4 Trail Trends Explained

By: Britt Storck, Jason Reyes, Laura Hagerman, and Collin Chesston, Alta Planning + Design

T rails and greenways are well known for providing active transportation and recreation benefits to communities. But there are other advantages associated to these outdoor spaces. From CPTED to trail economics, these four emerging trends in trails can help inform your next project.

1. Quantifying the Value of Trails

Economic Impact Analyses (EIAs) are helpful tools in determining whether proposed investment in trails and greenways will generate sufficient economic benefits for communities. As linear projects, trails and greenways are popular candidates for revitalizing downtown cores and attracting investment. The economic benefits have a tendency to ripple into the community. When trail user experience is improved or initiated, it attracts use. And when people use trails, interest grows for programming adjacent to built public space, which encourages new businesses to locate downtown. As foot and rolling traffic increases, occupancy levels rise, which stimulates additional development. This ripple effect results in many measurable gains for communities and their residents, from access to desirable amenities to increased economic opportunities.

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Fayette County Master Path Plan, GA

Project Spotlight: Evaluating the Economic Contribution of Shared Use Paths in North Carolina

Alta worked with the Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) to develop a new trails study in North Carolina that evaluates the economic returns currently being generated by existing trails of regional significance across the state. Various methods were tested to derive specific types of economic benefits from each of the eight case studies conducted over a three-year period. Findings showed that every $1.00 of trail construction supports $1.72 annually from local business revenue, sales tax revenue, and benefits related to health and transportation. The recommended economic valuation methodologies can be applied to trails in other communities, and are provided in the full research report and summary brochure.

2. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design for Trails

Since trails and greenways are often community focal points, crime and unwanted behavior can be perceived differently than crime on the street — it may generate attention that prevents or inhibits use. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a proactive crime fighting technique in which the proper design and effective use of the built environment can lead to a reduction in the fear of and incidents of crime.

Several Alta staff are credentialed with CPTED Professional Designation (CPD), including Britt Storck, PLA, CPD.

“ CPDs go through 64 hours of basic and advanced training. We’re qualified to identify strategies and concepts in public space that affect human behavior,” Storck says. “Trails are particularly important for CPTED since they traverse many types of landscapes and land use. CPTED influences a project’s real and perceived security through design and community engagement.”

CPTED for trails avoids target-hardening measures such as cameras, locked gates, and opaque fencing, and instead uses visually pleasing solutions as first responses that aim to enhance the legitimate use of space.

“CPTED can be applied without interfering with the intended use of the space,” Storck notes. “It’s easy to apply and can be economical to implement, especially if it’s done early at the planning and design stages of a project.”

Alta’s CPDs perform field assessments and site plan reviews, review construction documents for CPTED compliance, and write CPTED ordinances, design guidelines, and overlay districts for planning and zoning.

Project Spotlight: Burlington, Ontario Pathway Lighting Project with CPTED Review

Alta conducted a feasibility study for two trail networks in Burlington, Ontario to determine the feasibility of lighting for increased safety. The team physically assessed the trails and identified areas for CPTED improvements. The assessment included specific locations on the trails requiring maintenance, where hiding areas could be managed, and vandalism abated. The final study included lighting recommendations and CPTED tactics for improving safety and security on the trails.

Go to the profile of Alta Planning + Design
Fayette County Master Path Plan, GA

3. Trail and Greenway Wayfinding

Cities around the world have invested in wayfinding signage as a means to boost community branding, promote economic development, and safely communicate how to navigate to regional and local destinations. Wayfinding elements can enrich and enhance experiences in urban environments and along trails.

Benefits of Trail Wayfinding:

  • Define and communicate a sense of place and entrances for the trail system.
  • Bring awareness to historical areas, landmarks, outdoor recreation/nature that visitors may not know about.
  • Enhance the overall brand of the community.
  • Provide clear, legible navigation, thus improving comfort, mobility, and circulation.
  • Direct trail users to retail areas and restaurants, which helps local business.
  • Provide a cohesive, well-defined, consistent signage package (removing inconsistent clutter and styles).
Go to the profile of Alta Planning + Design
Fayette County Master Path Plan, GA

Project Spotlight: Alpharetta, GA Wayfinding Implementation

Alta is working with the City of Alpharetta Recreation, Parks and Culture to install signage monuments at several parks that include access to greenways. In 2017, our design team developed concepts for the City’s park and greenway signage, which included a family of monuments and signs for both pedestrian and vehicle wayfinding. In January we began work on the bid documents and specifications for Phase 1. The design team is assisting the City with bid procurement and selection of a signage contractor to fabricate and install the monuments. The project is expected to break ground this May.

4. Greenways and Electric Vehicles

Most cities and counties have historically prohibited all motorized vehicles on trails and greenways — for good reason! Cars, trucks, and motorcycles designed to operate at high speeds pose obvious safety issues. Other smaller, gas-powered vehicles like mopeds and go-carts are disruptive to the experience of non-motorized trail users, and would feel almost as out of place as a car or truck.

Now, however, there is a lively debate going on around the country about whether electric bikes, electric scooters, electric skateboards, and other emerging electric “rideables” should be allowed to operate on greenways. Some local jurisdictions have decided to welcome low-speed electric devices to their greenway systems, while others have decided to actively enforce prohibitions on motorized vehicles.

Proponents argue that as long as the vehicle is not out-of-scale with other greenway users, the motor is quiet, and the user operates the device at slow speeds, users of electric devices should be permitted to enjoy the greenway as well. The debate is not likely to be settled soon, and in fact is just getting started in many cities due to the rapid rise of shareable e-scooters.

Project Spotlight: Fayette County Master Path Plan, GA and CV Link, CA

Many of the electronic devices mentioned above have a small footprint and low operating speeds, and are thus relatively easily accommodated on trails and greenways as long as operating speeds are low. Golf carts and Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, on the other hand, are significantly larger and can travel at higher speeds.

Shared-use trail systems should be designed at widths to accommodate these larger vehicles. However, some communities are trying to retrofit their existing network of trails to accommodate additional modes. For example, the trail system in Peachtree City, Georgia is used primarily by golf carts and provides access to nearly every neighborhood and commercial district in the city with a 90-mile network of predominantly 8–10 ft. wide paths. Fifty percent of all trips under five miles happen by golf cart in Peachtree City, and there are over 600 golf cart parking spaces at the local high school.

Alta is part of a team working with Fayette County (where Peachtree City is located) to update their multi-use path design guidelines, policies, operations and maintenance plan. We are authoring best practice for path widths, signage, path intersection design, and on-street facilities to improve safety and comfort for all path users, including people using golf carts, walking, and bicycling.

Go to the profile of Alta Planning + Design
Fayette County Master Path Plan, GA

Alta also worked with the Coachella Valley Association of Governments to design CV Link, a multi-use path that accommodates pedestrians, bicyclists, golf carts, and neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs).

Go to the profile of Alta Planning + Design
Fayette County Master Path Plan, GA

With thoughtful design, many of the challenges associated with multiple users, even electric vehicles, can be mitigated in a way that makes trails and greenways work for everyone.

Interested in learning more about how to use these trail trends on your next trail project? Contact Britt Storck.

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