New York State's North County Trailway. — Photo CC Ben Batson via Flickr

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 trail to meet the needs and expectations of all potential users, including both people 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 people with disabilities must also be taken into consideration during the design process, as well as the safety of all trail users at crossings. For trails in environmentally sensitive areas, 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, including bridges and tunnels.

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 hard copy and digital formats.[4]

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 expands on the information available in AASHTO’s guide, specifically as it pertains to urban areas.

In 2001, an updated version of RTC’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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