Shared Use Routes
Shared use routes accommodate more then one type of user: for example bridleways are open to pedestrians, equestrians and cyclists; byways are open to pedestrians, equestrians, cyclists and motorised transport (restricted byways do not include motorised vehicles).
Multi-use may give rise to potential conflicts although research has shown that conflict is actually a rare occurrence on off-road routes. It is the perception of conflict that has become more of an issue than any actual conflict. Research by the Countryside Agency concluded that the act of discussing the topic of conflict escalates people's perception that conflict exists.
It is expected that a sustainable multi-use route built on a byway or bridleway will have a high standard of surface that can accommodate pushchairs, wheel chairs, horses, pedestrians and cycles. A rural byway may have lower usage expectations and therefore a less expensive surface material could be used.
There are two means of accommodating multi-use.
- Shared Construction — All users of the path pass over the same material.
- Dual Construction — Two discrete surfaces, normally a hard surface that can accommodate vehicular use and a more yielding surface for horses and livestock. It therefore allows different users' needs to be met more precisely. This approach is more costly and can only be considered where width permits.
Key user groups have ideal surfaces but these ideals cannot always be accommodated in full on multi-use routes. The Waste and Resources Action Programme has done significant work for multi-use routes using recycled rubber from tyres.
Able-bodied pedestrians can be expected to negotiate a variety of surfaces from the natural ground surface to a sealed pathway.
Highway Authorities have a duty to regard the need of disabled and blind when executing works, etc (HA80 s175A). This could include making changes to the texture or colour of the path surface to give clues to people who are blind or partially sighted. Any changes must be smooth and level with a surface difference no greater than 5mm.
Grates and manhole covers should only be used if the gaps between the grilles are no more than 12mm and the grilles are at right angles to the direction of travel.
The casual cyclist can be assumed to have little off-road experience or capability and therefore could expect a reasonably smooth surface with few loose stones.
The level of provision is concerned with the needs of the casual cyclist, particularly children and novices, rather than the fast-moving commuter or mountain biker seeking demanding terrain. A well-drained beaten earth track is suitable for most types of cycling. Where a surface is provided it should be smooth and skid resistant. Any grilles must have the slots aligned across the route and any changes in surfacing should be flush. The general aim is for a surface which does not threaten stability, which provides a comfortable ride and which is passable in all weathers.
Riders will always prefer a natural (beaten earth) or grassed track as these surfaces do not jar horses' legs. However, where this is not possible sand or wood chips are preferred for bridleway surfaces. The success of such surfacing depends on the quality of the construction and the drainage provision. Provided these routes are well drained and the volume of horse traffic is sufficiently low to enable drying out of the surface between periods of rainfall there is no reason why the many miles of bridleway, so formed, cannot continue to provide good service.
CRN 96 — "On the right track: surface requirements for shared use routes" is a research note containing a summary of good practice guidance to help in the selection of the most appropriate surfacing for shared use routes. It is intended to be used by any organisation or individual responsible for shared use route construction, maintenance and use.
The main Guide of the same title (CA 213 produced by Natural England) includes a decision-making framework to help identify which surfacings are needed for shared use routes and when, and where, they should or should not be used. The Guide builds on existing, respected sources of technical design advice for the construction and maintenance of shared use routes.
The CSS SW Group report on bridleways includes sections on shared use routes including conflict and perceived conflict, and advice on surface designs.
A useful general publication on route standards is "Rural routes and Networks" produced by the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Countryside Agency.