08 Nov Trails Without Rails: A New Approach to Trail Planning
Engaging StakeholdersThe first step is to make the case for trails as a community asset. While trails are typically recognized as a component of quality of life measures, in the current economic climate every capital expense needs to be carefully analyzed. Community engagement is a three tier process, making the case in a sequential order for why trails, why now, and why here?
Why Now?Many communities are adopting austerity measures and facing budget shortfalls. However, in the right situation, the current economy may provide opportunities for forward-thinking communities to more efficiently focus dollars on programs which can generate economic benefit. Depressed land prices allow communities to leverage public funds to a greater degree, reducing overall project cost to the municipality by as much as 30 to 40 percent from pre-recession levels. Strategically planning for commercial opportunities at or near road intersections or trailheads can also provide future economic growth potential.
Why Here?An effective trails plan will provide networks tailored to expected users. More information on trail planning is provided in the next section, but a trail system that meets the needs of regional residents is the goal. Residents who see a well-designed plan that adequately meets their needs are most likely to support development. An education program to demonstrate consideration for broad community goals can also be effective. For example, families are most likely to get out and exercise when they have access to trail facilities. Forty-three percent of households with safe walking routes within 10 minutes of their home met recommended activity levels, while just 27 percent of households without this amenity met the same guidelines. (Active Living Research, 2008)
Trail Layout & DesignTrails and greenways are key infrastructure investments and should be planned with the same level of detail that would be given to water, sewer or roads. This analysis takes into effect anticipated future growth patterns, existing transportation networks, demographics, topography, land prices and use patterns. Trails require significant commitment, and should be designed to meet the needs of current and future residents, with the goal of maximizing utility for all groups of residents. The planning process must simultaneously maximize trail experience and usage while minimizing conflicts external impacts from adjacent land uses.
- Trail experience is a critical factor in overall usage. Not only do trails need to go where people want to go, but the user experience must be safe, accessible and offer sufficient amenities to accommodate desired uses. Surface materials will impact the type of uses, with paved surfaces accommodating the greatest variety of individuals but requiring diligent maintenance. However, trails passing through areas with significant terrain may need to accommodate a desire by some bikers for mountain bike facilities, or these trails may be developed by users without regard for property conflicts.
- Trail utility involves a thoughtful analysis of user demographics, topography, seasonality and attractions. Family users are more likely to desire a flat, aesthetically pleasing corridor, while more serious riders place value on topography and distance. In the Midwest, seasonal factors may also be a consideration, such as trail grooming or plowing in winter months, avoidance of streams or seasonal water flow areas, minimized grades (10 percent maximum over a short distance), adequate trailhead facilities such as parking and restrooms, and well-situated trail-side amenities such as pocket parks, scenic overlooks and resting spaces.
- Land use conflicts are synonymous with recreational trail planning, which typically spans a large geographic area. Despite the proven property value benefits based on trail proximity, loss of control of even a portion of property is a hard sell for many users who may worry about safety, easement issues and resale value of stranded property areas. Some strategies to minimize this conflict include avoiding active farmland areas, planning for a 100-foot trail buffer wherever possible, minimizing street crossings, and minimizing the proportional trail impact on any one property owner. This may require the purchase of more property than specifically required to avoid creating property slivers, or the addition of vegetative or other screening elements near residential properties to preserve privacy.