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Designing for Nonmotorists

Designing Shared Use Paths and Trails

Presented at the FHWA Design Discipline Seminar
June 25, 2014
Leesburg VA

(Download Powerpoint Version / 8.4 MB)

PowerPoint files can be viewed with the PowerPoint Viewer

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

Photo: Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange (TrADE).

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

Presented by:
Christopher Douwes, Community Planner

Transportation Alternatives Program
Recreational Trails Program
Federal Highway Administration

Photo of Christopher Douwes giving a Powerpoint presentation.

Photo of Christopher Douwes, Community Planner, FHWA, presenting at FHWA Civil Rights Discipline Training, June 23, 2009, Albuquerque NM. Photo: Henry Droughter, Equal Opportunity Specialist, FHWA Pennsylvania Division


What is a Shared Use Path?

FHWA Working Definition

  • 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.

Access Board Definition: Shared Use Path.
A multi-use path designed primarily for use by bicyclists and pedestrians, including pedestrians with disabilities, for transportation and recreation purposes. Shared use paths are physically separated from motor vehicle traffic by an open space or barrier, and are either within the highway right-of-way or within an independent right-of-way.

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...
  • US Access Board puts Shared Use Paths in the Public Rights-of-Way Guidelines


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!

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.

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.

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.

AASHTO publishes two guides that address pedestrian and bicycle facilities:

Guide for the Planning, Design, and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities, July 2004, (AASHTO Pedestrian Guide) provides guidelines for the planning, design, operation, and maintenance of pedestrian facilities, including signals and signing. The guide recommends methods for accommodating pedestrians, which vary among roadway and facility types, and addresses the effects of land use planning and site design on pedestrian mobility.

Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities 2012, Fourth Edition (AASHTO Bike Guide) provides detailed planning and design guidelines on how to accommodate bicycle travel and operation in most riding environments. It covers the planning, design, operation, maintenance, and safety of on-road facilities, shared use paths, and parking facilities. Flexibility is provided through ranges in design values to encourage facilities that are sensitive to local context and incorporate the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.

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