Trails & Paths

Trails and Paths

Trails and paths, separated from the street, are popular ways to provide for bicyclists. Unfortunately, they are also the most expensive provisions and are often not possible due to lack of available space. Still, if funding and space are available, trails and paths can offer bicyclists the highest standard of riding experience, away from cars and often winding through some of the loveliest areas in a community.

Before moving forward on your efforts for a trail or path, first answer these important questions and consider our suggestions:

  • Are you considering a path as the only means for bicyclists to get from point A to point B? If so, we recommend starting instead with street improvements because bicyclists will use the streets anyway since a path will never serve all destinations in a community as well as the street system already does.
  • Are you considering a path because you want bicyclists off the street? If so, realize this is extremely inappropriate. Streets are public rights of way, no matter how that public chooses to travel. First, find ways to make the streets safe for bicyclists. Then look at the addition of a path as an enhancement to your comprehensive transportation system.

Design for paths, separated from the street system, is also an important consideration because a poorly designed path can cause severe injuries and even fatalities. Path width, sight distances, entries and exists must accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians, skaters, strollers and many other types of users because a path is never just a “bike path.” This is not to be confused with the popular European cycle path which is actually part of the street system.

The place to start for good path design is always your country’s existing transportation design standards. In the U.S. the most commonly used standards are through AASHTO which includes accepted standards for multi-use paths. But never settle for the minimum of these standards. Consider increasing the width and adding trees, landscaping and benches so that your path will invite many users for years to come.

As mentioned above, funding can be a major stumbling block to building a quality path. Fortunately there are often funding sources exclusively for projects such as paths. In the U.S. for example, the federal Transportation Alternatives program is one of the most popular sources of path funding. Many other national and local funding programs can also fund paths in nations around the world. Make sure to ask your government officials about transportation improvements funds, safe routes to schools funding, and neighborhood regeneration funding.

Some bicycle advocacy organizations have had luck raising funds for paths from their communities, but before spending your valuable time on such a difficult effort, realize it is your government’s responsibility to at least provide the basics of safe bicycle and pedestrians provisions. Once you secure government funding for the bulk of the path costs, then consider raising additional funds to beautify it with trees, community gardens and art. Such a path can become the treasured centerpiece of a community.