Trails can range from smooth pathways in public parks to rugged routes across open countryside, in mountainous areas or through forests. Some environments can be welcoming and easy to traverse while others can present challenges for the visitor, particularly for people who have a disability.
Greenways are traffic-free routes for use by pedestrians and cyclists. They are often established along an existing corridor such as a canal bank or disused railway line. They generally have low gradients and a smooth surface and provide an amenity suitable for people of all abilities.
Public Parks are environments that are designed and laid out for recreation purposes often including amenities such as pathways, playgrounds, picnic areas and coffee shops.
This section considers how accessibility can be built into the design and management of trails, greenways and public parks including any facilities such as picnic areas and playgrounds that are provided on-site. Given that Greenways are a type of trail and a large part of the attraction of Public Parks are the trails they contain, trails are a major focus in this section.
Accessible Trails. Where trails are appropriately designed and managed they may be shared-use and capable of facilitating a range of users including walkers, cyclists, buggy users and, in many instances, people who have disabilities. Such trails are sometimes known as Multi-Access or Challenging Access Trails.
4.1 Classification and Grading of Trails
Typically the sections of a walking trail are ‘classified’ based on the surface, width and gradient of the trail. The Sport Ireland document ‘Classification and Grading for Recreational Trails’ provides further details on the classification of trails from Class 1 to 5. The ‘Grade’ of a trail is then determined based on the length of the trail that is made up of each Class.
A Multi-Access Trail is defined as one which is Class 1 throughout its length and has no obstacles such as gates, steps or stiles. A Class 1 Trail has a firm surface and is flat and wide. (See ‘Classification and Grading for Recreational Trails’ ). The goal of a trail designer providing an accessible trail should be to comply with the requirements of a Class 1 trail.
Challenging Access Trail.
It is recognised that due to the surrounding terrain or other environmental factors it may not be physically possible to comply with all of the guidelines related to surface, gradient or width as required for a Multi-Access Trail. For example, a trail which has some sections of Class 2 trail may also be considered accessible but slightly more challenging for some users. A Class 2 section of trail can be narrower, may not be quite as smooth and may have slightly steeper gradients. To deal with this situation these guidelines are recommending a trail called a Challenging Access Trail.
So, in summary, the following descriptions would be used;
Will include only Class 1 trails
These are flat, smooth trails with no obstacles such as gates, steps, stiles. Regular outdoor footwear can be worn when accessing these routes.
- Challenging Access:
Can include a mixture of Class 1 and Class 2 Trails
These are generally, flat smooth trails but may have a rougher surface and some gentle gradients. These trails are suitable to most users with a good level of fitness. Regular outdoor footwear can be worn when accessing these routes.
Accessible Trails can be described as Multi-Access and Challenging Access Trails or routes and the guidance within this section outlines design criteria for both.
The guidance within this section outlines design criteria for Multi-Access and Challenging Access trails.
The design criteria and guidance includes;
- Trail design
- Route Information
- Entrance and Exit Points
- Obstacles and Barriers
- On-site Support and Accessible Equipment 
- Picnic Areas
The symbols below represent Multi-Access and Challenging Access routes which are proposed to identify two levels of accessibility.
Challenging Access Symbol
4.2 Use of Symbols
These guidelines propose the use of the internationally recognised wheelchair symbols to identify the two levels of accessibility on trails/routes as follows;
When displaying this symbol the following criteria should apply:
› Accessible route from parking to the trail.
› Fully accessible trail.
› Little or no gradient.
› Flat /smooth surfacing i.e.concrete, tarmac, bitumen macadam.
› No steps.
› No obstacles.
When displaying this symbol the following criteria should apply:
› Accessible but more challenging trail.
› More significant gradients at some locations.
› Surface may not be as firm e.g. use of gravel/quarry dust.
› May be narrower.
› No steps.
› No obstacles.
These symbols should be located at the beginning of a trail and at all access points. They should also be used in conjunction with directional arrows at trail junctions when used for waymarking the trail. The use of these symbols will ensure that the accessible trail and designated route can be clearly determined and followed. This information allows people with disabilities to make an informed choice to follow a specific trail.
Please note: Warning should be given where the accessibility along a trail disimproves so that the trail is no longer accessible.
4.3 Design Criteria for Accessibility on Trails, Greenways and in Public Parks
The design of an accessible trail should allow good access and facilitate everyone. The trail should be designed and set out in a manner to avoid hazards and allow all users a safe opportunity to enjoy variable terrain while visiting various outdoor environments.
The following design criteria should apply:
- Parking. Accessible parking bays and set down areas should be provided at the trailhead/access point.
- Level Access from the parking area to the route/s adjacent to the trail and leading to any on-site facility.
- Public Accessible WCs/ WC Changing Place Facility. Locate adjacent to the trailhead/access point.
- Multi-Access and Challenging Access route surfacing. The surface should be firm, compact, stable, non-slip, and obstacle-free. Additional details are provided within the specific section on surfacing that follows this section.
- Level and sloping surfaces on Multi-Access Routes.
The ideal situation for all sections of a multi-access trail is that it is completely flat – 0% gradient. Always choose the option of providing the least slope. The surface on Multi-Access Routes should be level. A surface gradient of 1:40 – 1:50 is considered level while allowing for drainage of surface water. Where slopes are unavoidable the gradient should always be as smooth as possible and no steeper than 1:21 (5%) for short distances i.e. no more than 10m in any one section and no more than 2 consecutive sections at any location. Ensure a 1500mm length landing is available between sections and provide handrails on both sides of the sloped ground.
- Surface gradients on Challenging-Access Routes.
These routes may be a bit undulating but should not have gradients any steeper than 1:15 (7%) for short distances i.e. a maximum length of 5m between landings with a maximum rise of 333mm in any one section. Ensure the availability of 1500mm length landings between sections and no more than 2 consecutive sections at any location.
A slope gradient of 1:15 (7%) is considered a ramp and therefore should include handrails/adjacent steps etc. as described in Section 7 Some people may like to challenge themselves on more difficult routes and /or to use off-road mobility equipment.
A steeper slope gradient of 1:12 (8%) is not recommended and is only acceptable in very exceptional circumstances when no other options are available or possible and only for a very short distance i.e. a maximum length of 2m with a maximum rise of 166mm.
A slope gradient of 1:12 is still considered a ramp and therefore should include handrails/adjacent steps etc. as described in Section 7 of this guide.
Many people using manual wheelchairs will require assistance on a 1:15 (7%) or a 1:12 (8%) slope gradient and also on a 1:21 or 1:20 (5%) slope gradient if the route has more than 1 section.
- Width. The width of the trail should be 2000mm to allow two wheelchair users to pass each other safely. A path width of 1500mm accommodates a wheelchair user and another person walking alongside. A minimum path width for a wheelchair user to traverse without another person walking alongside is 1200mm and is only suitable for very short distances.
- Upstand. Edge protection such as a raised kerb of at least 150mm in height should be provided on both sides of the route which also acts as a “tipping rail” to assist a person with a visual impairment who is using a cane, with waymarkin. Alternatively providing a different surface type along the sides of any trail to create a divergence in colour and texture can also act as a guiding strip for people with a visual impairment.
- Passing Spaces. That allow two wheelchair users to pass each other should be provided on routes that are less than 2000mm in width and where the overall route length is greater than 25m. Passing spaces in the external environment should be 2000mm in depth and 2000mm in width and located within direct sight of another passing space.
- Headroom. Clear headroom height of 2300mm should be maintained along the trail/track route, free from overhanging branches and vegetation.
- Railings. Should be positioned at all steep parts of a route, in places where the path is higher than the adjoining ground, along cliff edging and other hazardous sections where there may be a risk of a person falling and being injured.
- Rest Areas/Seating /Shelters. Rest/seating areas should be placed at regular intervals i.e. distances of 100m apart. Where possible combine shelters and rest areas and also position seating at scenic locations. Provide a tactile cue, possibly a consistent change of surfacing/colour on the approach to each seating location in order to alert people who have a visual impairment.
- Seating Type. Seating should be placed back from the main route by at least 600mm to allow others to move freely past the seating area. Seating provided should be no lower than 450mm from ground level with a minimum of 450mm seat depth and with a heel space of 100mm to allow for easier rising from the seat. Armrests should be provided as they assist a person to sit into and to rise from the seat. Avoid sharp edges. A clear space of 1400mm in depth and 900mm is width is recommended adjacent to the seating to allow a person using a wheelchair to position alongside.
- Viewing points. Where a barrier is required at a viewing point for reasons of safety provide a perspex barrier at a height of 800-900mm from ground level. Ensure there are no bins or overgrown shrubbery blocking the view from a sitting height. Perspex should be maintained regularly and green algae should be removed as this will obstruct the view.
- Maintenance. Regular upkeep and maintenance will ensure that tracks and trails remain accessible for all users. To help ensure trails are well managed and maintained, trail management standards have been published by Sport Ireland. 
Slopes that have a gradient steeper than 1:21 are considered ramps and require specific design elements including the provision of adjacent steps which are favoured by some people who have a mobility impairment. Section 7 of this guide gives design guidance for ramp design.
The surface of a trail should be firm, compact, stable, non-slip and obstacle free. The surface should also be free from severe erosion and drainage problems. On an accessible trail, it should be suitably drained so that it is not waterlogged or muddy at any point along the route.
- Suitable surfacing materials for Multi-Access trails. The surface should be firm, compact, stable, nonslip and obstacle free. It should also be free from severe erosion and drainage problems. Under normal conditions, it should not be waterlogged, have extended sections which are boggy or have deep mud along the route. Suitable materials include: concrete, tarmac, bitumen macadam, dust binding, timber and brick/paving. Timber requires treatment with a slip-resistant surfacing. When wood is used it should be un-planed and placed at right angles to the direction of travel while ensuring there are no gaps between the timber boards. The surface should not be slippery in either dry or wet conditions.
- Unsuitable surfacing materials for Multi-Access trails include: sand, loose gravel, woodchips, and cobbles. Loose material is very unsuitable and there should be very little or no loose material on the trail. Even very small loose particles can make a path slippery for people with poor balance. Loose particles should not exceed 5mm in size.
- Surfacing materials for Challenging-Access trails.Include a surface that is textured with slight inclines. Materials may include loose gravel, woodchips, and grass. Surface Colour. Light coloured surfacing is preferable as it diverges in colour from the surrounding landscape and can aid in wayfinding for people who have a visual impairment.
- Drainage. Standing water can be hazardous for some users. Ensure good drainage to prevent surface materials being dislodged. Regular rolling and infilling are required to prevent loose materials gathering or potholes developing.
- Maintenance. Regular review and maintenance will ensure that trails and routes remain accessible for all users.
4.5 Information Display Boards
Information Display Boards are essential elements in providing adequate information to direct visitors towards and along trails and routes. Information Display Boards provide a visitor with information on facilities available, the use of any waymarking system, features of interest or give warnings about hazards along routes.
Revert to section 3 for complete guidance on the design of Information Display Boards.
“Seating made available at regular intervals during walking trails.”
– Quote from National Online Survey 2017
4.6 Route Information
Information should be presented in a variety of ways i.e. both online and on-site, to provide users with information regarding accessibility levels so that people planning a visit to the site can know what facilities are provided in advance of their visit.
Route information and waymarking should be clearly provided on an Information Display Board at the beginning of a trail, at junction points and at regular intervals along the trail. This will ensure the preferred route direction is always clear, that direction is given on accessibility as well as notification of any route change or change of accessibility.
Consider also providing an audio guide alongside the Information Display Board that can be activated by a push button device or alternatively by using headphones.
To Note: Warning should always be given where the accessibility along a trail disimproves so that the trail is no longer accessible.
Route information presented on the Information Display Board at the start of a trail should detail the following:
- Supports. Any on-site supports that are available i.e. audio/guided tour, and if guide/assistance dogs are permitted.
- Access Level. Is it a Multi-Access or Challenging Access trail.
- Grade and length of the trail/route and estimated completion time including whether the route is a linear or circular route and any viewpoint or places of interest along the route.
- Seating. Location of rest areas and where seating is provided.
- Notifications of any obstacles and barriers where a trail traverses open/exposed terrain or where there are stepped/steep slopes and whether there are alternative routes available.
- Waymarking. Information on the Waymarking System that is used along the trail including the use of the wheelchair symbols.
- Waymarking provided on the trail, particularly at junctions, indicates the route direction, level of access and distance. Where there are multiple trails in the same area, markers must be coloured or numbered differently for each trail so that each route can be clearly identified. The use of the wheelchair symbols indicates that the route is accessible as a Multi-Access or Challenging Access trail. All routes should be waymarked from both directions so that people can retrace their steps.
- Emergency and other contacts. Contact phone number/email for users to contact emergency services, to provide feedback and/or report incidents or concerns about the trail.
For futher reference please see: https://www.irishtrails.ie/Sport_Ireland_Trails/Publications/Management_Standards_Access.pdf
The guiding principle of access for all is to choose the least restrictive option so that access through entrance and exit points is as easy as possible for everyone including people with limited strength and restricted manual dexterity. All gates/gaps should be sufficiently wide to allow a person using a wheelchair/mobility scooter to easily gain entry to a trail. Consider quick fix options of replacing an inappropriate gate or stile with a more suitable gate type or create an open entrance. Always provide an alternate entrance where vehicle barrier poles are located.
The following design criteria should apply:
- Gate/Gap widthA clear opening width of 1000mm for a gate or gap is required to allow entrance to a person using a wheelchair/scooter. Provide 500mm clear space on the latch side of any gate.
- Gate OpeningMechanism. The self-closing two-way gate system on a Milton Keynes Gate enables this gate to be simply opened in either direction by pedestrians or people using wheelchairs. Latches on gates should be visible and usable from both sides of the gates. A Crosbie Gate can also be a good alternative while a 'Kissing Gate' would not be recommended as its use is complicated for a person using a wheelchair. The design of a Kissing Gate suitable for use by a wheelchair user would allow entry to other vehicles where such gates are often intended to restrict access.
- Latches should be easily used requiring minimal strength and dexterity, twist, pinching or pulling to operate. Latches should be placed no higher than 1200mm to ensure that people seated in a wheelchair can reach them.
- Bollards. Where used should be a minimum of 1000mm in height, 250mm in width and contrast with the background in colour and tone. A High Vis Collar should be placed around the top end of the bollard to identify the bollard to a person with vision impairment. Adjacent bollards should not be linked with a chain or rope of any type. There should be a minimum gap of 900mm between adjacent bollards.
4.8 Obstacles and Barriers
Obstacles on trails/routes may occur. Where an obstacle occurs the preferred solution is to alter the route or to achieve a safely manageable alternate route. The following obstacles and barriers may occur and accessible solutions may have to be innovatively designed and creatively achieved wherever possible:
- Natural blockages may define routes. Such as heavy duty rocks, trees etc.
- Narrow passages. Shrubbery, gradients, rocks and logs may be present. Ensure a minimum track/trail width of 1200mm, preferably 1500mm, within such locations.
- Erosion may occur and resurfacing of sections of the track/trail may be regularly required. Consider if drainage is an option.
- Protruding vegetation and obstacles should be secured and should be maintained regularly so as not to encroach onto the track/trail.
- Bridges. Where the slope on the approach route to and over the bridge is very steep, consider if an alternative route is possible.
- Prevent water ponding and flooding by the installation of suitable drainage.
4.9 On-Site Equipment and Support
Many people with disabilities may have limited mobility and specific equipment can ensure increased participation in outdoor activities. On some outdoor sites, public parks and visitor centres there may be equipment e.g. bicycles/other, available for public use. Consideration should be given to also having dual use accessible equipment such as handcycles or disability-specific equipment, available at all such sites.
The following equipment may assist in supporting individuals to access the outdoor environment more freely;
Manual wheelchairs are the type of wheelchair that a person propels themselves without the assistance of a battery. Options include a self-propel wheelchair, which requires the user to push themselves, and a companion propelled wheelchair, which means that the person seated in the wheelchair is assisted by another person.
FreeWheel is a lightweight clamp-on attachment which quickly and easily attaches to the footrest of an existing wheelchair. The Freewheel allows the person to easily and safely traverse any rough terrain by raising the existing (small)front wheels that might catch or slow down on difficult terrain.
The forests have walks mapped out but the gateways into them are too narrow for my son's wheelchair".
– Quote from National Online Survey 2017
Powerpacks. The Powerpack is a two-wheeled power pack that converts a manual wheelchair into a powered chair. Manually wheeling over surfaces that are not smooth can be exremely effortful. Converting a manual chair to a powered chair can assist manual wheelchair users to access more trails for longer periods. The power pack is controlled with a handheld remote. Movement of the chair is operated by pressing the power button.
Dual-use Gym Equipment is outdoor accessible exercise equipment that is predominately found in public parks, playgrounds, and greenways. This dual use exercise equipment offers all users equal opportunity to exercise at their own leisure in the outdoors. Many of the pieces of equipment are designed to be used by both people standing and by a person seated in a wheelchair.
Hand Cycles. A handcycle is a type of bicycle that is propelled by the arms rather than the legs. Most hand cycles are tricycle in form, with two coasting rear wheels and one steerable powered front wheel. Despite usually having three wheels, they are also known as hand bikes.
Audio and Guided Tours. Consider providing pre-recorded audio tours and guided group tours on request.
4.10 Accessible Picnic areas on Greenways and Public Parks
Families and friends often venture to outdoor recreation areas with the specific intent to picnic. Accessible picnic elements facilitate the inclusion of park visitors. The provision of accessible picnic areas should be a consideration for all service providers. Providing accessible picnic elements such as tables can be an easy process especially since accessible picnic tables come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Universal Design Picnic Table
The following design criteria should apply:
- Provide information on the route Information Display Board of the location of accessible picnic areas.
- Provide route signage to identify locations of accessible picnic tables.
- Provide a firm and level surface leading to and around the picnic area that is clear, smooth and non-slip with an 1800mm accessibility zone around all sides of the table and bench unit.
- Avoid unsuitable surfaces such as cobbles, grass and loose gravel.
- The height of a picnic table should be between 750mm-800mm with clear knee space of 700mm beneath.
- Cantilevered ends on picnic tables facilitate wheelchair users.
- The seat height should be within 460-480mm from the ground and minimum depth of the seat should be 450mm. Ensure there is a section of the table with no permanent seating attached.
- The back support of the seat should be a minimum 455mm in height.
- The seating areas should provide a mixture of seating options i.e. some with backrests, some with armrests and some with both.
- Allow Space for more than one wheelchair user to position at the table.
- Place some accessible picnic sites in the shade for people who may be photosensitive.
4.11 Accessible Playground Areas on Greenways and in Public Parks
The CRPD, Article 30 (5d) specifically makes provision for children with disabilities to have access to play facilities, states: “Parties shall take appropriate measure to ensure that children with disabilities have equal access with other children to participation in play, recreation and leisure and sporting activities”.
A playground designed on the principles of Universal Design should be located on a level site with smooth, firm and non-slip surfacing. Play equipment should be carefully chosen to allow for social interaction and as many play items as possible should be usable by the broadest range of children. At least one play item within each of the main play activities – swinging, sliding, rocking and climbing – should be accessible to children with mobility, cognitive and sensory impairments. Ground level play items including sand and water play should be at a height that is easily accessible to all children. An accessible and inclusive design approach for playgrounds means it is easier for everyone to play, regardless of their abilities.
The following design criteria should apply:
- Suitable playground surfacing includes: synthetic surfacing such as pour-in-place, rubber tiles and turf specially designed for playgrounds
- Unsuitable playground surfacing includes loose fill surfacing such as sand, pea gravel, wood fibre or rubber shreds and grass.
Ground level activities
- Consider including a variety of ground level activities There should be a balance of ‘easier’ more accessible play elements along with those that are more challenging. If there are not enough play elements that provide challenge, some children will go elsewhere to play, making the playground less inclusive or they will create their own challenge, making the playground more dangerous.
- Provide quiet spaces, ideally with shade, to allow children to retreat from the noise and action of the playground.
Features to increase accessibility include:
- Ramps rather than or alongside steps/stairs.
- Rubber flooring rather than wood chips or gravel.
- Lowered play items that can be reached at sitting level.
- Elevated sand/water boxes with leg and knee space underneath.
- Roll-on swing sets.
- Sign language games (such as finger-spelling displays).
- Clear visibility throughout the playground with few solid walls or dividers.
- Sound Play elements.
- Distinct colours
- Shades of colour chosen to accommodate colour-blindness.
- Braille displays.
- No tripping hazards.
- Fences around the playground to prevent children wandering away and to help avoid dangerous areas.
- Swing sets with seats that incorporate seat belts and lateral supports: great for those with poor balance.
- Inclusive playground equipment that can be used by all children.
Other features to consider:
Accessible Playground Equipment
Roll-On swing set
Sensory play – Sand and Water
9 On some outdoor sites there may be equipment e.g. bicycles/other, available for public use and consideration should be given to also having dual use accessible equipment such as hand cycles or disability specific equipment, available at all such sites.