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2 May 2017
Case Study: Optimizing Trail Widths in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
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Sizing trail widths to maximize safety and minimize conflicts is a process that benefits from accurate data. The number of trail users and the mix of transportation modes is important information when it comes to determining trail widths.

City of Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation uses six automatic counters to record the number of cyclists and pedestrians on local trails. “In Sioux Falls we have over 30 miles of shared use trails, including a 20-mile continuous loop that circles the city,” explains Mike Patten, Park Development Specialist. This past year, one million trail users were counted.

Accurate data on how many cyclists and pedestrians use the trail loop has proved invaluable. MULTI counters differentiate between cyclists and pedestrians, as well as direction of travel. “In an area where we have a lot of usage by both pedestrians and cyclists, we size a trail a lot wider,” states Patten.

“Counts have really allowed us to hone in on the correct size for the trails, and it’s been very beneficial for us,” explains Michael Patten, Park Development Specialist.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Best Practices Design Guide,  ensuring appropriate shared-use path widths is one of several ways to reduce conflicts between different trail user groups. A Shared-Use Path Level of Service Calculator is available from the FHWA to help guide the process of determining path widths, but there exists little further substantive guidance.

“Counts have really allowed us to hone in on the correct size for the trails, and it’s been very beneficial for us,” explains Michael Patten. Inputting year-round volume and mode data into the Shared-Use Path Level of Service Calculator creates accurate models. “We’ve been able to narrow down how wide our trails should be based on usage by our community,” says Patten.


Average hourly count data shows pedestrian traffic in green is higher in the morning on a trail than cyclist traffic in grey. This trend reverses in the afternoon.

The benefits of count data go beyond determining trail widths, from helping to plan trail reconstruction projects to locating new access points and trails spur expansions. Knowing when higher pedestrian or cyclist traffic occurs is pertinent to overall trail operations and maintenance.

Seasonal trends can also be determined. In Sioux Falls, pedestrian traffic is more predominant in winter and cyclist traffic is more predominant in summer. Overall, count data has helped to avoid assumptions regarding the use of the trails.

Want to learn about other applications of trail user count data? Read Great Rivers Greenway’s story on how pedestrian and cyclist data was used to demonstrate the value of a greenway network, quantify the impact of new infrastructure, and reveal trends in peak traffic.

Photo credit: City of Sioux Falls

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