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Public Roads - Autumn 2017

Autumn 2017
Issue No:
Vol. 81 No. 3
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Getting Around Town

by Daniel Goodman

A new guide from FHWA can help small communities and rural areas build multimodal transportation networks that benefit users of all ages and abilities.


Diane Banta, National Park Service Rivers,
Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program

These bicyclists are traveling on the Constitution Trail, a shared use path that runs through Bloomington and Normal, IL.


In rural communities and small towns across the United States, walking and bicycling for transportation are part of everyday life. People walk to grocery and convenience stores, children bike to school and to their friends’ houses, and others park their cars and then walk to the businesses on their town’s “Main Street.” Some people walk and bicycle for transportation by choice, and others do so because it is their only option to get to their jobs and other necessities. According to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, nearly 10 million households, or almost 9 percent of the total in the United States, do not have access to a motor vehicle.


Source: FHWA

Around 19 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but nearly half of all roadway fatalities occur in rural areas.


People in rural areas face unique challenges in getting around, especially those who do not drive. Destinations are farther apart, and dedicated infrastructure (for example, sidewalks and bike lanes) is often not available, which can make walking and bicycling difficult and uncomfortable. In these cases, pedestrians and bicyclists are sharing the roadway with motor vehicles and there may not be a crosswalk or a traffic signal to help them cross the road for miles.

In part because of these challenges, rural areas are overrepresented when it comes to traffic fatalities and serious injuries. Although only 19 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, 49 percent of all traffic fatalities and serious injuries occur in those areas.

And notably, although overall roadway fatalities declined 25 percent from 2005 to 2014, pedestrian fatalities as a percentage of those total fatalities rose from 11 percent to 15 percent and bicyclist fatalities rose from 1.8 percent to 2.2 percent. With additional increases in pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities in 2015 and 2016, nearly one out of five roadway fatalities in the United States involve a person walking or biking.

Everyone deserves to be able to get to and from work, school, and other necessities safely. One way to improve safety, while meeting the transportation and mobility needs of people in rural and small town areas, is to build connected networks of multimodal infrastructure that enable all travelers to reach where they need to go safely and comfortably. The Federal Highway Administration offers a guide, Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks (FHWA-HEP-17-024), for practitioners developing and promoting multimodal networks in small and rural communities.

Building Connected Networks

Connected multimodal networks in rural areas make walking and bicycling a viable transportation choice. They improve safety for everyone by organizing the roadway environment and enhancing visibility and predictability. The network may have varying facilities that appeal to a range of ages and abilities, such as shared use paths, sidewalks, and bike lanes.

These facilities also provide equitable transportation for people of all ages and income levels. They promote independence for young people, and they can enable older people to age in place. They also enhance access to jobs, an especially important consideration given that unemployment rates in rural areas are consistently higher than those in urban areas or nationwide.

Multimodal networks in rural areas share some common features and attributes with networks in urban and suburban areas. For example, a small town’s main street can function like an urban space even if it is only a few blocks long. The space requires sidewalks, onstreet parking, and accommodations for deliveries to local businesses. Also important is the high demand for pedestrian crossing opportunities and a clear safety rationale to actively manage the speed of motor vehicle traffic.

A “one-stoplight town” may have only a few business establishments clustered together, but that signalized intersection is functioning like a suburban or urban place, serving many purposes and travelers throughout the day and night. In many small towns and rural communities, active transportation–any self-propelled, human-powered mode of transportation–is even more common than it is in urban areas, but the roadway designs often favor high-speed motorized traffic.

Rural multimodal networks also have many unique features to overcome. For example, significant stretches between destinations often make it infeasible to build long expanses of sidewalk. As a result, people do more of their walking and biking on roadway shoulders in rural areas.

If a comfortable residential street feeds pedestrians out onto a State highway with cars going 60 miles (97 kilometers) per hour without a sidewalk or shoulder, that road is not a safe or viable route to get those walkers where they need to go. Likewise, if a high school sits on the outskirts of town on a road with fast traffic, with no dedicated multimodal facilities, and with no safe way to cross to the other side of the street, that highway is not going to meet the needs of the children and adults trying to get to and from school.

On the other hand, some residential streets are often comfortable for biking because of the low volume of cars. In this case, even if available space exists for a bike lane, no clear rationale exists for adding one. Context and function are important factors in meeting the needs of all travelers.


A connected network in a rural and small town setting is not simply a single trail, sidewalk, or bike lane. A connected network has many interconnected facilities that enhance access to key destinations, such as town centers, schools, bus stops, and stores, and support walking and bicycling throughout the community.


In most cases, people are unlikely to forego travel to key destinations because of these obstacles. They will travel out of necessity, but be less comfortable and potentially lesssafe. They might even create issues for drivers (for example, by crossing the road at unmarked locations, or taking the full lane on a road because there is no other safe travel option). For these reasons, a critical need for multimodal network connectivity exists in these situations.


Multimodal Networks in Action

Multimodal Network Principle Description of Network Principle Case Study Summary
Cohesion How connected and linked together is the network?

Pickens and Easley, SC

Photo: Alta Planning + Design.


A shared use path serves as a transportation and recreation corridor for residents and visitors, and enhances connectivity between the two communities. The city of Pickens developed bike lanes to connect to downtown Pickens. The city of Easley is extending the trail into its downtown and has provided bike lanes for alternate connections to Baptist Easley Hospital and cultural amenities.
Directness Does the network provide direct and convenient access to destinations?

Lyndonville, VT

Photo: Vermont Agency of Transportation.


The buffered bike lanes on Main Street in Lyndonville are part of a network of onstreet bike lanes and shared streets that connect the downtown businesses with residential streets and Lyndon State College.
Accessibility Does the network provide access to destinations for persons of all abilities?

Miles City, MT

Photo: Alta Planning + Design.


The sidewalk installed as part of this project in Miles City, MT, connects low-speed, low-volume neighborhood streets to a network of existing sidewalks in the area around Garfield Elementary School. It provides an accessible pedestrian route and a critical network link between homes, school, and a park.
Alternatives Does the network enable a range of route choices?

Manzanita, OR

Photo: Alta Planning + Design.


Manzanita’s local streets connect residences with the ocean, parks, and the downtown. The ability to use these shared local streets enables pedestrians and bicyclists to access all parts of the community.
Safety and Security Does the network provide routes that minimize risk of injury, danger, and crime?

Ennis, MT

Photo: Western Transportation Institute.


The facilities in Ennis connect neighborhoods to schools and businesses throughout the community. In this small town, residential streets that connect neighborhoods to schools can be shared by people walking, biking, and driving. Lighting and a clear view of the path ahead are important safety and security components.
Comfort Does the network appeal to a broad range of age and ability levels and is consideration given to user amenities?

Connellsville, PA

Photo: SaaraSnow, Adventure Cycling Association.


The separated bike lane, which appeals to a broader range of existing and potential bicyclists because of the separation from motor vehicles, is the connection of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) through Connellsville. Connellsville’s Bicycle Master Plan builds off this key element in establishing a broader network that will connect people on bikes from the trail to businesses across the city and Connellsville residents to the GAP.


FHWA’s Guide

In 2017, FHWA published a resource to help rural and small town communities plan, design, and implement safe and comfortable multimodal networks. The Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks guide focuses on the concept of connected networks that meet the needs of everyone in a rural and small town context.

The guide helps communities visualize multimodal networks appropriate to the land use setting. It provides a toolbox of facility types that, when thoughtfully pieced together, will make up a connected network for pedestrians and bicyclists. The facilities, which are tailored to rural land use and roadway characteristics, build on existing national design guidelines, while also recognizing geographic and fiscal constraints in rural areas and the need for design flexibility.

The guide will help agencies identify and implement incremental improvements, often in retrofit situations, which will enhance safety, access, and mobility.

“The Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks guide is serving as a primer for the Commonwealth’s towns and villages looking to maximize their return on investment,” says Peter Sutton, bicycle and pedestrian program coordinator at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.


FHWA's Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks report is a resource and idea book intended to help small towns and rural communities support safe, accessible, comfortable, and active travel for people of all ages and abilities.


FHWA's report provides design information for a variety of facility types applicable to small town and rural settings, such as the paved shoulder example shown here. It builds on existing national design guidance, encourages innovation, and highlights case studies from small towns and rural communities throughout the United States.


Types of Tools

The guide presents the toolbox of pedestrian and bicyclefacility types in three categories:mixed traffic, visually separated,and physically separated.

The mixed traffic category includes “yield roadways,” which serve all users in a slow speed travel area. This design is common in rural neighborhoods today. The category includes bike boulevards, which prioritize the operation of bicycles within roadways that are shared with motor vehicles, and it includes an innovative facility called advisory shoulders. The advisory shoulder creates a useable shoulder for bicyclists on a roadway that is otherwise too narrow to accommodate one by providing a delineated but nonexclusive space. Because it is a new treatment, the advisory shoulder requires a request to experiment from FHWA, which is a formal process for evaluating safety and operational conditions before and after installation.

Visually separated facilities include paved shoulders and bike lanes. As with all facility types, the guide provides information on speed, volume, and land use considerations tailored to the rural context. It also offers details on geometric designs covering topics such as rumble strip placement and the treatment of shoulders at intersections.


This image from the Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks guide shows how sidewalks should be physically separated from the roadway by an unpaved buffer separation, barrier, or curb edge.


The physically separated category includes shared use paths, sidepaths (bidirectional shared use paths located immediately adjacent and parallel to a roadway), sidewalks, and separated bike lanes. For shared use paths, the guide includes detailed information about designing safe roadway crossings. For sidepaths, the publication has information on designing for the transition from a sidepath to a paved shoulder. The guide also provides information on the frontage zone (adjacent to the property line, to enable people to enter and exit buildings), pedestrian through zone (for pedestrian activity and wide enough for two people to walk side by side), and furnishing zone (closest to the street, to provide space for mailboxes, signs, light poles, and other utilities) of sidewalks, and detailed guidance on signs and markings throughout.

Some information provided in the guide supplements previously available resources from FHWA. The guide demonstrates how rural areas can implement separated bike lanes, building on FHWA’s 2015 Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide (FHWA-HEP-15-025). It also highlights the appropriate application of design flexibility and in doing so builds on FHWA’s Achieving Multimodal Networks (FHWA-HEP-16-055) guide.

In addition to detailed planning and design information about multimodal facility types, the guide highlights opportunities to enhance safety (for example, by improving multimodal school connections and implementing speed management techniques). Guide users also receive extensive information about addressing network connectivity, and the publication demonstrates how to achieve these improvements as a part of the transportation planning and delivery process.

A Changing Perspective

People have always walked and biked for transportation in small towns and rural areas. The challenge for transportation practitioners today is to identify and implement strategic improvements to enhance safety for everyone, including those who are traveling on foot and by bike.


Multimodal networks are achieved through the State and locally led transportation planning process, which includes a broad range of activities and products.


Transportation professionals across the country are adopting a multimodal network perspective that does not treat individual projects as standalone activities, but rather as pieces of a broader multimodal network. They recognize that such a network is critical for people to access jobs, schools, and other destinations, and to get where they need to go safely and comfortably regardless of which transportation mode they use.

Accommodating all travelers promotes transportation system efficiency, economic development, and even tourism in some locations. A transportation system that works for everyone also leverages other investments, for example in bridges and transit, and it serves as a market-driven response to transportation priorities.

“Our goal with the Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks guide,” says Gloria Shepherd, associate administrator for planning, environment, and realty with FHWA, “is to meet State and local demand and address the transportation needs of all people.”


Tom Robertson, Adventure Cycling Association

Networks are interconnected pedestrian and bicycle transportation facilities that enable people of all ages and abilities to get to where they want to go safely and conveniently.


Daniel Goodman is a transportation specialist in the Office of Human Environment at FHWA. He leads the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program and oversees FHWA’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Work Group.

For more information, contact Daniel Goodman at 202–366–9064 or