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American Trails presents "Connecting Communities: Integrating Transportation and Recreation Networks" as a part of the American Trails "Advancing Trails Webinar Series"



Connecting Communities: Integrating Transportation and Recreation Networks

American Trails presented this Webinar on September 21, 2017 with Christopher Douwes and Laura Toole with Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). This webinar explored how to integrate transportation and recreation infrastructure. This webinar was also a concurrent session at the 2017 International Trails Symposium.





The presenters are:

Read more and learn about the presenters...



CLOSED CAPTIONING: We are offering closed captioning for our webinars, thanks to a partnership with VITAC Corporation. If you are in need of this service, please email us prior to the webinar. An unedited transcript will be sent to all attendees following the webinar.



Webinar Partners




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This presentation demonstrates how to integrate transportation and recreation infrastructure. It describes a process in Columbus, Ohio, to assess transportation and recreation facilities for connectivity. It also describes several FHWA publications that highlight ways that planners and designers can apply the design flexibility found in national design guidelines to address common design challenges and barriers. These publications focus on reducing multimodal conflicts and achieving connected networks, so that walking and bicycling are safe, comfortable, and attractive options for people of all ages and abilities.


The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published several guidance memos and reports in 2015 through 2017 to help communities achieve safe, accessible, comfortable, and connected multimodal networks. The purpose of this presentation is to demonstrate how and why it may be appropriate to connect communities through an integration of transportation and recreational trail facilities.



The participant will be able to:



Participants will be able to describe Federal surface transportation policy and design guidelines related to trails and nonmotorized transportation. They will identify processes to develop solutions to help communities achieve safe, accessible, comfortable, and connected multimodal networks. They will be able to recognize and evaluate planning and design sources that they can use to prepare nonmotorized transportation plans and construct projects that connect communities.


Presenters for the Webinar:


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Christopher Douwes is a Community Planner with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in Washington DC. He has managed the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) since 1992, Transportation Enhancement (TE) activities since 2003, Transportation Alternatives (TA) since 2012, and has assisted with Bicycle and Pedestrian Activities since 1992. He manages contracts for research, technology development, technical assistance, and training for trail-related activities. Christopher received his Masters of Science in Transportation from Northwestern University in 1990. Email:



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Laura Toole is a Planning and Environmental Specialist in the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Ohio Division. She manages the Bicycle and Pedestrian and Recreational Trails Programs, as well as serving as the liaison to five Ohio Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) and the point of contact for MPO transportation performance management and integration of safety into the planning process. Laura has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Master of Industrial Engineering with a focus on Human Factors Engineering from Virginia Tech. Email:




Federal Highway Administration Resources






Policy and Guidance


Bicycle and Pedestrian Resources


Recreational Trail Publications and Resources

This page includes links to many U.S. Forest Service Trail Publications, such as:


Cooperative Agreement Partners










Questions and Answers from the live webinar


How do trails connect communities?
Trails can connect communities by adding connections between neighborhoods, using shared use as nonmotorized transportation through routes, providing bridges over rivers, highways, or other barriers, and providing nonmotorized transportation routes along highways and railroads.

How can we improve access for all to outdoor recreational activities?
We can plan, design, and develop trails to provide access for all by using trails to connect facilities, building trails of different skill levels, and building trail facilities that can be accessed by all (in regards to location). Trails can provide the last length from transit systems to outdoor recreation areas. Trails can provide safe transportation and access to outdoor recreation for children and people who cannot drive. Trail amenities, such as skill areas, can also provide a way for individuals to develop experience.

How can we work together to ensure that recreational trails don’t lose their recreational beauty?
Very carefully. We want to ensure that our trails retain context sensitivity. A 20-foot wide trail with separate sections for walking and bicycling might make sense in an urban, suburban, or industrial area. But don’t blast through a 20-foot wide trail through a dense forest or a sensitive desert or wetland. Pay attention to the setting and to the users. Do you want an equestrian-friendly trail? Do you want to accommodate OHVs within the right-of-way, or snowmobiles in winter? Are you looking for a narrow technical trail with twists and turns for mountain bikes or dirt bikes? Do you want to ensure direct and efficient routes for transportation trips? Make sure you include stakeholders with various interests.

What happens when electric vehicles become a substantial part of the bicycle or OHV population?
This is a great unknown. Modern electric bicycles are nearly indistinguishable from regular bicycles, and urban bike share systems are beginning to include electric bikes. They may make bicycling a desirable form of transportation. Electric bicycles may reduce sound levels on OHV trails. But we have conflicting laws and regulations when it comes to electric bicycles on unpaved trails on public lands and when using Federal-aid highway program funds. Some electric bicycles have the same impact as regular bicycles, but some may have impacts similar to OHVs, other than the sound. This topic needs research and discussion.

Who do I contact to get trails included in my local transportation plan?
Start with your local planning office, whether village, town, township, city, county, etc. For those of you in metropolitan areas (urbanized areas of population 50,000 or more), your trails need to be listed in the metropolitan transportation plan and Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) to be considered for transportation funds. For everybody, you want at least the concept of trails to be included in Statewide Long-Range Transportation Plans if you will ever want Federal surface transportation funds and projects must be listed in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). For more information, see:

Are States allowed to have their own planning and design manuals?
It depends, but in general, yes. The primary exceptions are:

In general, trails for transportation purposes will need additional width and may need to accommodate large maintenance or emergency vehicles. States can determine which planning and design manuals these want to use. See the Resources list.


How can I get my community to have a trail assessment?
One place to start is to suggest the idea to your local trail manager. If there are multiple trail managers, the suggestion could be given to the Recreational Trail Program’s Advisory Committee in your State. See resources at:


Meredith asks:

1. Are there any tips to keep planning, compliance and costs down when working with local government? I find that they tend to hire consultants and treat rural projects, projects that are already partially paved or disturbed (e.g. old agricultural roads or rail alignments) and look at the planning and compliance needs as they would a freeway and the costs quickly escalate to over 1.5 million a mile. And sometimes even more. 
Look at PlanWorks, a decision support tool built from the experiences of transportation partners and stakeholders. PlanWorks can improve how you develop, prioritize, and inform transportation plans and projects; see There is a specific application for bicycles and pedestrians. Also look at Planning and Environment Linkages and Integrating NEPA and Permitting.

2. When looking at alternative transportation versus recreation for funding purposes, do you have recommendations on what category should be pursued? For example, most multi-use trails, greenways, or separated paths are used for both commuting and recreation. Are there best practices or strategies to address both needs? 
See the FHWA funding opportunities table at

3. When local communities want separated bikeways or multi-use paths in a rural area that is dominated by State highways (rural settings, 2-lane roads) and the State DOT refuses to consider, are there recommendations on how to move forward? Should private land agreements be pursued? (this example may be somewhat unique to the islands, where you have only one road option that circles an island. Could also be on rural highways where there are no other connector roads I suppose)

4. This is great information, and you may be preaching to the choir here. The biggest issue is how to convince your local and State DOT/DPW to actually do this. Are there any tips in how to convince decision makers to consider?

Mike says: City of Little Rock here. Thanks for the Big Dam Bridge love!

Peggy asks: Christopher, Is there a Federal law that prohibits ATV/dirt bikes to be on same trail as bike/ped - motorized and nonmotorized shared use? Just get along, cooperate? WV doesn't allow it, as far as I know.
It depends on the original intent for the trail, the environmental documentation, and the funding source.

(g) A State may not obligate funds apportioned to carry out this section for—
(2, 3, summarized): Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land unless consistent with agency plans,
(4) upgrading, expanding, or otherwise facilitating motorized use or access to recreational trails predominantly used by nonmotorized recreational trail users and on which, as of May 1, 1991, motorized use was prohibited or had not occurred.

Robert asks: Have you used to help promote and/or encourage better facilities for nonmotorized users?
No, I don’t have personal knowledge or experience with this. You are welcome to consider or use any programs or processes that you find useful.

Robert also asks: Has CPTED been used within the design process to help with keeping the trails safer and useable for all?
CPTED is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. I don’t have personal experience with this, although I have heard of the concept. You are welcome to consider or use any programs or processes that you find useful. Based on a quick search, several national nonprofit organizations support the concept.

Mike asks: How can we encourage AR DOT to maintain the road past the rumble strip? In Arkansas, we often see accumulated debris after the rumble strip.
Contact your State bicycle and pedestrian coordinator and ask about the best way to work with your State officials. See Please do your homework first: see the Proven Safety Countermeasures at, and see the Rumble Strip Implementation Guide, which has information about longitudinal center line, edge line, and shoulder rumble strips and stripes, including information on maintenance.

Jennifer asks: Since data is so important, is there a funding resource for collecting bike/ped data?
Yes. If the data will be useful for transportation planning purposes, then Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) may use Metropolitan Planning funds. State agencies may use Statewide Planning and Research funds. There may be some eligibility for Surface Transportation Block Grant Program funds. Contact your State bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for more ideas, see For more information on data, see Incorporating Qualitative Data in the Planning Process: Improving Project Delivery and Outcomes (March 2017). This report highlights emerging tools, techniques, and resources for gathering qualitative public and stakeholder input to inform the planning process, improve project outcomes, and contribute to streamlining project delivery.

Ursula asks: What do we know about what cities have done to integrate 911 and maintenance reporting (i.e. integrating city services in transportation facilities) onto urban trails? Best practices?
Ursula says: mostly address systems are the same for maintenance and 911
Ursula says: so same underlying problem
I don’t have specific information on this topic. In general, 911 is to report life-threatening emergencies, and the 911 systems should not be burdened with calls for routine maintenance. Some locations may have reporting programs: I recall hearing about reporting systems in Maine and in Seattle back in the 1990s. If a community can combine the address systems, it sounds like a good idea to me.

Caitlin (EL) asks: Are there projects or initiatives that focus on connecting urban areas to outdoor areas? Particularly interested in using bike, pedestrian, or public transportation infrastructure to access outdoor areas.

Caitlin also says:
Hi Candace,
That was my first American Trails webinar and I really enjoyed the presentation! Some recent updates about me, I have been offered an entry level pedestrian planning position at NYCDOT, so I was excited to think how the information I learned at this webinar could be useful for my new job. Thank you for organizing this and making the webinar free for emerging leaders!
If you’re in New York City, perhaps meet with NACTO and PPS, listed above.

Jennifer says: Research idea: Best practices for managing transition areas between different types of trails/shared use paths as you connect them together.
Excellent idea. Thank you.

Lew asks: Does FHWA plan to work with the USFWS's National Conservation Training Center for trail management training? Lew says: I do know and work with Nathan.
The USFWS National Conservation Training Center managed the national trail management training course several years ago, in part with FHWA funding. NCTC did not have the staff capacity to continue the course, and we discontinued the agreement. We continue working with USFWS and other Federal Land Management Agencies to support trail training, in part through cooperative agreements with American Trails and other nonprofit organizations.

Jan asks: How do we design the integration of equestrians in a transportation/trails system?
Assuming this is the Jan that I know, see Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads and Campgrounds, which covers many of the concepts. Equestrians need to ensure that they have a voice in the transportation planning process, and get involved. Equestrians can get involved in county comprehensive plans that discuss transportation, and participate in metropolitan and statewide transportation plans. At a minimum, ensure that you protect riding areas. Also consider trail connections that can benefit from highway projects, and consider connections between riding areas that complete networks. Perhaps you can avoid having to load up your trailer if you can ride from one area to another.

Raynold asks: Should you not designate a "Senior Trail" as nonmotorized if you intend to use some 4-wheel vehicles for rescue or maintenance purposes? [Followup: My question was that if you wanted to be able to use an ATV or Motorized Cart for a Rescue vehicle, what would it have to be designated?
I was asked to help build a Senior Trail from the Senior Activities Center to the Senior housing area through the woods … It is intended to be "passable" with a wheelchair.]
Wheelchairs suitable for indoor use are permitted on all trails whether the wheelchair is motorized or nonmotorized. For projects that use Federal-aid highway program funds, Federal highway law exempts wheelchairs from the motorized restriction (23 U.S.C. 206 and 217(h)). Furthermore, on March 15, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a rule, specifying that “other power-driven mobility devices” (OPDMD) could be used on trails by “individuals with mobility disabilities.” See for the basic facts of how to apply this rule. In most situations, you would still designate the trail as nonmotorized, and allow individuals who have disabilities to use the trail. That does not open the trail to individuals who do not have disabilities or to companions. The land manager can still set restrictions such as a maximum noise level or speed.

Sherwood says: San Marcos is a rapidly growing city of about 70,000 people, and the home of Texas State University. We are somewhat unique because we are well into the process of developing an integrated recreation/transportation network. Our network will involve several contiguous, concentric loops that will be connected with each other, forming a large number of smaller loops. It will be like a wagon wheel with the ‘spokes’ running along our two rivers & many creeks.
It will connect outlying preserves, smaller urban parks, our neighborhoods, downtown & the university campus. While the greenways/trails network will have many connections to our street network and street bicycle lanes, it will be mostly separate from it and in most places the trails will go beneath railroad tracks and major streets.
The greenways/trails system is part of the City’s official transportation plan and our master plan. We are also working with nearby cities to develop a regional network.
While we began developing our network about 20 years ago, it has only been in recent years that we’ve begun realizing what an important part of our transportation system it will be. We are pretty ignorant about accessing government transportation funds, especially federal government funds.
This webinar is great! We will download the documents you mentioned. Can you give us some recommendations for other funding information or contacts, especially at the Federal level?

See the FHWA funding opportunities table at

Are there funding sources for acquiring right-of-way for multimodal greenway trails? Needless to say, the more we are able to connect greenspaces together, the more the trails through them will be able to function as an integral part of our transportation network, especially for bicycles. From Sherwood Bishop, San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance.
It depends on what your State allows. From the Federal perspective, right-of-way acquisition is eligible for all Federal-aid highway program funds, including the RTP and TA. However, the RTP prohibits condemnation of any kind of property (eminent domain). Some States extend that prohibition to other funds and to other kinds of projects. Some States also might restrict funding land acquisition; even though allowed with Federal funds, the States may choose to be more restrictive.

Liz says: Thank you for this very informative webinar!!
You’re welcome. We love serving our country.






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