Shared footpaths, walking trails & boardwalks

Outdoor and indoor sport and recreation settings vary considerably in their design, size, use and location, from the venue for a chess game, to a football ground.

This section contains principles that can be interpreted and adapted to suit the outdoor recreation setting of shared footpaths, walking trails and boardwalks.

This setting is described in terms of its role and use, outlining design principles to consider and to support use by everyone. Universal design key requirements and minimum standard access dimensions for specific elements relating to facilities and installations are provided for design that will assist in maximising the effective use of all areas.

The universal design key requirements have been developed as an easy to access checklist of issues to consider and the minimum access dimensions are based on the Australian Standards for Access and Mobility. While these Standards relate to the requirements of people with a range of access challenges and disabilities, they often generally improve access for all people.

Shared footpaths, walking trails and boardwalks

Shared footpaths and trails are used by both cyclists and pedestrians. They are often beside rivers, beaches or in parks and may be used by a large number of people, including users of mobility aids such as prams, strollers, scooters, wheelchairs and assistance animals at any one time.

Circular walking trails are preferable to linear paths because one-way traffic reduces the need for people to pass each other. They can also provide new experiences throughout the entire walk, rather than the same scene on the return journey.

Walking trails should be designed to take people to the most scenic spots, and will vary in length and complexity.

A boardwalk is a raised pathway, often made from timber or metal decking materials, and installed through significant terrain to provide easy access for everyone.

Boardwalks are ideal where the ground is rough or where the natural environment is fragile and needs to be protected from foot or vehicular traffic. They can provide effective temporary access for a venue such as a concert, or be used to allow vegetation to regenerate. They are also useful in areas that are permanently or seasonally damp and soft or for access to areas high above the ground surface, for example, over mud or sand or through tree top viewing areas.

In some areas boardwalks will become bridges as they traverse gullies, creeks and broken or rough surfaces. They require access for everyone and must incorporate appropriate kerbs, hand rails and step free and slip resistant surfaces in both wet and dry conditions.


An overrhead view of a universally designed shared pathway setting.Figure 1: An example of a shared pathway setting

  1. Seating connected to, but set back from a path by a minimum of 500mm
  2. Footpaths that are wide enough to allow pedestrians, bicycle or other mobility aid users to access the pathways safely.
  3. The surface, edges and shoulders of pathways must be consistent and suitable for use by everyone. A firm, level and slip resistant surface in both wet and dry conditions is recommended 

Design principles

The following key design principles should be considered when developing or upgrading shared footpaths, walking trails and boardwalks.

Location of walking trails and boardwalks

Consideration should be given to the provision of appropriate access to all shared paths for everyone, not simply those parts that are easiest to access. Access for pedestrians, cyclists and users of a range of mobility aids is necessary. Entry points to these shared areas should be easily identifiable and located close to any entry points of facilities in which they are located such as a park.

Width of paths

Consideration should be given to the expected usage of the pathway in the design phase, to ensure an adequate width is provided for all users.

The shared footpath, walking trail or boardwalks must be wide enough to allow pedestrians, bicycles or other mobility aid users to access the pathways safely and cater for simultaneous passing and overtaking, so that all speeds of traffic can flow without obstruction.

Consideration must be given to the needs of groups of people who may use the area at any one time. This will create congestion and pathways must be wide enough so that people are not forced off to the sides by faster traffic.

Specific areas for passing should be incorporated along pathways if a wide pathway cannot be provided for the entire length.

Gradient of paths

The approach to a pathway should incorporate level entry and avoid the use of ramps with steep gradients.

Steep slopes and excessive cross slopes will restrict access for many people. Where it is not possible to avoid these, consideration should be given to the provision of handrails and kerbs to assist users, as well as seating at regular intervals along the sides of the pathways for people who may need to rest.

Where a boardwalk is designed to be a bridge, easy to grip handrails, kerbs and safety barriers should be provided on both sides.

Surface of paths

The surface, edges and shoulders of pathways must be consistent and suitable for use by everyone. A firm, level and slip resistant surface in both wet and dry conditions is recommended.

Trip hazards can be reduced when consideration is given to minimising the space between planks, for example, wooden or metal ones, on the ground surface.

Information on shared paths

Safety of pedestrians, moving without the support of motorised mobility aids is paramount. It should be clear through signage and other information that this is the case. Designating specific usage zones on wider pathways will support the safety of users and assist with wayfinding. In addition, use of contrasting edges on pathways and the designation of specific usage zones, should be provided.

Signs should be installed at the beginning, end and at regular intervals along the pathway. They should contain relevant information to advise users of how the pathways are to be used, the degree of difficulty and the type of path surface and terrain they will encounter.

Use of international symbols on signs can assist tourists as well as people who may have difficulty reading. There is an international symbol for access or deafness that can be used to identify accessible elements where appropriate. 

Consideration should also be given to information provision for people who may have vision or hearing limitations so they are aware of how the shared pathways are designed to be used, for example, a sign that directs users of bicycles to 'ring their bell' to alert pedestrians of their approach, may not assist a pedestrian with hearing limitations, so alternatives should be considered, such as clearly designated walking and cycling areas.

Provision of information will assist everyone to make informed decisions about how they may or may not choose to use the shared pathways.

Rest areas

Rest areas are particularly important on longer walking trails. Seating with backs and arm rests at regular intervals along a pathway, as well as some shade or shelter over some of these areas, will increase accessibility for everyone. Rest and seating areas should be provided off, but connected to, the pathway. Where possible, ensure the rest area has an adjoining level surface, to allow users to deposit backpacks and locate strollers onto the ground while they sit and rest.


Effective, glare free lighting should be provided on shared pathways that are likely to be used at night. This includes along the pathways, at seating and rest areas, entrances and exits points as well as areas that may pose a safety risk, such as at pedestrian and vehicle conflict areas and road crossing points.

Environmental suitability

Human intervention in some remote or natural areas should be sympathetic to the natural environment or the specific character of the location. In sensitive areas compromises may be necessary. Provision of wider pathways may not be possible and single - file tracks will be necessary. Consideration should be given to the provision of passing areas along these tracks.


Footpaths, walking trails and boardwalks should be well maintained and free of debris and other hazards. The effects of erosion must be monitored as well as changes due to high usage and varying weather conditions so that approaches and path surfaces do not become inaccessible.

Information should be provided to users if significant changes are expected to the condition of a path or trail, for example, snow, fallen debris and maintenance works.

Temporary pathway surfaces may also need to be installed during these times if the pathways are to remain open to everyone.

Checklist of key elements

Consideration must be given to universal design on shared footpaths, walking trails and boardwalks relating to a wide range of key elements.

In relation to shared footpaths, walking trails and boardwalks the key elements include:

Paths of travel

Entrances and exits

Toilets, showers and change rooms

Aquatic recreation areas


Communication and information

In addition, specific consideration should be given to shared footpaths, walking trails and boardwalks relating to:

  • location
  • width
  • gradient
  • surface
  • signs
  • rest areas
  • environmental suitability
  • maintenance.