Meeting users needs

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shared use

Cyclists, wheelchair user and walker sharing a path...

People who are using paths for different activities may need particular features to be present, or absent, so knowing who is likely to use the path is very important. People on wheels, such as cyclists, wheelchair users and those pushing buggies / prams appreciate gentle gradients, smooth hard surfaces and prefer not to have to negotiate steps or cross drains. Horses are less comfortable on those smooth hard surfaces but gates need to be wide enough to allow a horse and rider through without the need to dismount.

Try to put yourself in the position of a particular user group and consider what would make the paths more attractive and easier to use. The fundamental principle that you should adopt is the 'least restrictive option'. This is often used to design paths for people with disabilities (the Equality Act (2010) places an obligation to make 'reasonable adjustments' in public spaces), but the approach should be seen as good practice for all user groups – this means that you identify all the potential 'barriers' and seek ways to minimise their impact for different user groups. There may be compromises or conflicts in the needs of different user groups and you may have to make a judgement about whether some of the barriers are too difficult to overcome. In some cases it may actually be better to look for an alternative route or provide specific path for different user groups that provides a high quality experience for each group, rather than ending up with one poorly designed path which only partially meets everyone's needs. You may find that, at a later date you need to provide a justification for your decisions, so it is worthwhile recording what factors you have taken into account during the projects planning and design stages.

You may also need to think about the likely levels of participation, and how the various adaptations could have mutual benefits between user groups. For example, in areas where there are very few horse riders it may be sufficient to leave space for horses to ride alongside the constructed path, which would allow a higher specification of path surface to be used on the main path to accommodate people on foot and wheels. However, this may not be sufficient if there is frequent use by horses and one path surface built to accommodate everyone might be necessary.

You can find out more about shared use paths here icon Shared Use Paths in Scotland and there is detailed good practice guidance on 'Countryside For All' from the Fieldfare Trust.

How wide to build a path

There are various conventions of path width and the main considerations are who is likely to be using the path and how much room is available along the routes corridor. It is usual to specify a minimum width of 1.5m for paths in rural areas, but most shared use paths are at least 2m wide. In urban areas, 2.5m - 3m wide is commonly specified for shared use paths to accommodate the likely higher useage. The choice of path surface may dictate the width, to enable access for construction plant, and you need to consider whether maintenance operations (such as grass cutting) will affect the minimum width of the path. For natural surfaces, it is common to cut a swathe of at least 2m, but this may depend on the landscape setting and expected use.

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