shop   |   eNews   |   find a trail Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity
Share this page:


Signage directs users along the Met Branch
Trail in Washington, D.C.


What are Urban Pathways?

Urban pathways go by many names, including bikeways, trails and greenways. These pathways are used for healthy recreation and—when seamlessly interconnected with pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure like sidewalks and bicycle lanescan be ideal routes for active transportation, including biking and walking.

Learn more about RTC's Urban Pathways Initiative, an effort to encourage the development, stewardship and use of urban pathways.


More on Connections


RTC's TrailBlog


Urban Pathways Lessons


Urban Pathways to Healthy Neighborhoods

Focus On: Bike, Pedestrian and Park Connections

Download four-page CONNECTIONS summary
Return to Urban Pathways to Healthy Neighborhoods

Urban pathways are effective routes for active transportation—human-powered mobility, including biking and walking—when linked to a greater network of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, allowing trail users to access the trail from their home or workplace and safely reach community destinations. Planning and designing urban pathways within the context of other city and regional planning efforts can better integrate pathways into the city's transportation and greenspace network, providing more opportunities for active transportation and recreation.

Many urban pathways are shorter than 10 miles in length and are sometimes fragmented due to limited availability of right-of-way for development. Creating safe on-street connections can be essential to encouraging trail use, and cities across the country are exploring novel approaches and demonstrating creative solutions to improving bicycle and pedestrian connections. In particular, connecting trails to cycle tracks and bicycle boulevards may make the transition from trail to street feel smooth and secure. Creating safe crossings at intersections and developing other on-street bicycle facilities like bike lanes can also help improve pathway connectivity and accessibility. The following lessons and examples explore different approaches to connecting urban pathways to bicycle and pedestrian networks, transit, parks and greenspace, and other community destinations.


Show (and tell) people where to go
Form social connections to the trail by raising awareness with signage, events and outreach materials. Residents may not know about the trail if it is in a formerly neglected area, or they may not know how it connects to other community destinations. Wayfinding signage can help neighborhood residents locate trail access points from nearby streets; conversely, this signage can direct trail users to nearby amenities like retail, schools and community centers. When hosting activities on the pathway, bring a city bicycle and/or trail map to show existing and potential connections to and from the pathway. Use temporary events or media campaigns to show how facility improvements or trail extension projects could benefit the community.

Memphis, Tenn. – New Face for Old Broad
An important missing link that would connect Memphis' Shelby Farms Greenline to downtown and the city's largest park stops short at Broad Avenue, a wide four-lane roadway. To complete the missing link, Livable Memphis and other local organizations transformed Broad Avenue, at least temporarily, into a "complete street" featuring bike lanes, art-inspired crosswalks painted by local schoolchildren, and temporary businesses that set up shop for the weekend. It's part of an effort, called "A New Face for an Old Broad," to show the community what Broad Avenue could be while making the connection between the trailhead and Overton Park.

Connect Trails to Transit
Connecting trails to transit can significantly improve mobility for residents who use transit and non-motorized forms of transportation. A trail connection to transit can also be used to spur improvements in bikes-on-transit policies, such as bike racks on buses, trains and at stations.

Houston, Texas – Improving Connections to Transit
Houston's growing light rail network is expanding to the city's East End, serving predominately Hispanic neighborhoods along Harrisburg Boulevard. Working with Metro and the Houston-Galveston Area Council's Livable Centers program, the Greater East End Management District created a plan to improve pedestrian access from neighborhood streets to the new transit line. District funds supported improvements within the light rail corridor, and federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds were awarded to construct sidewalks on nearby streets that connect to the light rail—a total of $7.75 million is being spent on sidewalk improvements in the District. The first sections of sidewalk are now in place, and more are on the way.

In addition, the Harrisburg and Sunset rail-trails run a block away from the planned transit line, while the expanding Buffalo Bayou trail system is along the neighborhood's northern edge. These trail connections combined with sidewalk improvements will provide residents safer, more accessible connections to transit and provide more opportunities for active transportation.

Plan and Partner
Plan and partner to make community connections happen beyond the trail. To encourage trail use for both active transportation and recreation, several planning and design elements should be considered. Facilities should meet state and federal design guidelines, provide lighting, safe intersections and accessible connections. See resources in the blue box above for

Work with adjacent jurisdictions and local advocate groups (bicyclists, smart growth groups, e.g.) to develop better connectivity between trails and bicycle/pedestrian networks. Create multi-jurisdictional advisory committee to advocate for connectivity, apply for funding, and include trail facilities in regional planning documents.

Compton, Calif. – Compton Creek Bike Path and Multi-Use Trail
Compton Creek Trail users must navigate across four to six lanes of fast-moving traffic several times, creating significant obstacles to using the trail. Most intersections do not have marked crosswalks or signalized intersections where the trail bisects a street mid-block. As part of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Urban Pathways Initiative, we developed Across the Arterial, a report that illustrates a variety of innovative intersection treatments to enhance trail user safety.

Connect Trails to Parks
Extend the trail into the community and use it as a spine of the park system. Urban pathways can form a vital linkage between city greenspace and parks and form the backbone of a greenway system. These connections can be especially important in low-income communities where access to parks and greenspace is often limited. For example, the city of Compton, Calif., is using the Compton Creek Bike Path and Multi-Use Trail as a focal point for a larger park system in the Compton Creek Regional Garden Park Master Plan.

Urban pathways also provide children safe routes to parks for recreation, allowing opportunities to play and explore along the way. Pathways for Play, a program developed in partnership with PlayCore, GameTime, the Natural Learning Initiative, and American Trails, provides excellent resources for communities working to create networks of shared-use pathways and play pockets. Pathways for Play: Best Practice Guidelines are available at

Case Study: Improving Trail Connections with Community Assessments

RTC partnered with NOLA Cycle mapping project to conduct a physical assessment of 60 miles of roadways and intersections surrounding the Lafitte Corridor in New Orleans, La. Learn more about the assessment process and how it will help greenway planners and city officials prioritize improvements near and within the corridor.

Volunteers assess street intersections
near the Lafitte Corridor.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
5th Floor
Washington, DC 20037