20th American Trails National Symposium

Chattanooga, Tennessee ~ November 14-17, 2010


On the Path of Excellence


American Trails' 20th National Trails Awards Program honors people and programs at the 20th American Trails National Symposium. The awards celebration was held in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nov. 16, 2010.

arrow See the previous Award Winners from 2008 - 2006 - 2004 - 2002, and 2000.


2010 State-of-the-Art Technology Award:

This award recognizes a trails-related product, process, or service that has significantly met a need, addressed an issue, or increased efficiency in trail design, development, or maintenance.


City of San Jose, Department of Park, Recreation & Neighborhood Services


photo of post on trail

Typical installation of the milestone signs

Technical Challenge:

Persons seeking assistance from emergency personnel often encounter a lack of useful location information along trails. The person calling for help may not be able to accurately describe his or her location or even know the name of a trail.

A cellular phone may provide location data, but that data does not tell 911 responders about trail surfacing, access points or other limitations. Proximity to State Highways may also dispatch the call to Caltrans’ 911 Center where less knowledge is available about local trails. San José having 24 trail systems across 54 miles necessitates a means for the community to explain their location with a degree of precision.


San José’s Trail Network provides opportunities for recreation and commuting and is enjoyed by thousands of residents each day. By 2022, as part of its Green Vision, the City will have 35 interconnected trail systems across 100 miles. Trails are growing in popularity, with double digit increases in use over each of the past three years. San José’s trails and 200 miles of on-street bikeways (growing to 400 miles of bikeways by 2022) already support a rate of bicycling that is twice the national average. The Trail Network is recognized as a core element of the overall transportation system in the City’s General Plan and Greenprint. A growing population is likely to require more emergency services deployed in a rapid and efficient manner.

Sate of the Art Solution:

San José’s mileage markers convey precise location data to the trail user in an easy to understand manner. Supporting data for each marker it available to emergency services personnel and provides a complete set of location, surface and accessibility data. At first glance, the markers appear deceptively simple, but they truly offer data comparative to any public roadway and support rapid response and recordkeeping.

graphic of signpost and locations on map

Mileage milestone markers on San Jose's trail system


The mileage markers are defined in a guideline document that introduces a unified signage palette and striping for deployment throughout the Trail Network. The guidelines have been developed in partnership with Callander Associates. Unifying markers, signage and striping in one guideline document ensures a consistent style for all elements and supports a comprehensive, network-wide signage project to be completed by February 2011.

Each marker is constructed of square-shaped tubular steel with a site-specific and simple alphanumeric code supported by distinct color and icon combination for each trail system. The code is composed of a trail name abbreviation (ie. Coyote Creek Trail = COY) and distance (ie. 12.25 = 12 and ¼ miles from the start of the trail system). Trail users seeing this sequence repeated every quarter mile track the distance travelled and have a regular remainder of their location.

The unique icon and color combination reinforces the identity of each trail system within a large, interconnected network of trail systems.
When installed, precise location data is gathered for each marker. Longitude/latitude data is gathered via GPS, photographs are taken of the surrounding conditions, pavement surface, physical obstructions are identified, and the nearest vehicle-accessible points for entry and exit are determined.

The markers are painted with highly reflective paint for nighttime visibility. The thermoplastic paint used is governed by specifications developed by San Jose staff that obtains the highest reflectance possible while maintaining a very thin profile to prevent tripping.

graphic of different trail signs

Unified signage system on San Jose's Trail Network

Reflectance of markers and striping partially addresses the inability to install lighting along sensitive riparian habitats. The paint permits the Police Aerial Unit to more easily locate and follow trails after dark. Bicyclists with headlights are guided along the route.

Learning from Others

San Jose’s markers differ from other known systems. We did not provide actual latitude/longitude data to the trail user because the numerical sequences are not easily remembered or relevant to a linear trail system. We used unique combinations of icons and colors to individualize the markers for each trail system, so that trail users have better awareness of their location. The use of icons was also important to offer a device for non-English speakers to provide location clues to 911 staff.

The project team worked closely with 911 Center staff to develop this innovative marker system. Tests were conducted to verify the accuracy of data and the ability to precisely locate incidents on the center’s existing data layers. Although “smart phones” now offer proximity data, San Jose considers the markers to be vital because they help responders verify the quickest route to an incident within the off-street trail network.

The companion trail signage element of the project uses colors for informational, directional and warning signs that are prescribed by the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Unlike traditional roadway signs, the graphics are bold, inject humor at times, and strive to communicate positive behavior, as opposed to “do not” rules.

For more information:

See more articles about San Jose's trail system at:


American Trails, P.O. Box 491797, Redding, CA 96049-1797(530) 547-2060
Fax: (530) 547-2035Symposium@americantrails.org www.AmericanTrails.org





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