Shared-Use Paths/Sidepaths

Description

Pedestrians using a waterfront path in Austin, Texas

Physically separated facilities such as sidepaths or shared-use paths for pedestrians and bicyclists are a great way to encourage more walking and bicycling. Shared-use paths provide off-road connections that can be used for recreation and commuting. These paths are often found along waterways, abandoned or active railroad and utility rights-of-way, limited access highways, or within parks and open space areas. Along high-speed, high-volume roads, sidepaths might be safer and more desirable than sidewalks or bike lanes. Sidepaths might also be used when existing roads provide the only rights-of-way available. Paths immediately adjacent to roadways may cross numerous intersecting roads and driveways that create hazards and other problems for path users. Creating safe and accessible intersections between paths and the road network is one of the most challenging and critical aspects of design.

Trail crossing with refuge island

Shared-use paths tend to attract bicyclists with a wide range of skill levels, including young children. A path, even if designed primarily as a bike facility, also likely will attract a mix of other users including pedestrians, in-line skaters and others, depending on location and access. Special care must therefore be taken in the planning and design of such paths to provide a satisfactory experience for bicyclists, and safe sharing of the facility with a variety of users of differing speeds and abilities.

Good planning and design of shared-use paths is crucial to provide for safe use, to maximize long-term benefits, and reduce future maintenance problems (such as erosion, water or edge deterioration). Pathways will never replace the road network for connecting to destinations, and some cyclists will prefer the road network for most riding due to the more direct route and fewer conflicts with slower path users.

A good process that incorporates input from future users and property owners may be the most important element to realizing a path that will maximize recreational and travel benefits and minimize potential problems. Good initial design is also crucial for minimizing future maintenance costs and problems. The process should engage the community so that the facility that is ultimately designed fits with local needs and with the local cultural, natural, and built environments.

Purpose

Bicyclist riding a shared use path along the Charles River in Boston, MA

A separate shared-use path provides transportation links, recreation areas, and outdoor fitness opportunities for a variety of users, including bicyclists and pedestrians. While the separation from motor vehicles provided by shared-use paths reduces the risk of some crash types, careful design is required to ensure safe roadway and driveway crossings and safe interactions among the different path users.

Considerations

  • Shared-use paths are a complement to the roadway network; they are not a substitute for providing access on streets.
  • Connections to the regular street network are important, but a high number of crossings at intersections create potential conflicts with turning traffic.
  • At intersections with roadways, paths should be signed, marked, and/or designed to discourage or prevent unauthorized motorized access.
  • All users should be encouraged to stay right. An exception may be paths along waterways or other features that capture the attention of pedestrians. In these instances, markings and/or signage may be used to encourage pedestrians to stay on the side of the path closest to the attraction to reduce conflicts associated with pedestrians crossing the pathway.
  • Since nearly all shared use paths are used by pedestrians, they need to meet the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • In areas with extremely heavy pathway volume, it may be necessary to segregate pedestrians from wheeled users.

Cost

Costs can vary substantially based on the materials used, right-of-way costs, and other factors. A paved, multi-use trail can range in cost from approximately $65,000 per mile to more than $4 million per mile. An unpaved path can range from approximately $30,000 to $400,000 per mile. More detailed cost information is provided here.