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The planning, design and building phases of a trail or greenway are complicated but important.


AASHTO – American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

NACTO – National Association of City Transportation Officials

Charrette – A public design workshop in which designers, property owners, developers, public officials, environmentalists, citizens and other persons or groups of people work in harmony to achieve an agreeable trail or greenway project.

Master Plan – A comprehensive long-range plan intended to guide the greenway and trail development of a community or region. Includes analysis, recommendation and proposals of action.

Trails glossary and acronyms.


RTC Resources

Book: Trails for the Twenty-First Century, second edition

Ask Our Listserv: Learn about trail development from the experts! Join our listserv to be connected to over 900 trail managers, advocates, and builders across the country.

Go to RTC's Trails and Greenways Publication Library

For more information, please contact the appropriate regional or national office.


Additional Resources

USDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Program

Minnesota DOT Bikeway Facility Design Manual

FHWA: Bicycle & Pedestrian Safety


Plan, Design, Build

Turning Trail Vision into Reality

Explore the latest resources on this topic:

Plan Design Build in RTC TrailBlog
Plan Design Build in the Library

Planning, designing and building a trail or greenway can be a lengthy, complicated process. Foresight is essential to success. Many trail and greenway projects require the input of a design consultant or other expert assistance. However, there are a few basic principles and several key resources that can help inform anyone involved with the development of a trail or greenway.

The most important principle during the design process is to plan the facility to meet the needs and expectations of all potential users, including both humans and wildlife. This consideration is especially important when it comes to determining trail width, surface material and amenities. For example, trails that will serve a large number of bicycle commuters may have different design characteristics to favor high-speed travel, as opposed to trails that will serve an almost exclusively recreational purpose.

The needs of physically disabled users must also be taken into consideration during the design process. For greenways that do not include trails, there are often important design considerations involved in providing public access to certain areas while preventing access to other areas, as well as making sure that habitat is preserved and/or restored for desired species. In addition, the best trail and greenway designs also take into consideration the historic and cultural assets that may be associated with a corridor and make it unique.

Trail and greenway designers rely upon several comprehensive and authoritative resources to provide guidelines and standards. Foremost among these is the Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, which is produced by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and is now in its fourth edition. Often referred to as "The AASHTO Guide" or "The Green Book," this 2012 publication contains guidelines for both on- and off-road facilities for bicycle use, including recreational trails, and is available for purchase online in both physical and digital formats.

Also crucial to designers of trails, particularly those in urban areas, is the Urban Bikeway Design Guide created by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). Now in its second edition, the 2012 publication seeks to expand on the information available in AASHTO's guide, specifically as it pertains to urban areas.

In 2001, an updated version of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Trails for the Twenty-First Century was released. This helpful book is an introduction to converting unused rail and canal corridors into multi-use trails.

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