Hosted by AmericanTrails.org
This report has been a multi-stage process, including a literature review looking at best practices, and interviews of professionals across the country, culminating in a policy forum. Based on the results from the three stages, this report seeks to provide answers to the current problems of safety, security, and maintenance associated with multi-modal facilities.
Download the full report "Sidewalks and Shared-Use Paths: Safety, Security, and Maintenance" (pdf 1.8 mb)
Signs are an important aspect of informing trail
users and improving safety (photo by Stuart
PRIMARY FINDINGS AND ISSUES
This section will discuss the major issues facing sidewalks and shared-use paths based on the interviews and literature review.
1. Accessibility Issues Exist on Both Sidewalks and Shared-Use Paths
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 49 million or 19.3 percent Americans have a disability, and the population of citizens 65 and older is also growing. Interviewees picked up on this trend, as they commented that there is an increasing demand for ADA-accessible facilities. They also noted that changes to address ADA issues have been well received among users of their facilities. ADA issues related to sidewalks include proper design with handicapped ramps, correct slopes, and detectable warnings. For the most part, jurisdictions are improving accessible sidewalk design, but improvements tend to be completed within the context of other maintenance projects and/or in response to complaints. As a result, most jurisdictions still have many sidewalks that are not up to current standards, especially in residential areas.
Facilities should be designed with safety and accessibility in mind. ADA is concerned about safety for disabled users, but too frequently agencies design to the minimum standards. Facilities should be designed to be safe and useable for all users including children and elderly people, not just ADA users.
2. Pedestrian Safety Conflicts
The most common and deadly user conflict related to sidewalks and pedestrian networks involves motor vehicles. Pedestrian crash statistics reveal some important insights into current problems. Page 20 of this report contains a summary of many important national statistics, however the primary findings are: (1) September through January is the time period in which the highest amount of pedestrian fatalities occur due to less daylight and more dangerous weather conditions; (2) a pedestrian hit by a car traveling 40 miles per hour has a 85 percent chance of being killed, a 45 percent chance at 30 mph, and a 5 percent chance at 20 mph; and (3) five to nine year-olds have the highest crash involvement rates, and over 20 percent of accidents involving older pedestrians result in death. Also, vehicle speed is more dangerous to pedestrians than traffic volume, therefore speed should be addressed first. Faster speeds increase the chances of a pedestrian being hit and pedestrian injuries are less frequent and less severe on lower speed roadways. Please refer to page 23 for specific findings on pedestrian crossing treatments.
3. User Conflicts
According to a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) report, user conflicts on trails are the result of differences in skill, movement patterns, and speed. The greater the differences, the more likely an accident will occur. Different user groups have dissimilar movement patterns (i.e., rollerbladers need more space for their movements than bicyclists and walkers). User conflicts on trails are often the result of crowded conditions as well as different user groups with different speeds and skills such as bicyclists, walkers, joggers, and other user groups. Issues related to shared-use paths and safety incidents include: (1) collisions or users attempting to avoid potential collisions, (2) unsafe user behavior, (3) low-level user skill or poor user judgment, (4) dangerous conditions on the trail such as rain, snow, or physical obstacles (5) poor trail design, construction, or maintenance, and (6) speed of road bike users. Furthermore, user conflicts often go unreported, which leads to managers being unaware of situations creating conflicts until a serious incident occurs.
Signs provide us with directions and needed information. Edward McMahon states that too often signs are oversized, poorly planned, badly located, and altogether too numerous. A profusion of signs is as confusing as an absence of them. A good sign communicates its message clearly and quickly, is compatible with its surroundings, and enhances the visual image of the community. When the streetscape or trail becomes overloaded with signs, the cumulative effect is negative; the viewer actually sees less, not more. Visual clutter impairs wayfinding ability. Signage or other means should be used to provide trail information related to slopes, grades, potential obstacles, cross-slope, and surface type. This enables users to select the most appropriate route for their user level. This information needs to be posted at the beginning of the trail, before a disabled person enters and has to turn back. Frequently, trails only provide basic information on destinations along the route and usage guidelines, which leaves disabled, elderly, or less skilled users with insufficient information over the appropriate route.
Sidewalks and shared use paths may overlap in congested urban areas;
safety is an even more important in these situations
(photo by Stuart Macdonald)
5. Uniform Guidelines and Consistency: Sidewalks and Trails
Many county and municipal codes are not in full compliance with ADA, therefore new facilities are still being built that do not comply. Moreover, since there is no master design guide for sidewalks, many municipalities and states have adopted their own design standards. They have relied upon the Institute of Transportation Engineers, Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) Public Right-of-Way Guidelines, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Green Book as sources for design standards.
When agencies select or develop design standards for shared-use paths, they should create design standards with flexibility as shared-use paths often cross unique topographical and natural areas. When developing design standards, agencies should avoid rigid standards without exceptions as this may cause trail mangers to ignore all guidelines or standards where their trails cannot meet standards in any conceivable manner. Most sources recommend using the AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities. Also, it was recommended that private developers and other institutions be required to build to the same standards, especially ADA, because they can be considered public-right-of-ways with inherent liability.
1. Fear of Crime and Appearance
Even when reported data indicate that a facility has experienced almost no incidents of criminal activity, public perception of crime may lead to the avoidance of the facility. Research has shown that fear of crime is higher for women than men, and women are more likely to avoid walking after dark. Physical factors such as litter, poorly maintained buildings, and graffiti as well as social influences like publicly intoxicated individuals, homeless people, and groups of youth all affect an individual’s perception of risk. Studies have also found that a lack of familiarity with an area and dark areas create an increased fear of crime.
2. Misconceptions over Trail Security
In their article, Rail-Trails and Safe Communities: The Experience on 372 Trails (1998), Tammy Tracy and Hugh Morris address many misconceptions concerning trail security. Their research revealed that crime rates are lower on trail networks than the overall crime rate for the region in which they are located, whether urban, suburban, or rural. The authors also discovered that in many cases the trail networks reduced minor crimes such as graffiti and vandalism. Worth noting, however, was that although there were differences among urban, suburban, and rural trails in terms of graffiti (26 percent reported in urban areas compared to 17 percent in suburban and 12 percent in rural areas) there was virtually no difference between urban, suburban, and rural related to incidents of littering and sign damage.
3. Trailheads: Most Common Places of Criminal Activity
In his article “Community Greenways,” Joseph Murray has investigated security issues linked to trails. He notes that trailhead parking lots are well-known as the most common locations for criminal activity within trail systems according to surveys of law enforcement officials. State and local police officers present at the security breakout session seconded Murray’s observation that trailheads were the most common areas for criminal activity.
4. Facilities with More Users Have Fewer Security Issues
Another important component of security is “eyes,” in other words, the more people present, the less likelihood of criminal activity. To that end, the design of sidewalks and multi-use paths should create a pleasant environment where people want to spend time. Interviewees found that heavily used facilities experience less crime.
5. Technology Not Always the Answer to Security Issues
Although some experts recommend the use of cameras, emergency phones, and call boxes, most of our interviewees did not consider them to be especially helpful in most cases. Emergency phones can provide peace of mind to users, although they are rarely used. Two interviewees noted the difficulty in installing phones in remote areas and the proliferation of cell phones as reasons for not using emergency phones. Another interviewee noted that his jurisdiction had some call boxes, but they had to be removed due to graffiti problems. Cameras may have some limited uses, but are very costly to install, maintain, and operate. One interviewee believed that cameras can create a false sense of security, for example, if a camera is broken. In addition, someone needs to monitor the cameras and respond to problems, or be exposed to legal liability.
1. Deficient Maintenance Practices Negatively Affect Safety and Security
Without appropriate maintenance practices, the safety and security of users is at a higher level of risk. Poor maintenance practices that allow graffiti, trash, and general disrepair sends the signal that nobody cares or is watching. In addition, quality maintenance practices will reduce incidents of litter, graffiti, and vandalism. The most common ADA complaints relate to sidewalk maintenance: cracks, holes, loose gravel. Poor sidewalk surfaces such as swelling, cracking, and other repair issues are ADA problems. Also, poor maintenance practices can lead to dangerous conditions on the trail such as rain, snow, or physical obstacles, which have been linked to causing user conflicts.
2. Responsibility and Coordination
Confusion over which entity (agency, private business, or homeowner) and which level of government (local or state) are responsible for the maintenance of sidewalks and shared-use paths exists in many jurisdictions. This problem was expressed in the safety breakout session, specifically in regard to the maintenance of sidewalks and curb ramps. However, the literature review also revealed that frequently there are issues with shared-use paths managed by multiple jurisdictions. Determining who is responsible for maintenance issues like vegetation management, snow removal, and sign replacement is critical for providing a safe and secure facility. Memorandums of understanding between governmental entities should be drafted, followed, and updated as necessary to ensure there is clear responsibility for specific facilities and, if necessary, coordination between governmental entities. In Delaware, determining responsibility for sidewalks and trails can be very difficult, and government entities may need to be educated regarding their specific responsibilities. Through our interviews with several state officials it became apparent there is a serious confusion over specific responsibilities:
• Often, no one really knows who is responsible for a particular facility, such as around DART bus stops. Responsibility depends on the location and circumstances. In addition, the party responsible for enforcement may not be the party responsible for design.
• Questions over responsibility for mixed-use facilities and residential areas are inherently difficult because they may be private facilities that are not covered by ADA. However, the right-of-way (trails, paths, sidewalks) is public and therefore covered.
• Questions regularly arise over who is legally responsible for sidewalk maintenance and repair. Most ADA complaints are the result of non-compliant design, incorrect implementation, or lack of maintenance.
• It is very confusing to determine who is legally responsible for trails and paths.
• In Delaware there is a lack of awareness on the part of governments regarding their responsibilities and the design and maintenance standards required by ADA. There is a great need for the people who write regulations and review and inspect development to be trained or educated so that they understand the standards and specifications that are applicable.
3. Snow Removal
An article by Andy Briscoe in the spring issue of the Salt and Highway Newsletter provides evidence that agencies that ignore snow maintenance related to sidewalks and pedestrian facilities can face potentially serious litigation. According to a Salt Institute survey, some municipalities and cities designate agencies responsible for snow maintenance of sidewalks but most require homeowners to clear sidewalks:
• Eighty-three percent of the agencies surveyed have a written policy requiring homeowners to remove snow within 24 hours after the end of a snowstorm.
• Seventy percent of the agencies surveyed do not issue tickets to property owners who fail to remove ice and snow from their sidewalks.
• Fifty-eight percent of the agencies surveyed have been sued for a sidewalk incident.
According to Cottrell in Evaluating and Improving Pedestrian Safety in Utah, the failure to remove snow on sidewalks and shoulders creates multiple safety hazards for pedestrians. Sidewalks that have not been cleared force pedestrians to either use the facility in unsafe conditions (frequent slips and falls) or to walk in the street. Crosswalks and curb ramps are frequently blocked by snow either because it is dumped by plows or because neither the homeowner nor the snow crews clear it.
How a jurisdiction handles snow removal from sidewalks and paved shared-use paths is also an ADA issue. Snow removal is treated differently because of its temporary nature and because responsibility for clearing the snow is diffused. However, there is a legal obligation to remove snow within a reasonable period of time . Most jurisdictions need to have a plan in place to do it, and snow removal programs must include clearing curb ramps. Snow-blocked curb ramps due to plowing are an ADA issue . ADA complaints and issues related to snow removal involve response times and proper clearing:
• Many complaints are received when snow is plowed into handicapped parking spaces for storage .
• Many snow removal complaints come from residential areas, such as apartment buildings. If management does not clear sidewalks or parking lots, disabled individuals may be imprisoned in their apartments. Many more do not complain because they are afraid of possible negative repercussions.
• Snow-blocked curb cuts due to plowing are an ADA issue.
The most common ADA complaints relate to sidewalk maintenance: cracks, holes, loose gravel. Frequent sidewalk problems include step separation (vertical displacement of 0.5 inches or greater), badly cracked concrete (holes and rough spots wider than 0.5 inches), spalled areas (crumbling or flaking concrete), depressions that trap water (depressions, reverse cross- slopes, indentations), and tree root damage. Typical shared-use path maintenance issues are virtually identical to sidewalks including step separation, badly cracked pavement, settled areas that trap water, tree root damage, and vegetation overgrowth.
After an intensive literature search, interviews with over 13 professionals in the field, and a policy forum featuring breakout sessions on safety, security, and maintenance, a list of critical and important recommendations have been compiled. The recommendations have been broken down into four key areas: design, safety, security and maintenance. As noted at the policy forum and in the paper, safety, security, and maintenance are all interconnected; neglecting one area affects all three. It is important to realize how strategies toward one area affect others. For example, increased trail patrols for security purposes can also increase the level of maintenance and assist in safety incidents. Conversely, a lack of maintenance can create security and safety issues. Although this paper contains many recommendations throughout, this section seeks to highlight the recommendations that are the most critical. The following recommendations are not comprehensive nor are they a substitute for reading the report. However, they provide a list of recommendations that agencies can implement to improve the safety, security, and maintenance of their facilities. More specific details on the recommendations can be found in the relevant sections of the report.
Tight budgets and timelines can lead to lower quality design and construction. However, the difficulty of finding and receiving additional funding for issues is well-noted and thus the likelihood that facilities will receive additional funding to correct or improve their facilities in the near future is unlikely. Therefore, managing agencies and governments who are designing constructing sidewalks or shared-use paths should subscribe to several principles.
• Building Quality Facilities
1. Treat sidewalks and shared-use paths as the transportation facilities they are.
2. Design and construct facilities to the highest standards and correctly the first time.
3. Ensure designers are trained in bicycle and pedestrian design.
4. Adopt uniform statewide standards that incorporate ADA guidelines and requirements.
5. Incorporate quality control into the construction process to ensure that the facility designed is the facility that is built. Particular attention should be given to accessibility issues such as grades and slopes.
• Well-Designed Facilities for All Users
1. Design for safety first. (Keep safety in mind throughout facility design.)
2. Design for all users. Assume a range of skill levels and different groups of users will be utilizing the facility.
• Shared-Use Path Design
1. Design for visibility— design so users can see the environment around them, and so users can be seen by others. Also, carefully select vegetation for design and maintenance characteristics. (In other words, avoid dense brush alongside trails.)
2. Minimize the number of street crossings on a shared-use paths facilities— paying special attention to path and intersection crossings, especially sight distances approaching intersections
3. Provide markings that separate user groups on crowded facilities or facilities that are expected to attract a range of users.
4. Apply highway design standards and techniques such as sight and stopping distances
The importance of providing facilities that are safe for all user groups—from young children to the elderly and disabled—provides benefits not only to the aforementioned groups but all users as facilities built to higher standards benefit all types of users. The safety recommendations are divided into three categories: sidewalk and pedestrian safety, shared-use path safety, and ADA.
Sidewalk and Pedestrian Safety
• Management and Policy Priorities
1. Direct efforts toward speed reduction as speed, not traffic volume, is correlated with higher numbers of pedestrian fatalities and injuries.
2. Improve pedestrian safety with a triangulation of efforts directed at decreasing vehicle speed and increase pedestrian visibility. This means taking a comprehensive approach to pedestrian safety: education, enforcement (i.e., speeding drivers), and design.
3. Reevaluate and improve existing signage throughout your jurisdiction from the pedestrian and motorist viewpoint. Check to make sure signs are correctly located, easy to understand, and not cluttered by other signs or obscured by other objects.
• Education Efforts
1. Pedestrian education efforts on such issues as safe crossing practices should increase before summer months and once again before September since pedestrian crashes increase during summer and winter.
2. Specific education efforts should be targeted towards transit users as they are frequent pedestrians (i.e., safety warnings and signage near transit stops or on transit vehicles). 3. Create a safety committee comprised of local officials that holds workshops and distributes literature on proper pedestrian safety movements.
Shared-Use Path Safety
• Education and Signage
1. Provide signage and information regarding surface material, grade, obstacles, and known safety issues at trailheads and connection points to different networks. This will allow individuals to select facilities that are best suited to their abilities.
2. Ensure all forms of signage meet the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) standards and are uniform throughout systems.
3. Types of signage should include directional, safety, informational, and trail etiquettes.
• Policy Responses to Safety Issues on Shared-Use Paths
1. Employ design changes—separate users using different surface materials or provide medians—if user conflicts become a problems.
2. Use signage and educational efforts to direct users to the appropriate facilities for their particular use.
Once again, there is no way to “ensure” security on any transportation facility. However, there are many strategies agencies can utilize to enhance it. The following list of recommendations involves three overarching principles: communication, coordination, and education. The literature search and interviews revealed that security problems frequently can be solved by employing strategies based on these principles. For example, when both police agencies and the responsible trail agencies are involved cooperative approaches can increase the likelihood of reducing the threat or increasing the effectiveness of the response (i.e., police increasing patrols and the responsible agency making design changes). Communication also involves sharing important data regarding different facilities. The principle of education reflects the need to educate and reinforce important security precautions that can help enhance security on the trail (i.e., encouraging and reminding individuals not to travel alone in remote areas). The following recommendations reflect these principles and can produce immediate benefits in security-related issues:
• Programming Efforts
1. Encourage police patrols or establish volunteer trail patrols to increase “eyes on the facility.”
2. Program and hold events at the facility to increase users and demonstrate security of the facility.
3. Direct education efforts towards trail and exercise groups to reinforce security practices (such as using facilities during daylight hours or hiding valuables).
• Management Practices
1. Implement anti-vandalism techniques such as quick removal (i.e. removing graffiti three times within 72 hours) and follow target-hardening techniques (page 7 of this report).
2. Improve lighting and patrols of trailhead areas.
3. Provide general orientation signage that indicates distances to exits and entrances.
4. Only install cameras and other technologies when other methods fail to reduce a problem and if appropriate resources are available to staff and repair them.
5. Encourage police to complete paperwork in between responses or duties at trailheads and parking lot areas. This presence will deter illegal activity.
6. Identify an individual as a police liaison to share data and information with police and coordinate efforts.
The issue of maintenance on pedestrian facilities is developing into a significant issue. Moreover, maintenance impacts both safety and security of users on the facility. Poor maintenance practices involving vegetation removal can create security issues, and poorly maintained surfaces can lead to serious injuries or collisions. In addition, maintenance also affects perception of these facilities and their use. The lower the level of maintenance, the higher the likelihood the facility will be underutilized. Snow removal is also a critical maintenance concern in many communities. These recommendations seek to guide agencies and municipalities on different practices for improving their maintenance operations. In our interviews and literature review, our project team became aware of the cost and personnel time required to accomplish quality maintenance. One major recommendation that was included in multiple sources was the need to institute regular inspections of facilities and implement an easy system for users to report problems and complaints. For example, the Municipality of Anchorage has an online reporting system for users that can report maintenance issues such as downed trees, burned-out lighting, or security problems such as vandalism or suspicious behavior. The level of financial investment required for quality maintenance should not be overlooked. The following recommendations are divided by snow removal and routine maintenance:
• Snow Removal
1. Develop a snow removal plan for pedestrian facilities and prioritize responses by: pedestrian traffic, high densities of elderly or disabled, schools, transit areas, and other highly trafficked routes.
2. Develop a cost share program with local businesses to have sidewalks in central business districts uniformly cleared.
3. Consturct new and retrofitted sidewalks with buffers or planter zones of at least 2 to 5 feet that can accommodate snow storage during the winter.
4. Adopt and annually review memorandums of understanding between agencies before winter months to clarify who is responsible for specific areas.
• Routine Maintenance—Shared-Use Paths
1. Provide agencies with management and maintenance manuals on their regular inspections and maintenance operations with maintenance standards specified (i.e., vegetation shall not encroach within 5 feet of either side of the trial).
2. Provide ample number of litter containers and empty on a regular schedule.
3. Create a volunteer maintenance patrol trained by appropriate staff if funding is an issue.
4. Include an overall maintenance policy should include the following six aspects: trail inspections, vegetation maintenance, tread maintenance, drainage maintenance, structure maintenance, and sign maintenance.
• Routine Maintenance - Sidewalk Systems
1. Conduct regular inspections to identify trip hazards, cracks, and other surface problems.
2. Use GIS or other technology systems to efficiently conduct annual inspections and repairs.
3. Identify areas that are frequented with litter and debris.
Download the full report "Sidewalks and Shared-Use Paths: Safety, Security, and Maintenance" (pdf 1.8 mb)