Urban trails can be understood as "linear parks" which are designed to facilitate non-motorized transport of people between destinations, while allowing them recreational opportunities.
Trails can cater to all kinds of users from bicyclists to hikers to equestrians (horse riders). They can be single-use, or multi-modal, meaning they allow for all non-motorized users. The choice of what user type to allow usually depends on the demographics and surroundings. Highly urbanized areas, with little interconnection to large open space preserves, typically have little or no amenities for equestrians, and therefore design their trails with bikers or walkers in mind. Sprawling suburban areas, with wildland or open space interface, often see a focus towards multi-modal uses.
While trails used to be necessary for the transport of goods and people between places, their importance declined with the advent of public transit, and then the automobile. In recent years, people have sought to return to nature and have opportunities to travel and relax away from the car-dependent culture. Public advocacy groups, along with state and local governments, have teamed up to create a nationwide system of multi-use trails. Tens of thousands of miles of trails are currently maintained, with more coming online every year.
Construction of new trails is difficult in urbanized areas, however, mostly due to the lack of connected open space required to create a trail system. Innovative methodsfor trail creation in well-developed communities have included "rail trails": trails which are created in railway easements. Many other trails, including the largest trails in the Los Angeles region, are created in corridors along rivers, flood channels, and under power lines.
Another major problem with urban trails is simply marketing. Most average people are unaware of the trail's location, amenities, serviced destinations, and safety. By creating nodes (focal points for trail activities), users can easily enter the trail system, see what it has to offer, and experience the trail directly and indirectly as a part of their community. The major focus of the Golden Necklace project is the interconnectivity of trails with the community in these nodes.
The City of Boulder, Colorado, has connected their urban trails with the trail system in the adjacent mountains. Over 130 miles of maintained trails are within the city limits alone!