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Trail and Traffic Stress
 

Specific features that make it hard for you to complete a path, trail, or route 

Jack Markell Trail

Effort and stress shape experience  independently  

By looking beyond the legal dichotomy, you can include many more trails benefitting many more users. Read more.

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People are less likely to return to a trail that they find just too stressful.

You can steadily increase the length of a trail that more users can enjoy at a pace that does not break the budget. Read more.

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One person's barrier is another person's sources of trail stress 

because the former accommodate everyone but at a significantly reduced financial and environmental cost. Read more.

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Other stressors and motivators shape experience 

Under the right conditions, some natural trails can meet most or all criteria for a Universal Access Trail. Read more.

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Stressors vary depending on the mobility challenge

Some people with disabilities might be able to use trails that fall short of one or more standards. Read more.

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Similar principles apply to traffic stress

mixing length and grade to cover a wide range of trails. Distinctions important to those with disabilities are overlooked. Read more.

Effort and Stress contribute independently to the overall experience

We distinguish between Effort and Stress associated with a path, trail, or route because they can vary independently of one another. 

  • Effort varies relatively less across users.  For example, both fit and unfit hikers will find that a longer trail or one with steep grades will require more effort relative to a shorter trail or one with more gentle grades. 

  • In contrast, stress (other specific features that make it hard for you to complete a path, trail, or route) vary much more between users, especially those with a disability.  And you need to understand both the effort and the stress to assess whether you can comfortably complete a path, trail, or route. 

This creates a specifric The fact that users with different disabilities can experience stress very differently makes it very difficult for them to confidently plan a hike.   

Organizations like the National Park Service and others offer general guidelines for planning a hike, but more details are needed for plan for someone with disabilities.

What is a barrier to one person is a source of stress to another

From barrier to stressor

FOr someone with a mobility challenge who gains the strength, skill, or confficence, a barriers becomes a stressor

Stressors vary depending upon the mobility challenge

From barrier to stressor

FOr someone with a mobility challenge who gains the strength, skill, or confficence, a barriers becomes a stressor

People are less likely to return to a trail that they find just too stressful.

From barrier to stressor

FOr someone with a mobility challenge who gains the strength, skill, or confficence, a barriers becomes a stressor

Other stressors and motivators shape experience 

From barrier to stressor

FOr someone with a mobility challenge who gains the strength, skill, or confficence, a barriers becomes a stressor

Similar principles apply to traffic stress

From barrier to stressor

FOr someone with a mobility challenge who gains the strength, skill, or confficence, a barriers becomes a stressor

Stress

Specific sources of stress vary from person to person and vary somewhat depending on whether you are walking on a path or trail or biking a route. We discuss these specific examples below

  • General barriers to understanding

  • Barriers to mobility on trails

  • Bicycling on road routes (Bicycle Level of Traffic Stress)

Barriers can create stress navigating specific features of a path, trail, or route, or might be impossible to overcome. 

Stress varies greatly from person to person and so must be evaluated on a case by case basis. Once you understand where stress can come from, you can make a plan to choose the trail or route that is just right for you, and the right adjustments and accommodations to keep you comfortable. 

Address stress by provofing infomratioon

Paths are generally designed to be barrier-free - and so stress-free - for cyclists and walkers but sometimes are not.  Though Shared Use or Universal Access are expected to meet rigorous standards, the former may, however, include include downhill sections that a cyclist or wheelchair user might find stressful because the length and/or the grade.

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CASE STUDY The descent from Alapocas Drive into Brandywine Park in the westernmost section of the Northern Delaware Greenway includes more than 160' of difficult downhill grades (up to 20%) that would make this uncomfortable for many cyclists and all but the most experienced wheelchair users.  You can see this in the grades to the left, with each dot marking a 10' section, and dark blue indicating difficult downhill grades.  Like many shared use paths, no resting intervals are provided.       

Sources of Stress

Barriers to mobility on trails includes problems with strength, balance, coordination, and sight associated with age or specific physical conditions, and that might require the use of a stick, stroller, or wheelchair. 

Sources of stress walking a trail can vary tremendously from person to person 

Stress can vary as a function of each person's abilities, interests/preferences, and experiences. Sometimes these factors decrease a person's comfort with a new trail and other times these can increase comfort.  

  • Abilities Someone with poor balance might become worried about tripping as they step over or around and uneven section of trail with wet, 2' high stones. Other abilities specifically relevant to walking trails include strength, eyesight, use of a walking stick or wheelchair. Other general abilities relevant to the overall experience include the capacity to monitor one's comfort, communicate one's needs, follow a schedule, track progress on the trail, and so on.  

  •  

Effort can also influence stress, depending on the person

  • Some people might want to push themselves, and find exertion to be exhilarating

  • Other people might worry because the feeling that they are exerting themselves reminds them of a previous trip they really struggled to complete. 

CASE STUDY  The rocks jutting 2-3 inches out of the ground on the trail to the left in Chenango Valley State Park are not just a challenge for an inexperienced wheelchair user, they challenge Margot because of her poor vision and balance.

Trail Stress

Barriers to mobility on trails includes problems with strength, balance, coordination, and sight associated with age or specific physical conditions, and that might require the use of a stick, stroller, or wheelchair. 

Sources of stress walking a trail can vary tremendously from person to person 

Stress can vary as a function of each person's abilities, interests/preferences, and experiences. Sometimes these factors decrease a person's comfort with a new trail and other times these can increase comfort.  

  • Abilities Someone with poor balance might become worried about tripping as they step over or around and uneven section of trail with wet, 2' high stones. Other abilities specifically relevant to walking trails include strength, eyesight, use of a walking stick or wheelchair. Other general abilities relevant to the overall experience include the capacity to monitor one's comfort, communicate one's needs, follow a schedule, track progress on the trail, and so on.  

Effort can also influence stress, depending on the person

  • Some people might want to push themselves, and find exertion to be exhilarating

  • Other people might worry because the feeling that they are exerting themselves reminds them of a previous trip they really struggled to complete. 

CASE STUDY  The rocks jutting 2-3 inches out of the ground on the trail to the left in Chenango Valley State Park are not just a challenge for an inexperienced wheelchair user, they challenge Margot because of her poor vision and balance.

Traffic Stress

Bicycle levels of traffic stress (BLTS) for each relevant road segment within an identified route are drawn from analyses conducted by Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) and New Castle County. Alta provides an excellent summary of the traffic stress model for those interested in reading more. BLTS was developed and has been used primarily in urban and suburban settings, and it has yet to be adapted to accommodate conditions more often found in rural settings, like sections with limited sight distance (see below). For sections of the route where we have additional information, we have modified the BLTS model as described below. Every 10' section on the route for which BLTS has been modified is outlined in red.

A modified BLTS

This used in some cases where additional information is available regarding the likely presence of sections with limited sight distance (see below) or actual prevailing speeds and/or volumes based on traffic studies (these models otherwise use posted speed limits and estimated volumes to model traffic stress).

Limited sight sections

because of the road’s horizontal or vertical curvature, sometimes worsened by shrubs or trees. Drivers may not be able to see far enough ahead to safely pull around cyclists, increasing the risk of accidents.

We used William’s (2021) paper to establish minimum sight distances (i.e., 2 times the stopping sight distance) based on posted speed (or prevailing speed, when these data were available. Because our interest was in perceived stress as well as actual danger, we added 50’ to the minimum sight distance. Whenever a section was suspected, we measured the sight distance and increased the BLTS by 1 point at each 20’ section for which sight distance was an issue.  

Descriptors are used in the text corresponding to the level of traffic stress as follows: Level 0 - No Stress; Level 1 - Very Low Stress; Level 2 - Low Stress; Level 3 - Moderate Stress; Level  - High Stress. On maps, higher levels of traffic stress are represented using larger circles for each 20' section.  

CASE STUDY  The rocks jutting 2-3 inches out of the ground on the trail to the left in Chenango Valley State Park are not just a challenge for an inexperienced wheelchair user, they challenge Margot because of her poor vision and balance.

General Barriers to Understanding

General barriers to understanding and communication may be associated with specific intellectual and developmental disabilities. This can make it difficult to learn what to expect on an outing and to cope with any difficulties.

Stress can vary tremendously from person to person 

Stress can vary as a function of each person's abilities, interests/preferences, and experiences. Sometimes these factors decrease a person's comfort with a new trail and other times these can increase comfort.  Some of these factors are more specific to the activity and other might refer to more general characteristics. 

  • Abilities Someone with poor balance might become worried about tripping as they step over or around and uneven section of trail with wet, 2' high stones. Other abilities specifically relevant to walking trails include strength, eyesight, use of a walking stick or wheelchair. Other general abilities relevant to the overall experience include the capacity to monitor one's comfort, communicate one's needs, follow a schedule, track progress on the trail, and so on.  

  • Interests and preferences Some people might find any unfamiliar trail to be stressful, while others might motivated by an adventure.   

  • Experience In general, the more positive experiences you have on the trail, the more resilient you are... That means that you will be makes one more resiliente A less experienced wheelchair user might hesitate to pull a wheelie to make is over a 2" root in a slight downhill grade, but a more more experienced wheelchair user might become worried about getting over a 3" high root on a trail, especially on a section of trail that slopes downwards\

Effort can also influence stress, depending on the person

  • Some people might want to push themselves, and find exertion to be exhilarating

  • Other people might worry because the feeling that they are exerting themselves reminds them of a previous trip they really struggled to complete. 

CASE STUDY  The rocks jutting 2-3 inches out of the ground on the trail to the left in Chenango Valley State Park are not just a challenge for an inexperienced wheelchair user, they challenge Margot because of her poor vision and balance.

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