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Impacts of trails and trail use
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Use of existing multi-use trails in New England

Counting trail users and estimating the overall average daily use of three rail trails in Vermont and New Hampshire.

From Salem-Concord Bikeway Demand Estimate, New Hampshire Department of Transportation (2003)
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(pdf 876 kb)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In April 2003 a study was released which investigated the feasibility of constructing a bicycle and pedestrian transportation facility (bikeway) from Salem to Concord, New Hampshire. The recommended route for the bikeway includes two off-road paths primarily in abandoned railroad corridors: 1) Concord to Hooksett and 2) Manchester to Salem.

This follow-on report estimates average daily and annual use of the bikeway’s two off-road paths. The estimate is based in part on observed trips and demographic analysis of three similar bicycle and pedestrian facilities in New England. The facilities are:

  • Burlington Waterfront Bikeway in Vermont
  • Minuteman Bikeway in Eastern Massachusetts
  • Norwottuck Rail Trail in Western Massachusetts

The Norwottuck Rail Trail in western Massachusetts was judged to be the most comparable facility to the Salem-Concord Bikeway. On an average day one trip on the rail trail takes place for every 48 residents living within 2 miles of the facility. The trips are made for a variety of purposes including school, work, shopping, and recreation. This observed trip rate for the Norwottuck Rail Trail was being applied to the Salem-Concord Bikeway catchment area to estimate its potential use. This is also the most conservative estimate of use among the three corridors that were evaluated.

In summary, the northern off-road path linking Concord and Hooksett is estimated to attract about 1,000 daily trips in 2007. The southern off-road path linking Manchester and Salem is estimated to attract about 2,000 daily trips in 2007. The two trails combined would have about 3,000 daily users in 2007. Trail use would rise to about 3,600 daily users in 2025 based on projected population growth in the corridor.

Based on a study of similar trails, weekend use on the Salem-Concord Bikeway is estimated to be about three times greater than weekday use. Also, due to cold weather and snow conditions, Winter use drops off by about 75 percent compared to Spring through Fall use. In the Spring through Fall 2007, average weekday use is estimated to be about 2,500 trips per day, while weekend use is estimated to be 7,800 trips day. In a typical month from Spring through Fall, 122,600 trips are projected to take place on the path in 2007.

USE OF SIMILAR FACILITIES IN NEW ENGLAND

Introduction

In order to produce an estimate of the Salem-Concord Bikeway’s potential demand, demographic and travel data were solicited and collected for a number of existing multi-use trails in New England. The purpose of collecting the use and demographic data was to help understand the relationship between the use of the trail and demographics of the nearby towns. Use data as well as supplementary survey data from three paved, off-road trails were collected and analyzed. The trails were chosen because of their functional similarities to the off-road segments of the Salem-Concord Bikeway and because data were available for these facilities.

The trails that have been selected for analysis in this task include the Burlington Waterfront Bikeway in Burlington, Vermont, the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, and the Minuteman Bikeway in eastern Massachusetts1For each of the three trails, the trail use was summarized and a trip rate was developed for the trails’ adjacent towns. This rate refers to the number of trips generated by the respective trail in per capita terms. This rate can thus be applied to the towns along the Salem-Concord Bikeway and serve as a starting point for demand estimation.

Burlington Waterfront Bikeway

The Burlington Waterfront Bikeway is a 7.5 mile paved multi-use trail in Burlington, Vermont. About two miles of the trail are along an active railway line, with trains that travel at a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour. The trail is used by bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users, skaters, and in winter by cross-country skiers. The bikeway connects the downtown area of Burlington with beaches on Lake Champlain, parks, neighborhoods, and the Winooski River. The path is used for utilitarian as well as recreational trips.

Path Use
Weekday counts have varied from 800 to 1600 users per day and use of the trail typically remains consistent from Spring through Fall. (Chittenden County MPO, 2002). The use varies by location, with the higher number of recorded users closer in downtown Burlington. The Chittenden County MPO conducted manual counts of bikeway users over a 12-hour period at two locations on the bikeway in the summers of 2000 and 2002.

Based on the counts conducted by the Chittenden County MPO, the average daily weekday users on the Burlington Bikeway is 1115. As previously mentioned, seasonal use of the trail varies. Based on a doctoral dissertation that looked at the use of a similar trail (Minuteman Bikeway in Massachusetts), trail use remains fairly constant in Fall, Winter, and Spring, but drops off by 75 percent in the Winter (Troped, 1998). The research also found that weekend use is three times greater than weekday use.

Using the total annual figure of 521,551, we can estimate the overall average daily use at about 1430 users per day. In his research for his doctoral dissertation, Phillip Troped found that the mean distance traveled to a similar bikeway (Minuteman Bikeway in Massachusetts) was 0.54 miles with a standard deviation of ±0.61. Assuming a normal distribution, 95 percent of the weekday trail users on this section live within 1.76 miles of the trail (two standard deviations from the mean). This number can be rounded to two miles.

Demographic Characteristics of the Area
The land area of Burlington is 10.6 square miles. In 2000, the population of Burlington was 38,889 (US Census), giving Burlington a population density of 3,682 persons per square mile. The entire Burlington Bikeway is within the city of Burlington. Since the trail is along the waterfront, the catchment area for the trail using a two-mile buffer is 15 square miles (2 mile wide buffer area east of the trail - 7.5 miles of trail). By applying the average density for the city of Burlington to this buffer area, we can then estimate the population living within this corridor as about 55,230 people (15 sq. mi. - 3682 people/sq. mi.)

Trip Generation for the Burlington Bikeway
Based on the 2000 Census, and previously mentioned estimates, the Burlington Bikeway generates one daily trip for every 39 people living within 2 miles of the trail. This number is derived by dividing the population within the 15 square mile buffer, 55,230, by 1430, the average number of users per day.

Norwottuck Rail Trail

The Norwottuck Rail Trail is a 9-mile long paved multi-use trail in western Massachusetts. The 10-foot wide trail is adjacent to an active railroad operated by the New England Central Railroad and was developed as a recreational trail in 1993. The trail is used by bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users, skaters, and in winter by cross-country skiers. The bikeway connects the communities of Northampton, Hadley, Amherst, and Belchertown in Hampshire County. The area is home to five colleges, with a combined enrollment of over 30,000 students. The path is used for utilitarian as well as for recreational trips.

Path Use
According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management, more than 300,000 people use the trail each year. The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) conducted a survey of 696 trail users in the fall of 1995 to gather information on both the numbers and types of users of the trail. The PVPC has also conducted user counts as recently as 1999 at a trail location in Hadley. Use of the trail typically remains consistent from Spring through Fall. Weekday counts during these three seasons typically vary from 400 to 600 users per weekday and 1000 to 1600 users on weekend days (Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, 1996). The number of users obviously drops dramatically during the colder days of winter. The use also varies by location, with the higher number of recorded users closer to Amherst and Northampton. Based on the 1995 user survey, 65 percent of the trail users are bicyclists, 19 percent are pedestrians/joggers, 15 percent are skaters, and 1 percent are wheelchair users.

Counts conducted by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in September 1999, show an average of 495 daily users on weekdays and 1326 daily users on weekends. As previously mentioned, seasonal use of the trail varies. Based on a doctoral dissertation that examined use of a similar trail (Minuteman Bikeway in Massachusetts), trail use remains fairly constant in Spring, Summer, and Fall, but drops off by 75 percent in the Winter (Troped, 1998). According to the counts conducted by the PVPC, daily use is approximately 2.7 times higher on weekends compared to weekdays.

Using the total annual figure of 217,971, we can estimate the overall average daily use at about 600 users per day. In his research for his doctoral dissertation, Phillip Troped found that the mean distance traveled to a similar bikeway (Minuteman Bikeway in Massachusetts) was 0.54 miles with a standard deviation of ±0.61. Assuming a normal distribution, 95% of the weekday trail users live within 1.76 miles of the trail (two standard deviations from the mean). This number can be rounded to two miles. Using this information, as well as demographic information from Hadley, Northampton, and Amherst, we can then determine the trip-generation rate of the bikeway per person. The three towns were used because the "catchment area" for the trail at the survey location in Hadley includes parts of each of the towns.

Demographic Characteristics of the Area: Northampton, Hadley, Amherst
The total land area of the three towns is 85.5 square miles. In 2000, the total combined population of Hadley, Northampton, and Amherst was 68,645 (US Census), giving the area a population density of 803 persons per square mile. The catchment area for the 9-mile trail using a four-mile buffer is 36 square miles. By applying the average density for the cities of Northampton, Hadley, and Amherst to this buffer area, we can then estimate the population living within this corridor as about 28,900 people (36 sq. mi. - 803 people/sq. mi.)

Trip Generation for the Norwottuck Rail Trail
Based on the 2000 Census, and previously mentioned estimates, it can be said that the Norwottuck Rail-Trail generates one daily trip for every 48 people within 2 miles of the trail. This number is derived by dividing the population within the 36 square mile buffer, 28,900, by 600, the average number of users per day.

Minuteman Bikeway

The Minuteman Bikeway is an 11-mile long paved path running through Bedford, Lexington, Arlington and Cambridge, Massachusetts within the Boston metropolitan area. The path is 12 feet wide and relatively level since it was built on the bed of a former railroad. The path is used by bicyclists , pedestrians, skaters, persons in wheelchairs, people pushing baby carriages, etc. Commuters use the path to get to and from work locations along the path. Persons living near the trail use it for other utilitarian trips such as school, shopping, visiting friends, etc. On weekends and weekdays the path is popular for recreational biking and walking. The path is not plowed in the winter. When snow covered, it is used by cross country skiers. The Bedford to Arlington section of the path was built in 1993. In 1998, the popular path was extended from East Arlington Station to Alewife Station, Cambridge.

Bikeway Use
Use of the bikeway typically remains constant from Spring through Fall. Weekend counts during these three seasons have varied from 4,000 to 6,000 users per day in its first year of operation (McClennen, 1993). Typically, counts are simply a recording of the number of persons passing a specific location on the bikeway. This does not account for all of bikeway users since use varies by segment. In 1993, the Central Transportation Planning Staff conducted peakhour user counts along the Minuteman Bikeway within the city of Lexington. Between 4:00 and 6:30 PM on a Tuesday in late September, staff counted 367 users that passed along the path at Maple Street in Lexington.

There are no nationally accepted standards used to extrapolate daily and annual figures from peak hour counts on trails. Typically, the peak-hour on trails occur between 5:00 and 7:00 PM. The relationship between the total daily users and peak hour trips can vary between five times and eleven times. The average factor between peak hour volumes and daily volumes is about seven

Using this method, the average daily weekday users on the particular segment of the Minuteman Bikeway in 1993 could be estimated at 1281, which is seven times the peak hour volume of 183. As previously mentioned, seasonal use of the trail varies. Based on a doctoral dissertation that looked at the use of the Minuteman Bikeway, use remains fairly consistent in Spring, Summer, and Fall, but drops off by 75 percent in the Winter (Troped, 1998). The research also found that weekend use is three times greater than weekday use. Using these factors, annual use of the bikeway in Lexington is estimated to be about 600,000 persons.

Using the total annual figure of 599,180, we can estimate the overall average daily use at about 1640 users per day (599,180/365 days). In his research for his doctoral dissertation, Phillip Troped found that the mean distance traveled to the bikeway was 0.54 miles with a standard deviation of ±0.61. Assuming a normal distribution, 95 percent of the bikeway users on this segment live within 1.76 miles of the trail (two standard deviations from the mean). This number can be rounded to two miles. Using this information, as well as demographic information from Lexington, we can then determine the trip-generation rate of the bikeway per person living in the primary catchment area.

Demographic Characteristics of the Area
The land area of Lexington is 16.4 square miles. The population of Lexington in 19903 was 28,974, giving Lexington a population density of 1,766 people per square mile. By comparison, the population of the Middlesex County was 1,398,468 in 1990 and the county had an average population density of 1,780 people per square mile. The Lexington portion of the Minuteman Bikeway is 5.2 miles long. The catchment area for the trail using a 2-mile buffer on either side of the trail is therefore 20.8 square miles. By applying the average density for Lexington on this buffer area, we can then estimate the population living within this corridor as about 37,000 people.

Trip Generation for the Minuteman Bikeway
Based on the analysis summarized above, the Minuteman Bikeway generates one daily trip for every 22 people in the bikeway catchment area. This number is based derived by dividing the population within the 20.8 square mile corridor, (37,000) by the average number of users per day (1640).

The weighted average daily rate for the three existing trails in New England was determined to be one trip per 33 persons residing in the catchment area. This area is defined as a four-mile wide corridor centered on the trail. The rate of one trip per 33 persons is an average daily rate. It is an average of all weekdays and weekend days year round.

Download the study (pdf 876 kb)

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