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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-04-103
Date: October 2004

Characteristics of Emerging Road and Trail Users and Their Safety

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The varieties of equipment on our trails and roadways has increased dramatically over recent years: Kick scooters, inline skates, hand cycles, and recumbent bicycles were uncommon on shared use paths as recently as 10 years ago; now they are common. Among the reasons for this shift are the development of new technologies and changing demographics. For example, with the aging of the American population, the number of people using mobility assistive devices (such as manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs, and powered scooters) is increasing.(1)Additionally, electric personal transporter devices (e.g., the Segway) are new technologies that are appearing on paths and roadways around the country.

With increases in the number of emerging users comes a greater need to design and build suitable facilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) set minimum standards for constructing and altering pedestrian facilities, including shared use paths, sidewalks, and crosswalks. By law, States and local jurisdictions are required to follow ADAAG when constructing or altering any pedestrian facility. Many jurisdictions throughout the United States have adopted the AASHTO Guide to the Development of Bicycle Facilities as a standard for the design of shared use trails and other facilities for nonmotorized transportation users.(2)As its title implies, the guide is written with bicyclists in mind, so its recommendations are based on the physical dimensions and operating characteristics of bicyclists. As this report will document, emerging users have different characteristics from bicyclists, thus trails (and other transportation facilities) designed and built to accommodate bicyclists may not meet their needs. Indeed, both formal and informal surveys of operators of shared paths (urban trails) reveal increasing problems with their facilities due to the increasing number of emerging users, their space requirements, and operational needs.

The growing need to accommodate emerging users is not restricted to off-street shared use paths. For example, many inline skaters believe that they should be allowed access to the roadway with the same rights as bicyclists. In fact, numerous initiatives throughout the United States range from local ordinances allowing inline skating on local streets to pending laws in State legislatures. In New York State for example, inline skating is now legally allowed on roads, with skaters subject to the same rules and laws as bicyclists.

FHWA recognized this need to accommodate emerging trail users and sponsored this study to better understand their physical dimensions and operational characteristics. To get this information, field data collection was performed on bicyclists and emerging users on three paths: the San Lorenzo River Trail in California, the Pinellas Trail in Florida, and the Paint Branch Trail in Maryland. This research naturally links the existing capacity methodologies in the Highway Capacity Manual and the FHWA study on "Evaluation of Safety, Design, and Operation of Shared Use Paths" with design professionals' need for adequate information to design roadway and shared use path facilities to meet the operational and safety needs of the increasingly diverse trail and other nonmotorized transportation users. It represents an important step in providing crucial information for the future development of AASHTO's Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, the AASHTO Guide to the Development of Bicycle Facilities, the AASHTO Pedestrian Facilities Guide, as well as other new design standards.

This report begins with definitions and operational characteristics of these emerging user types:

  • Inline skates.
  • Electric bicycles.
  • Kick scooters.
  • Tandems.
  • Strollers.
  • Segway.
  • Recumbent bicycles.
  • Manual wheelchairs.
  • Bicycle trailers.
  • Assistive power scooters.
  • Power wheelchairs.
  • Adult tricycles.
  • Skateboards.
  • Hand cycles.

The next section discusses potential sources of safety and crash data. Details of the field data collection plan are given in the third section. The results of the field data collection are then presented, followed by a discussion of the results and their implications for who the design users should be for each of several design criteria. Recommendations follow regarding design criteria and dissemination of these results. The report concludes with a marketing plan.

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