Pedestrian routes – classification?

pedestrians 01Two of the characteristics which transport systems generally have are that they (should) form a network of continuous links, and their links are usually classified into a hierarchy. Roads – usually seen as forming a transport system for motor vehicles  (as opposed to pedestrians) – are often classified in terms of travel distance, with national and international routes at the top of the list, and local access roads at the bottom of the list. Can the same thing be applied to pedestrian links?

In the past, pedestrian routes (which include footways, tracks and trails) were most often not given any structured classification at all,  nor were they developed as forming a network. One argument might be that there certainly aren’t any national and international pedestrian routes (and if they were, people wouldn’t use them).

In fact, long-distance pedestrian routes existed centuries before long-distance motor vehicle routes, since feet as a transport mode existed long before the car. Examples includethe Inca road network, which was essentially a pedestrian route (e.g. link). Today there are long-distance pedestrian routes across Europe (see e.g. the European Ramblers’ Association (ERA) page here) and across many countries. In Germany for example there are over 200,000 km of trails (see the ERA notes here).

Some notes related to classified pedestrian route networks from different countries:

Nepal – historic routes

The old trade routes in Nepal were pedestrian routes, and writers have even related them to a functional classification. One study of the old routes (ref. 507) says they can be divided into:

  1. routes with local function
  2. routes with regional function
  3. routes with over-regional function
  • So they can be seen to have a hierarchy.

Tracks and trails still form an important part of Nepal’s transport network, and not just for tourists. The 2055 (ca. 2012) Nepal rural road standard (ref. 419) still gives pcu (passenger car unit) equivalents not only for cars (pcu = 1.0) but also for

  • Pedestrians walking on the link (pcu = 0.2)
  • Porters walking on the link (pcu = 0.4)

Finland – hiking trails

Finland published a document (ref. 505) on the classification of hiking trails, proposing classes based on difficulty:

  • Easy
  • Medium
  • Difficult
  • Handicap easy
  • Handicap difficult

(The document even has reference to trail description practice in Nepal).


The Roads and traffic authority of NSW, Australia, in a document on “how to prepare a pedestrian access and mobility plan” wrote that

“It is useful to develop a hierarchy within the pedestrian network (e.g. high, medium and low priority pedestrian routes). Factors such as pedestrian concentration and access to public transport and other community facilities will assist in ranking the priority of the identified routes. The method of ranking routes”


“Ranking systems may include indicators such as delay; exposure; pedestrian concentration; number of pedestrian casualty crashes; proximity or connection with public transport and other facilities etc.”


The 1998 Portland Pedestrian Master Plan (ref. 1138) had “four classifications for pedestrian facilities:  Pedestrian District, City Walkway, Local Service Walkway, and Off-Street Path.  Additionally, the Pedestrian Master Plan includes a Main Street Pedestrian Design overlay to the City Walkway classification”.

Oregon Metro (the regional authority for the Oregon portion of the Portland metropolitan area) is developing regional pedestrian network concepts and functional classes. The concept (ref. 1131) is essentially:,

“All streets (except limited access highways) and off-street trails are part of the regional pedestrian network. The Principal Regional Pedestrian Network is comprised of Regional Pedestrian Parkways linking Regional Pedestrian and Bicycle Districts and forms the spine of the entire regional pedestrian network. The regional pedestrian network is organized into functional classes” (own emphasis)


In 2011 the Danish Road Directorate published a document on the registration and classification of paths (Registrering og klassificering af stier) (ref. 1127). This classifies pedestrian and cycle routes into urban paths (main and local paths) and rural paths (main and local). It also refers to classification by type of infrastructure (shared bike, pedestrian paths, paths segregated from the main road carriageway etc.).  The document includes an example from the Municipality of Skanderborg, where a graphic shows the existing main and local path networks classified in terms of ‘main, local and nature paths’.

pedestrians 02


In 2012 Hertfordshire County Council proposed a footpath hierarchy based on the number of pedestrians using a link during a typical day (ref. 1129).


There is little point in encouraging people to walk but then not provide the infrastructure for them to walk on. Just as with facilities for motor vehicles, pedestrian facilities should form part of a continuous network, with each link given a value in one or more functional classifications. These classifications might be related to journey distance, traffic volume, adjoining land use etc. The network concept and at least some of the classifications should be consistent across a country.


419 Nepal, Rural roads standard (2055) 1st revision, Dolidar Nepal 2012

505 Finland, Hiking trail classification, Suomen Latu 2011

507 Nepal, Important trade routes in Nepal and their importance to the settlement process, Graafen and Seeber 1992

1127 – Denmark, “Registrering og klassificering af stier”, SAMKOM, 2011

1129  UK, Hertfordshire CC footway hierarchy review, 2012

1131 – USA, Oregon Metro, “Regional pedestrian network concepts” (2013?)

1138 – USA, City of Portland, “Portland pedestrian master plan”, 1998


About roadnotes

Robert Bartlett is an international consultant with over 30 years of professional experience as a highway and traffic engineer with leading companies and organisations in several countries, including Germany, China (Hong Kong), Qatar and the UK. Specialised in urban studies, transport and the use of GIS, research has included new ideas on subjects such as the study of social justice using GIS, the dimensions of vehicles, and comparative geometrics (highways and transport).
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