Physically separated from roads, trails or greenways are accessible two-way paths designated for use by both bicyclists and pedestrians. Typically, these shared-use paths are found along riparian zones of waterways, sewer or utility corridors, active or abandoned rail lines, or other linear park facilities outside of a road’s right-of-way. Sidepaths are a specific type of shared-use path that are within a road’s right-of-way and may be a more desirable facility type than a sidewalk or bike lane along higher speed or high-volume roads, particularly where the frequency of intersections or driveway access is limited.

Trails can create safe places for people to walk and bicycle for recreational purposes. A well-placed trail that connects to key destinations and places of employment can also encourage utilitarian trips. Good planning and design of trails and trail networks that are well integrated with, complements, or is redundant with the road network is essential for a comprehensive multimodal network. Shared-use paths will never replace the road network for connections to all destinations, and some bicyclists will prefer the road due to direct routing and fewer conflicts with slower travelers. That said, trails offer transportation access to bicyclists with less experience and comfort in riding alongside motor vehicles. Special care must be taken to provide a safe experience for a wide range of people from children to older adults including bicyclists at different skill levels, walkers, runners, in-line skaters, and others. On higher volume paths, it may be necessary to separate pedestrians from higher-speed wheeled users.

Even though trails separated from motorist traffic offer a reduced risk of some crash types, path junctions with streets are necessary for connectivity, and context-sensitive design details at these crossings are critical to maximize safety. Costs to build a trail vary substantially based on materials used, right-of-way costs, and other factors. FHWA’s Recreational Trails Program, Rails to Trails Conservancy, and American Trails also offer an array of resources, research, guidance, and funding.

Resources

Transit and Trail Connections identifies opportunities and constraints that impact visitor access to National Wildlife Refuges through connections with transit and trail transportation modes.

Evaluation of Safety, Design, and Operations of Shared Use Paths documents the research done to develop a level of service estimation method for trails and the resultant Level of Service Calculator User’s Guide.

Rails with Trails: Lessons Learned reports on safety, design, and liability issues with trails located near railroad and transit rights-of-way and offers practices to enhance safety and security.

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Examples

Ke Ala Hele Makalae Trail, Kauai, Hawaii preserves public access to the coast.

Indianapolis Cultural Trail describes how a public-private partnership connected five cultural districts and neighborhoods to downtown.

Evaluating the Economic Impact of Shared Use Paths in North Carolina reports on designing and testing a methodology to evaluate a range of monetized benefits from four different trails.

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