One aspect of developing paths that raises a lot of questions is how to accommodate people with differing levels of ability on one path. The Equality Act (2010) means that discrimination against different sectors of society is not allowed.
The Fieldfare Trust provides a lot of useful information on designing multiple-use paths. Paths for All have also produced some guidance which you can access here (insert weblink).
When considering multiple uses the most important thing to think about is how people access the path. Features such as stiles and many gate designs can create an impassable barrier for many people who could otherwise use the path quite happily. So it’s important to make sure that any new features you add or replace on a path such as gates, surfacing or drainage should be as un-restrictive as possible. That means that regardless of what you are planning in terms of path construction, any access controls (gates, stiles etc) must be accessible to as wide a range of people as possible. If there are existing restrictive gates and especially stiles, then you should look for ways to remove these barriers.
If you’re working on a network of paths then you should aim to make the most important routes or links fully accessible. Other routes should be as barrier free as possible and follow the principles of least restrictive access.
If you want to create a path with full accessibility for all users, then you'll need the following:
1. A suitable sized path - a minimum width of 1.5m is ideal as it allows all non motorised users and stops cars or other large vehicles from getting onto the path.
In terms of path construction, you don't necessarily have to make all paths wide and hard-surfaced. If your project is very small and has only a low budget then providing accessible entrances onto a path is usually enough. If you are planning some actual path construction, then the rule of least restrictive provision applies. Any new surface should ideally be at least 1.5m wide. This may seem a lot but a 1.5m path on the ground is actually very low key and once vegetation starts to re-grow in the verges it will seem a lot narrower. An absolute minimum width is 1.2m but you'll find that even a small amount of vegetation encroachment will make this impassable for wheelchairs, large prams and bicycles with trailers. In terms of surface type, typical unbound surfaces such as whin or granite dust, road planings and stone chips are fine for most cases. Sealed surfaces (tarmac) are generally only used for areas of very high use and in urban or urban fringe areas.
2. Barriers - if you need to keep livestock off the path, provide a two way opening, self closing gate. There are a number of proprietary designs available which are robust, have easy to use latches, are easy to install and require minimal maintenance. Ideally use a 1.5m wide gate but if space is restricted a 1.2m wide gate may be acceptable.
Any other option will result in a barrier for some users. Kissing gates are seen as the next level of accessibility but even large designs will stop horses, large push chairs, most wheelchairs and bicycles. If you are prepared to have a padlock and key system then these users can get access but such systems are difficult to manage and control and don't really work for visitors.
More information on gates and barriers can be found on the Paths for All National Demonstration site (insert link).
3. Gradients - when you encounter gradients try to avoid the use of steps as these will be an impassable barrier to many people, including quite active walkers. Ideally gradients should be less than 1:12, particularly as you'll find that as gradients steeper than this will also cause erosion problems for dust or gravel surfaces. If steps are the only solution you should follow the good practice given in the Fieldfare Countryside for All standards. This guide also provides a lot of useful information on widths, gradients, access control designs and management principles for disabled access. You can also find further information in the Lowland Paths Guide or by contacting the Paths for All Technical Officer. There's also additional information in this factsheet.