Universal Access Trails and Shared Use Paths

Design, Management, Ethical, and Legal Considerations

This manual reviews Best Management Practices (“BMPs”) to utilize when planning, designing, constructing, and maintaining pedestrian trails for universal accessibility.

by WeConservePA

This manual reviews Best Management Practices (“BMPs”) to utilize when planning, designing, constructing, and maintaining pedestrian trails for universal accessibility—for providing trails usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without separate or segregated access for people with disabilities. These BMPs, which derive from federal regulations, are mandatory for federal entities and those working on their behalf but voluntary for all others.

This manual also discusses accessibility BMPs applicable to shared use paths (including rail-­‐‑trails). These BMPs derive from proposed federal regulations, which will, if and when finalized, be mandatory for all government entities but not for private organizations.

Neither of these sets of BMPs applies to trails or paths not intended for pedestrian use—for example, ATV, mountain biking or horseback riding trails.

Also discussed are the federal accessibility rules applicable to the pedestrian routes that connect parking lots, trails, shared use paths, and other accessible facilities to each other.

All trails and shared use paths—indeed, any areas open to pedestrians—that are owned or operated by a public or private entity covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act are subject to federal regulations on Other Power-­‐‑Driven Mobility Devices (“OPDMDs”). These rules potentially greatly expand the types of vehicular devices that must be permitted on trails, shared use paths, other routes, and other areas open to the public. This publication discusses ways to manage access by these vehicles.

The manual also highlights as case studies several state-­‐‑of-­‐‑the-­‐‑art trails among the many trails that provide universal access, as well as providing practical advice on technical standards, policies, and offering other helpful resources.

In summary, the manual:

  • Explores who are the likely users of trails and shared use paths that provide universal accessibility;

  • Identifies which entities are legally bound by the federal accessibility rules governing trails and the ones being developed for shared use paths, and which entities should regard these rules as BMPs;

  • Reviews accessibility laws, regulations, exceptions, and BMPs relating to trails, shared use paths, and other pedestrian routes used in outdoor settings;

About the Author


WeConservePA is a community of conservation volunteers, professionals, and supporters. United around common interests and needs, we present a powerful force for conservation, and in sharing our knowledge and experiences, we are better equipped to make more and better conservation happen.

More articles in this category

Adaptive Recreation: Hiking and Biking for Mobility Device Users

posted Feb 24, 2024

This U.S. Fish and Wildlife presentation by Quinn Brett focuses on trail information and trail usability.

Age and Dementia Friendly Design Considerations for Physical Infrastructure

posted Oct 3, 2023

Inclusive design can address functional needs arising from dementia.

The Trail Access Project Removes Barriers to the Outdoors

posted Feb 11, 2022

Their goal is to facilitate the removal of barriers to recreational trail usage through providing information, increasing accessible features, and supporting park managers in making changes.

Trail Accessibility Hub

posted Nov 9, 2021

Everything you need to know about planning, building, and maintaining accessible trails.

1,662 views • posted 07/28/2020