There are many benefits to having a bikeway or rail-trail in your area. These recreational corridors benefit locals, their communities and visitors.
The Tourism Factor
Some of the most obvious benefits can come from tourism. And that aspect may have played (or is playing) a large part in bringing a bikeway to your area. If your trail project is already complete, congratulations! You've finished the hard part. Now comes the relatively easy part: improving the biking experience on your trail. By doing this, you will encourage visitors to return to your community. And if they plan to return, they're likely to tell their friends and family. This is the best possible word-of-mouth advertising your trail and community can have.
Back To Basics
There are many ways to enhance a bikeway. There's no question that adequate parking and restrooms with a water source are a primary goal whenever funding and space is available (pristine natural environments being an exception, where minimal eco intrusion is desired). Food vendors or bike/skate rental shops and other amenities can also serve a useful purpose. But including the best amenities will not guarantee trail users a great trail riding experience. What will? Well, aside from a well-designed and maintained trail, the improvements I'd like to suggest are simple, relatively inexpensive and unfortunately, often overlooked. Yet they play a critical role in the quality of your visitors' first trail ride experience and more importantly, whether that experience is likely to bring them back.
Clearly marking your trail is great advertising. It shows that your community is proud of its bikeway and is encouraging visitors to explore it. Also, keep in mind that some people may drive an hour or more to ride your trail. Making your bikeway easy to find saves them precious time and makes a good impression before they even begin their ride!
Distances are very important to trail users, therefore any sign marking a town or destination should include them. It's the practical information most needed on the trail, for obvious reasons. Also, the more information you give users, the more likely they are to explore the area. Here's an example of a sign that might mark a connecting path to a bikeway: 'Downtown Mayberry .8mi.' Nothing special at the end of that connecting path? Fine. Try something like 'Smith Rd .8mi.'
Post useful info for cyclists such as: locations of restrooms, water stations, trail rules, parking and points of interest. Here's an excellent opportunity to market your community by also posting info on: lodging, restaurants, landmarks, local events or attractions -- whatever you feel is appropriate.
Tip: Remember to update the info on your boards regularly.
Returning visitors will develop favorite stopping points for food, refreshments, etc. Many will begin to explore your community. These signs help them gauge the proximity of restaurants, lodging, bike shops, etc. and help with navigating the surrounding area.
Tip: These signs are simple to install. Small street signs can be attached below a bikeway stop or yield sign on the same signpost. Street name plates can be affixed to bridge trestles or beams that overhang trails, or simply painted on.
This type of sign isn't vitally important, but can add a nice touch. They are most appreciated by naturalists and history buffs, though others may also find them interesting.
The Critical Test
And finally, test your trail and rate the experience:
What questions would you have? Have trouble finding facilities? Did you feel lost at some point? Did you encounter any hazardous areas or sections in disrepair? Keeping a first time visitor's perspective is the best way to determine whether your trail is up to par.
The Simple Formula
Can improving your trail be as simple as posting a few small, unobtrusive signs at key points along your bikeway? You bet. Keep in mind that many visitors will not know their way around your community. The more practical information you can provide them, the more they will enjoy their visit. It's a simple concept, but one that's often overlooked.
Having played the role of first time visitor to many Ohio trails, I can tell you that knowing where you're riding, how far the next destination is, and what else may be in the area, makes a world of difference. Trust me, even thorough pre-ride research will not tell you where every connecting path leads.
Ironically, most trails are very well marked in other ways. They have stop, yield, crossing and no motor vehicles signs. I've even encountered warning signs for dangerous crossings and other potential hazards. These are all needed for safety and are usually very well done. But it seems that after the safety issue is addressed, the trail is often thought to be complete.
Don't stop there. Distinguish your bikeway by making it more... dare I say, user friendly. Enhance your trail!