Information and Advsiory Note Number 71, January 1997
1.1 The aim of this Note is to provide background information on issues concerning paths shared by walkers, cyclists, horse riders and others. The focus is about routes which have been specially designated or designed to be suitable for shared use. Shared use is often acceptable on other paths, depending on levels of use, appropriate path dimensions and other local circumstances. This Note provides general information on the attributes required by different users, discusses potential problems with shared use paths and means of resolving them, and suggests some ideas for good practice in path design and management. More detail concerning access for disabled people will be provided in a forthcoming Information and Advisory Note.
1.2 SNH aims to encourage greater provision of shared use paths and tracks, wherever this is realistic and appropriate, as part of its policy to improve access to the countryside. The Paths For All initiative aims that path networks will include shared-use paths according to local demand and opportunity.
1.3 This Note is based on information from published sources, telephone interviews with shared use path managers (listed in Appendix 1) and field visits to the Co. Durham railway walks and the Pennine Bridleway. As there are few published sources of guidance on shared use paths the latter two sources of information have been particularly important, and the guidance given here may reflect the choice of managers interviewed.
2.1 Walkers, cyclists and horse riders all require better access to the countryside and the provision of facilities which can be shared by all users may appear an efficient use of limited resources. Yet each user group has different demands in terms of path and route characteristics and careful design is necessary to ensure that different user groups can share the same route safely, comfortably and legally.
2.2 There are numerous shared use paths and tracks in England, some with up to 20 years' experience in multiple use, but there is less Scottish experience. In most situations walkers and cyclists are the biggest user groups, with a minority of horse riders.
2.2.1 Sustrans is a charity which has been designing and building shared use paths, many based on the routes of old railways, for 15 years. Their paths are aimed primarily for cyclists, walkers and the disabled. In 1995 Sustrans was awarded £40 million from the Millennium Commission towards the costs of constructing a National Cycle Network based on off-road routes, minor roads and protected sections on busy roads by the year 2000. This will provide a strategic network of routes into which local shared-use path initiatives should link, where possible.
3.1.1 Due to the investment needed for new path construction, shared use paths are usually located where levels of use are expected to be high, such as close to major centres of population or along potentially attractive and popular routes. Many routes have been up to 8 or 10 miles in length, although increasingly longer distance routes and sometimes networks are being developed for shared use.
3.1.2 Many routes have been based on disused railways, or alongside canals and rivers which often provide an existing base for the route with relatively low effort needed in terms of design, earthworks and landowner negotiations. Considerable investment is usually required to establish paths on new routes which are suitable for high levels of use. As a result of these two factors, many shared use paths have been short and linear, and users usually have to retrace their route to get back to their start point, rather than returning by a circular route.
3.1.3 To maximise the access improvements created by new shared use paths, they should be accessible to local residents and should have termini in locations that can be reached by public transport and where sufficient parking space for cars and horse boxes is available. Paths should follow routes which can be combined with other rights of way, paths, tracks or quiet country roads to provide circular routes of appropriate lengths for different users. Cyclists often need safe access out from towns to the rural road network. Horse riders require routes from stables to areas used on a more exclusive basis for riding. Shared use routes may then be a means of maximising investment benefits for a variety of different users.
4.1 There is a lack of legally asserted public rights of way in Scotland, particularly for horse riding and cycling. Rights of way in Scotland mostly provide access for walkers, and only rarely for cyclists, horse riders or for motorised use; of 7414 routes catalogued by the Scottish Rights of Way Society, just 127 incorporated vehicle use, 269 horse use and 38 cycle use, the vast majority being of unknown user status. Under Scottish common law relating to rights of way, the ‘greater’ use encompasses the lesser’, for example all other activities may use a vehicular right of way. The Scottish common law regarding cycling on bridleways and footpaths is unclear. A few routes in Scotland have been specially designated for horses and/or cyclists. Many of these are on land owned by public bodies.
4.2 As shared use paths usually incur considerable investment, it is important to ensure that, wherever possible, access is legally secure because access based on permissive arrangements could potentially be withdrawn at any moment. The options include formal agreement under the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967 provisions, by lease, or, where a more secure arrangement is not possible, by the owners permission. Occasionally, new path routes may have to be purchased by the planning authority, SNH or another suitable body willing to permit access of this nature.
4.3 There is a statutory framework for planning authorities to make Public Path Creation Agreements (or Orders in circumstances where agreement cannot be reached) which could be used in the development of shared use paths. Orders have been little used due to the lengthy procedures involved and the potential for generating or exacerbating local conflicts It is also possible for planning authorities to make byelaws to restrict or regulate use of routes where a formal agreement exists, should this be necessary. Alternatively, this can be done under roads legislation in the circumstances of a potential shared use route having an existing right of passage.
Different recreational users have different requirements for path characteristics. It is therefore necessary to have a good idea of potential levels and types of use in order to effectively plan paths. Path use can be gauged by considering the local population catchment, potential numbers of visitors and tourists, and by contacting local groups including representatives of the British Horse Society (BHS) and Cyclists' Touring Club (CTC), local riding schools and mountain bike hire centres. As shared use paths are expensive forecasts of user numbers may be needed early in the planning process to justify the proposed expenditure. User requirements also vary according to user experience, skills, commitment to the pursuit, etc. Shared use paths have mostly been designed for general, fairly easy-going walking, often including wheelchairs and prams, recreational cycling at speeds of up to 8-10mph, and horses for walking or trotting.
5.1.1 The minimum and/or preferred requirements of the different user groups are summarised in Table. 1. This indicates a wide variety of specifications. Some are complementary, some would require extra expense in order to accommodate an additional user group, and some are in conflict. Some of the more important issues are discussed below. More detailed guidance and specifications for path construction and furniture can be found in publications by the Department of Transport, Sustrans and the BHS.
In most instances, unless the path is already in excellent condition and/or levels of use are likely to be low and/or the path is in a sensitive setting where engineered paths may be aesthetically undesirable, some construction works will be necessary. Shared use paths normally require an engineered construction involving good drainage, a base stone and a top dressing or surfacing material. One Of the most important requirements is that water drains well from the surface as running surface water scours away surfacing materials, and as standing surface water encourages muddy conditions and promotes frost damage. In addition to ditches, drains and cambered surfaces, geotextiles and geogrids are also recommended in boggy areas or where the path is underlain by fine soils, silts or clays. The base stone can be anything that is well graded, frost resistant and compacts well. Chipped old road materials are frequently a cheap and widely available option. The recommended thickness of the base layer is 100-300mm.
5.3 Surfacing materials
5.3.1 It is important to select an appropriate surface material for paths, as this will greatly influence the user's experience of the route. Some common surfacing materials are listed in Appendix 2. The choice of material depends upon the nature of the path and expected levels and type of use. There are four main considerations regarding path surfaces: user needs and preferences; landscape impact; capital costs; and resilience to expected levels of use (which determines maintenance costs). Depending on circumstances, horses and cycles may cause more damage to the path surface than walkers, especially on soft ground.
5.3.2 Table 1 suggests a potential conflict between the path surface requirements of different users. Ideally, horses and longer distance walkers require soft, springy ground underfoot whereas cyclists and walkers with prams or wheelchairs require a hard surface. However, in numerous instances paths have been constructed with a view to catering for all three user groups. The most widely used surfacing material in these situations is compressed stone dust. The hardness of stone dust paths mean that they are unsuitable for riding long distances. However, they have often been popular with horse riders as there are few routes available for horses in the countryside and these paths present better riding opportunities than roads.
5.3.3 Existing evidence suggests that, if paths surfaced with stone dust are constructed with good drainage, they experience little surface damage. Where path drainage is less effective and/or use is heavy (such as close to cities), the surface can be damaged, particularly by horses in damp conditions, producing a maintenance problem. However, stone dust surfaces require topping up periodically according to levels of use and local drainage conditions, resulting in relatively high maintenance costs.
5.3.4 Bark chippings are another surfacing material used in rural settings, but are in general less suitable than stone dust as they tend to blow around or be dispersed by use, rot, are more expensive and only have a reasonable appearance in a woodland setting.
5.3.5 Where the ground is well-drained or levels of use will be low, a mixture of fine stone, soil and grass seeds has been suggested. This would have the advantage of providing an attractive and soft surface, although it is unlikely to withstand heavy use. This surface will be trialled on the Pennine Bridleway over the next few years.
5.3.6 In some places, mostly close to major centres of population in England, path surfaces have been sealed where use by cyclists and horses is heavy. Although surfaces sealed with bitmac are expensive and require a well constructed base to avoid break-up from frost, they require only a relatively low expenditure on maintenance thereafter as they are more resilient than unsealed surfaces.
5.3.7 Sealed surfaces raise concerns about the intrusion of urban-type surfaces in rural areas or green corridors. There are mixed reports on whether path users feel that this detracts from the character of the route and their recreational experience. A strategy to tackle the landscape intrusion issue is to categorise paths according to the environment through which they pass and set standards for different environments.
5.3.8 One such approach taken in the south of England is to follow a hierarchy in which paths close to and linking large towns and villages would be sealed (eg. asphalt), paths linking villages to hamlets would have a hard but unsealed surface (eg. compressed stone dust) and those linking hamlets to the countryside would have minimal surface improvements, probably concentrating on improving path drainage.
5.3.9 Some shared use paths have been constructed as ‘braided’ routes to circumvent the potential issues of damage by different users and of differing optimum surface requirements. Braided sections are also sometimes used to permit galloping horses or fast cycles on a stretch of the route. Sometimes braided routes have separated each user onto different parallel routes each with a different type of surface. More often, horses have been separated from cyclists and walkers. Parallel routes of braided paths may be separated by a fence, by a distance of vegetation, by surface height differences, or, in urban settings, by a painted white line. Braided routes entail additional capital and maintenance costs and are only likely to be necessary where levels of use will be high.
5.3.10 Braided routes also develop informally on some routes as horses may ride on the verges of surfaced tracks where these are suitable. Stone-based, ‘farm-style’ tracks with a grassed-over centre strip present additional potential for informally developed ‘braided’ routes. These have the advantage of accommodating farm or maintenance vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders on a relatively ‘natural-looking’ path. This type of surface, however, would not be ideal for wheelchair users or prams.
5.3.11 As yet, there is no published guidance relating level of use by the three different user groups to path surface, width and design requirements. Sustrans maintain that, whenever horses are to be accommodated, an asphalt surface is required, yet others argue that a well-drained compressed stone dust path is capable of withstanding horse use. Path managers in England appear to have experienced more problems of damage to unsealed surfaces than managers in Scotland. This may relate to levels of use, as the limited information available suggests that paths close to English cities may be used much more heavily than those in Scotland. A further reason may be that the shared use paths in Scotland are mostly newer than those in England, so there has been less time for surface damage to develop.
5.4 Access controls
Access controls are normally needed at path entry points to prevent motorcycles, quad-bikes or vehicles gaining access to shared use paths. It has proved difficult, however, to design barriers that allow wheelchairs, bicycles and horses to pass whilst effectively deterring motorcyclists and vehicles. Specifications for some recommended access controls can be found in publications by Sustrans, the BHS and from existing shared use path managers.
5.4.1 Often, combinations of different barriers have been used, each specifically designed to exclude all but one user type. Some managers have used locked gates alongside access controls and issued keys to users whom the control does not allow to pass, such as motor-wheelchair users or cyclists. However, no method has been wholly successful.
5.4.2 Access for maintenance vehicles must also be considered, as shared use paths are usually of a scale and construction which necessitates maintenance by machine. Maintenance vehicles must usually enter paths through locked gates. The size of vehicle may often be limited by path dimensions and the path surface. This may result in high maintenance costs, particularly if there are a limited number of access points for maintenance vehicles. This is often the case where paths follow the line of former railways due to cuttings and embankments.
5.5 Other requirements concerning path furniture, ramps, bridges, fencing etc. are summarised in Table 1. Construction specifications for these other items are provided in publications by the Department of Transport, Sustrans, the BHS or from path managers.
5.6 Financial considerations are likely to be crucial constraints on path upgrading or creation for shared use. Both capital costs and maintenance costs must be considered. An indication of costs is given in Appendix 4. In general, the most resilient path surfaces which will require low maintenance costs incur high capital costs; careful (and commensurately expensive) construction methods will minimise maintenance costs later.
6.1 There are several potential safety hazards or concerns resulting from different patterns of user behaviour. These include cyclists approaching walkers or horses silently and at speed from behind, horses being startled by walkers or cyclists, dogs or children running around in the path of cyclists and horses, and walkers being fearful of meeting horses.
6.2 Research studies, however, have not indicated that inconsiderate or dangerous behaviour is a problem. Occasional accidents have occurred on some of the more heavily used paths in England, but these have not happened with sufficient regularity to worry path managers. Of relevance is a recent report on cycling in pedestrian areas prepared for the Department of Transport. This concluded, on the basis of studying the behaviour and interactions between cyclists and pedestrians in pedestrian areas in towns, that there are “no real factors that justify the exclusion of cyclists from pedestrian areas” and that “cycling can be more widely permitted without detriment to pedestrians” (Transport Research Laboratory, 1993).
6.3 Research surveys show that a large majority of users do not have any serious complaints about sharing with other user groups. User conflicts usually become a less serious problem once some time has elapsed after establishing the path, as evidence suggests that the different groups became used to one another over time. Small signs which inform people about the other classes of user that they can expect to encounter on the route have also proved useful.
6.4 In order to ameliorate behavioural and attitudinal conflicts several path managers produce educational codes of practice either as leaflets or on notices. These may outline the hierarchy of giving way and usually recommend that cycles are fitted with bells. Another approach is to set up user liaison groups to discuss the issues.
6.5 Conflicts are most likely to arise where use is heavy, paths are narrow or of otherwise unsuitable design, and users are not aware of, or do not follow, codes of behaviour.
7.1 There are several potential issues concerning liability arising from shared use paths. These may be seen to be causes for concern, particularly as the legal situation with respect to liability and countryside recreation is unclear. Landowners have a duty to show a reasonable degree of care to see that a person entering their land will not suffer damage by reason of dangers due to the state of the land or due to anything done or not done to the land, and all users have a duty of care towards each other. Owners may, however, be concerned over the potential responsibility for any accidents which may arise on their land.
7.2 In addition to landowners, managing authorities, path users and public bodies involved in promoting access may also have concerns about actions over accidents on shared use routes. Signs warning that recreationalists use paths at their own risk carry little legal status. To date, however, it appears that there has been little legal action in connection with use of shared use paths. Sustrans have never been threatened with legal action concerning the use of their paths in Scotland. An English council which manages a large network of shared use paths and associated car parks and picnic areas is involved in a small number of out-of-court settlements arising from public use of the facilities every year, but has never lost a court case bought against them in this connection.
8.1 Levels and types of use should be forecast as best as is possible early in the planning stage so that they can be taken into account in producing construction specifications (including path width, drainage facilities and surfacing material).
8.2 To maximise access benefits, shared use paths should link to other accessible paths and routes.
8.3 To reduce landscape impacts, the surface selected should fit in with the surrounding environment. This may mean limiting sealed surfaces to paths close to settlements and short steep sections and using ‘greener’ surfaces in the countryside. Vegetation growth in the path corridors should be encouraged.
8.4 Paths should be constructed to minimise surface damage. Good drainage facilities are very important in this respect. As horses may cause the most damage, and as they prefer a soft surface, a verge or green centre strip should be provided for them to use where possible. If surface damage occurs, voluntary restraints or bans for horses during damp or frosty conditions may be considered.
8.5 It is often useful to provide information on the different classes of user that can be expected on the route. If levels of use are high, it may be advisable to provide some educational material such as clear codes for ‘give way’ procedures and behaviour by different users, to minimise conflicts and path damage.
8.6 Access controls require careful design to prohibit motorcycles and quadbikes, yet allow others to pass. Where problems of illegal access are severe it may be necessary to issue keys for locked gates to some registered visitors (eg. disabled users).
8.7 Access should be as legally secure as possible for the all the different user groups. This may be achieved by using existing rights of way, statutory agreements, using carefully worded long-term permissive agreements, or considering land purchase.
8.8 Costs may be minimised by choosing paths with good existing surfaces and drainage and restricting expensive sealed surfaces to heavily used routes.
9.1 Specially designed and constructed shared use paths are well used, and a large majority of users do not have any serious complaints about the routes. The surface problems that have arisen seem to vary partly according to different levels of use, and partly according to construction specifications and standards. Unfortunately, there is very little comparative data on user numbers by which to establish how closely numbers are related to surface problems on shared use paths.
9.2 Many potential user conflicts depend on the path width, intensity of use by different groups and on use by irresponsible minorities of users. Low levels of use by individuals who follow user codes on wide paths may mean conflicts never arise.
9.3 The outstanding problems faced by shared use path managers are the prevention of motorcycle access to routes, a suitable means of avoiding unacceptable levels of path damage to some unsealed surfaces by heavy horse use, and the potential landscape intrusion of sealed path surfaces in rural environments which may be needed to withstand high levels of use. All three potential problems arise from high levels of use, and it is possible that, in most parts of Scotland, they may not generate any serious management problems.
Detailed construction specifications are given in publications by Sustrans, and other details can be supplied by existing path managers, by the British Horse Society and the Fieldfare Trust.
British Horse Society, 1996. A guide to the surfacing of Bridleways and horse tracks
Countryside Commission, 1985, Bridleway Management - A Handbook based on Hertfordshire's experience. CCP, 189. Cheltenham.
Rogers, S. 1995. Pennine Way Bridleway Design Guide In press, Countryside Commission, Cheltenham.
Sustrans, 1995. Making ways for the bicycle
Sustrans, 1996. National Cycle Network Guidelines and practical details
Sustrans, 1996. Shared use routes. Information Sheet 4.
Transport Research Laboratory, 1993. Cycling in pedestrian areas Project Report 15, Department of Transport
Weaver, T. and Dale, D. (1978). Trampling effects of hikers, motorcycles and horses in meadows and forests. Journal of Applied Ecology 15, 451-457
Appendix 1 - Path managers interviewed
Managers or others involved in the following paths were consulted:
Appendix 2 - Surfacing materials
A sealed surface may be required where levels of use are high, and on access ramps where loose material may be a safety hazard.
Woodchips or bark chips. These are relatively expensive, but suitable for horses on dry bridleways with a firm base. 100 - 225mm are needed, and, as they eventually rot or blow away, they need topping up at least annually.
Appendix 3 - Maintenance tasks
Appendix 4 - Costs
Capital costs for constructing shared use paths in the 1990s have ranged from around £7,500 per km to £50,000 per km. The lower end of this range would be appropriate for a 2m wide stone dust path on a railway route with good pre-existing drainage facilities. The higher end of the range represents a wider path in a situation such as a field margin, where more construction works are necessary. Many path managers have used volunteer labour to cut down on capital construction costs.
Maintenance costs range from £250 to £1250 per km per annum depending on circumstances such as levels of use, path width and surface resilience. £5-600 is a typical sum for a stone dust path.