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Designing Shared Use Paths and Trails. Christopher Douwes, Community Planner, Federal Highway Administration. Shared Use Paths. What is a Shared Use Path?. FHWA Working Definition

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Designing shared use paths and trails

Designing Shared Use Paths and Trails

Christopher Douwes, Community Planner, Federal Highway Administration

What is a shared use path
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.

Sidewalk or trail
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
Good Examples

Oregon integrates recreational trails and transportation facilities: Portland Esplanade

Trails connect parks and recreation: MKT Trail, Columbia MO

Bad example
Bad Example

What do these curves do?

  • Landscape architect vs


  • 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.

Shared use paths guidelines
Shared Use Paths: Guidelines

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

  • Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities: 2012.

  • Guide for the Planning, Design, and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities: 2004.

  • US Access Board Accessibility Guidelines for Shared Use Paths.

  • Consider other sources, as appropriate.

Shared use paths surface
Shared Use Paths: Surface

Surface: Firm, stable, and slip resistant.

  • Must accommodate wheelchairs.

  • Accommodate narrow-tire bicycles.

  • Accommodate people pushing baby strollers (good “test equipment”).

  • Pavement is not required. Pavement may not be appropriate in some settings (rural).

  • Slip resistance required, but may be difficult on unpaved surfaces.

Shared use paths surface1
Shared Use Paths: Surface

  • There are no Federal laws or regulations that require a shared use path to be paved.

Shared use paths surface2
Shared Use Paths: Surface

Firm and stable.

  • Some crushed aggregates can be firm and stable.

  • Rotational Penetrometer: Measures firmness and stability of ground and floor surfaces.


Shared use paths surface3
Shared Use Paths: Surface


  • Asphalt or Concrete?

  • Asphalt often cheaper to construct, but may suffer water, frost, and tree root damage.

  • Concrete may be cheaper in the long run: may better withstand flooding, frost, roots, etc.

  • Concrete: use “saw cut” for joints.

  • Check for accessibility and a smooth surface.

Shared use paths tread obstacles
Shared Use Paths: Tread Obstacles

Tread Obstacles: Avoid, Minimize, and Prevent.

  • Prevent roots, rocks, ruts, bumps, cracks, etc.

  • Maintain a smooth path: sweep, fix irregularities.

  • Exception: Detectable warnings at crossings.

Shared use paths gaps
Shared Use Paths: Gaps

Gaps: Avoid, Minimize, and Prevent.

  • Keep drainage grates off the trail.

  • Minimize: openings, pavement and bridge joints, open bridge decks, railroad crossings, boardwalks.

  • Openings shall not permit passage of a 0.5 inch / 13 mm diameter sphere.

  • Elongated openings should be perpendicular to travel direction.

Shared use paths width
Shared Use Paths: Width

  • How much use will there be?

  • 8 foot minimum for low-use facilities:

    • Connectors between cul-de-sac neighborhoods.

    • To avoid inviting cut-through motor vehicles.

  • Prefer 10 foot minimum, recommend 12 foot, more if needed.

  • Avoid designing only

    for the minimum.

Shared use paths width1
Shared Use Paths: Width

  • High use facilities: Consider separating “heels and wheels” on two separate paths.

Shared use paths width2
Shared Use Paths: Width

Passing Space

  • Accessibility requirement: At least 60 inches (1525 mm) width within 200 foot (61 m) intervals.

  • Should not be an issue for Shared Use Paths.

  • Avoid designing only for the minimum.

Shared use paths grade
Shared Use Paths: Grade

Grade: Accessibility is the primary consideration.

  • Use Access Board’s Shared Use Path Guidelines in the Public Rights-of-Way Guidelines.

    • Grade: <5% to the extent practicable.

    • There may be situations were “compliance is required to the extent practicable.”

  • At highway crossings: Highway slope is trail cross slope, highway cross slope is trail slope.

Shared use paths grade1
Shared Use Paths: Grade

  • Grade: <5% to the extent practicable.

  • Avoid abrupt grade changes:

    • Annoying and can be dangerous.

  • No provision or requirement for rest intervals, but could be considered on sustained grades.

  • Shared use paths cross slope
    Shared Use Paths: Cross Slope

    • Cross Slope: <2%.

    • At highway crossings: Highway slope is trail cross slope, highway cross slope is trail slope.

    • Superelevation? Accessibility trumps.

    • NOTE: The Outdoor Developed Areas Guidelines allow steeper cross slopes for recreational trails. Shared Use Paths must use a higher standard.

    Shared use paths vertical clearance
    Shared Use Paths: Vertical Clearance

    • Accessibility: 80 inches minimum.

    • Equestrian Use: 10 feet minimum.

    Shared use paths vertical clearance1
    Shared Use Paths: Vertical Clearance

    • Maintenance vehicles: 12 feet? More?

    • Provide warnings or barriers for low overhead clearance: detectable by people with visual impairments.

    Shared use paths protruding objects
    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.

    Shared use path crossings
    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.

    Trails in freeway rights of way
    Trails in Freeway Rights-of-Way

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


    • Yes! There are examples.

    • Ensure barrier separation between the trail and freeway lanes.

    Shared use paths near railroads
    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 railroads1
    Shared Use Paths Near Railroads

    • Many factors to consider.

    • See FHWA/FRA Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned:

    • Trail may reduce trespassing on railroad property.

    • Trail is easier to use than walking on tracks.

    • Use a barrier:

      • Fence or vegetation.

      • Ditch.

      • Vertical grade.

    Rails to trails

    • 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.

    Bollards a bad idea why
    Bollards: A Bad Idea. Why?

    What are some possible problems?

    Bollards a bad idea
    Bollards: A Bad Idea

    • 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 idea1
    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
    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: 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.

    Bridges essential links1
    Bridges: Essential Links

    • Be creative.

    • Reuse historic bridges.

    • Reuse railroad flatcars.

    Rail bridge to trail bridge walkway over the hudson poughkeepsie highland ny
    Rail Bridge to Trail BridgeWalkway Over the HudsonPoughkeepsie – Highland NY

    Big dam bridge near little rock ar
    Big Dam BridgeNear Little Rock AR

    Over Lock & Dam.

    Built and managed by

    by Pulaski County.

    Tunnels and underpasses
    Tunnels and Underpasses

    Design for the tallest likely user:

    • Maintenance vehicles

    • Equestrians

    • Snow level

      Think about


    Tunnels and underpasses1
    Tunnels and Underpasses

    Design for Perception of Security

    • 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.


    See MUTCD Chapter 9:

    Support facilities
    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
    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).


    • What do you see that you like?

    • What do you see that you don’t like?