bike along a trail.
Photos from the Recreational Trails Program website
Left: Visitors enjoy a fenced trail near the Cycling the Pass stop on McKenzie Pass - Santiam Pass Scenic Byway, Oregon.
Right: Two-wheeling in the Lewis and Clark National Forest near Neihart, Montana.

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Provisions

If you build a recreational trail...
  • Make sure it works for all legal users.
    • Accommodate pre-existing legal users, including equestrians, motorized, etc.
  • Ensure Accessibility, but there are exceptions.

Hikers and bikers enjoy a trail in Utah
Photo from the Recreational Trails Program website.
Hikers and bikers both enjoy the Slickrock Trail in Moab, Utah,
despite threatening storm clouds from the north.
©2000. A. Crane.

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Bridges

  • Bridges: What are we building?

Photo collage of different bridges.
4 photos from the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse.
Top right: Osage Prairie Trail, Tulsa OK.
Top middle: Steel Bridge, Portland OR
Bottom left: Farmington Canal, Cheshire CT
Right side: Soo Line "S" Bridge, Eau Claire WI
Bottom middle: Rich Zelensky, Nebraska Department of Roads, through the River Valley Trail Riders, Council Bluffs IA.

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Bridges

Photo of a trail bridge.
Photo: A rustic bridge on the Palmetto Trail.
Photo source: Stuart Macdonald, American Trails.

You don't need truck standards for most trail bridges.


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Bridges

Some Americans might not feel comfortable with swinging suspension bridges!

Photo of a suspension rope bridge.
TIBET: a bridge for the Happy Valley.
Photo source: Stuart Macdonald, American Trails.


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Recreational Trails

What is the trail purpose?

  • Who are the users?
    • Hikers? Equestrians? Mountain bikers?
    • Snowmobilers? Skiers?
    • ATVers? Motorcyclists? Four-wheelers?
  • What is the recreational expectation?
    • Front country? Popular destination?
    • Backcountry? Remote? Wilderness?

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Recreational Trails

What is the trail purpose?

  • What are the skill levels?
    • Beginners?
    • Family outings?
    • Technical skills?
    • Challenge course?
    • Freeriding? Speed?
  • I-5 Colonnade, Seattle

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Recreational Trails
What do you design for?

Accessibility: See www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/recreation-facilities/outdoor-developed-areas.

  • Federal agencies and Federal lands: see Draft Final Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas.
  • State, local, and private, including Federal-aid: see Regulatory Negotiation Committee on Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas Final Report.
  • States may choose one or the other, or choose the "more accessible" of the two options.
  • Access Board is still finalizing these guidelines.
  • In general: An accessible trail is a sustainable trail.

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Recreational Trails
Surface

Surface: Firm and stable for accessibility.

  • Must accommodate wheelchairs to be accessible.
  • But not all recreational trails will be accessible.
  • Mountain bike trails: www.imba.com.
  • Equestrian trails
  • Motorized trails
  • Remote hiking

Mountain bike trail features made of stone.
Trailside and trailhead facilities must be accessible.

Photos: From International Mountain Bicycling Association.
Publication developed with funding in part through FHWA's Recreational Trails Program.

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Recreational Trails
Surface

Surface: Likely not paved.

  • Consider accessibility guidelines for trails.
  • Engineered or natural surface?

Tread Obstacles may exist:

  • Roots, rocks, ruts, bumps, etc. Keep <2 inches.
  • Drainage features. May affect cross slope.

Gaps: Usually in bridges and boardwalks. Keep <0.5 inches, or <0.75 inches by exception.

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Recreational Trails
Width

  • What will be the user experience?
  • Design for minimum impact.
  • Accessible trails: generally 36 inch minimum, with exceptions if necessary.
  • Mountain bikes: narrow preferred: 12-24 inches.
  • Motorcycles: narrow preferred: 18-24 inches.
  • Equestrians: consider equestrian widths.
  • ATVs: wide enough for an ATV, not more.

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Updated: 02/27/2014
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