By Mike Daly, PE, ENV SP
The demand for pedestrian recreational pathways is increasing across the country as Americans look for more ways to get fit and exercise in the fresh air. At Psomas, we are finding a great deal of success turning underutilized floodplain areas into multi-use pedestrian recreational facilities. The public loves these paths—they come from all over the country to enjoy them for biking, walking and horseback riding. Many locals even use them to commute to work.
Washes and drainage areas along floodplains make excellent natural pedestrian pathways for many reasons. These public lands are generally already set aside, they significantly increase pedestrian safety since they usually don’t cross roadways, and they can offer a beautiful natural setting with an abundance of flora and fauna. From Tucson to San Diego to Sacramento, these types of projects are being done throughout Psomas.
In addition to providing pedestrian recreational amenities, these projects can provide unique opportunities to restore native species, improve natural habitat, and enhance overall aesthetics. Sections of existing washes that would accommodate river parks can often be degraded from years of dumping, invasive vegetation species, and channel stability issues. One of our projects in Arizona included the planting of over 10,000 native species and the opportunity to improve an amphibian breeding area (Mesquite Circle Pond) for several species known to populate only a handful of locations in the region. This effort required working closely with a world-renowned amphibian expert.
- Often it is necessary to “shoehorn” these projects in order to accommodate a wide variety of constraints: environmental protection, flood control, bank stabilization, pedestrian amenities, and protection of cultural resources.
- Pre-project conditions can range from completely undeveloped to fully urbanized, with development directly adjacent to both banks of the existing drainage feature. Property acquisitions for portions of a project can be challenging.
- While the public is generally in favor of these recreational areas, adjacent residents often have concerns about the impact of increased pedestrian traffic by their properties. Close coordination is required with residents to minimize impacts to their neighborhood.
- It is typically necessary to undertake extensive coordination with multiple jurisdictions and diverse stakeholder groups to achieve consensus. Project design and associated recreational and interpretive amenities must be sensitive to the overall context of history and location of project (i.e. Native American concerns, adjacent cultural historic sites, biological resources, etc.)
None of these challenges have proven to be insurmountable and the end result is well worth it. An often degraded and underutilized natural area is transformed into a valuable recreational amenity, all the while protecting and enhancing the environment.
Mike Daly, PE, ENV SP is a senior project manager in the Psomas engineering group.