Shared Use Paths

A shared use path should accomdate a variety of users and speeds.

In the last decade of the 20th Century, shared use paths (often called trails or bike paths) for bicyclists and walkers sprang up in communities cross the nation. There are more than 11,000 miles of paths on former railroad corridors and thousands more alongside canals, rivers, and highways and running through parks and recreation areas.

Shared use paths provide many valuable benefits including transportation links, recreation areas, habitat corridors, economic development attractors and outdoor fitness centers. They may range in length from a mile or two in a downtown, to a regional commuter route of 15 miles or more, right up to a cross-state or interstate path covering hundreds of miles, and the level of use on a trial may vary from a few thousand people a year to several million per year.

Regardless of the location, purpose, level of use, or mix of users, there are certain design elements that are important for the successful and safe operation of a shared use pathway. Applying these design criteria need not create a sterile, overbuilt "mini-highway", and there is still plenty of scope for applying engineering judgment and common sense solutions to issues that arise in the development of a shared use path. There is also a wealth of information available on trail design to help identify solutions and approaches to problems.