Paths and trails are essential components of our built environment, connecting people with nature, promoting physical activity and fostering a sense of community. Behind the scenes, structural engineers play a crucial role in designing these pathways to ensure safety, durability and accessibility. In this post I’ll chat with Allen Morris where he’ll delve into the key considerations, design principles and materials used in creating these vital pedestrian routes.
Shannon: Allen, you’ve become the go-to guy for paths, trails and parks projects at Stability Engineering, how did that come to be and why is it so important to you?
Allen: Well, I’ve been an outdoor enthusiast my entire life so being able to apply my trade to my love of nature seemed like a natural progression. The journey of inception to completion involves several variables and considerations but, the end result of bringing paths and trails to life is incredibly rewarding.
Shannon: Walk (or hike) me through the initial steps in these kinds of projects and some of the challenges you face.
Allen: The genesis of all these projects is derived from the vision of some amazing architects and planners. We’ve often partnered with the talented team at Kaizen Collaborative Design and the dedicated tour de force of planners at The PATH Foundation. My job is to turn these visions into reality. Before any structural design work actually begins, I assess the site conditions to determine the path’s feasibility and identify potential challenges. Factors such as topography, soil composition, drainage patterns and environmental impact must be considered. Each location has unique characteristics.
Shannon: Where does accessibility factor into your process?
Allen: It is a huge consideration. Paths and trails that are accessible to all individuals, regardless of their physical capabilities, is a fundamental aspect of structural engineering. I employ the guidelines and standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that paths are designed with the appropriate widths, slopes, cross slopes and surface textures. By incorporating universal design principles ensures that everyone can enjoy the paths safely and comfortably.
Shannon: What about the materials themselves? How does that come into play in your process?
Allen: Materials are crucial. This is a perfect example of where form meets function. Aesthetics and functionality are not mutually exclusive. I try to design with the ultimate goal of blending in with the natural landscape as much as possible. However I have to consider factors such as durability, slip resistance, sustainability and ease of maintenance.
Shannon: What materials are most commonly used?
Allen: Really, everything from concrete, asphalt and gravel to natural paving stones. More and more I’ve been working with composite materials and innovative products like permeable pavers. These new materials tend to enhance sustainability and even stormwater management.
Shannon: Allen, I’m sure these path and trail projects all end up feeling like your children, and special in their own individual ways but I’m going to ask you to pick a favorite. (I won’t tell the others!)
Allen: If I’m forced to pick, I’ll say it’s the Carrollton Greenbelt. That project moved FAST. They built 18 miles in 5 years span which is unheard of in urban areas. I had the benefit of working With Georgia & West on this one— industry leaders in surveying and land planning. It connects the college with parks, with retail and with neighborhoods. It’s a true manifestation of what paths and trails have always been intended for. It blends seamlessly into the natural landscape while promoting economic growth and a true sense of community. https://www.carrolltongreenbelt.com/