Giving a bird's-eye view of the state trail system

If you enjoy riding your bicycle or taking a stroll on Virginia’s maintained trails, chances are you will benefit from the upcoming statewide database of bike and pedestrian trails being developed by Virginia Tech’s Center for Geospatial Information Technology (CGIT).

The researchers and graduate students at the center are creating an Internet-based digital repository of Virginia’s existing and planned bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, including bike lanes and possibly hiking and horseback riding trails.

    Two bikers on the Huckleberry Trail
The project is coordinated by CGIT and the Virginia Geospatial Extension at the Department of Forestry in the College of Natural Resources, and is funded by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

A seamless database of trails is needed

Virginia is so rich in bike and hiking trails, yet there is no seamless statewide database that would ensure efficient planning and public access.

    Biker riding with his reflection shown in the water
“Currently, information on bicycle and pedestrian facilities comes to us from many different sources and in many different formats, making statewide planning analysis extremely time consuming and difficult,” explains Kimberly Spence, statewide planning program manager at VDOT.

Additionally, county and city boundaries may act as barriers against future planning and expansion. Many times, the information about trails and bike routes that span several counties is cut off at county boundaries.

“You cannot gain a regional perspective of the trail and bike route systems, which makes planning very difficult,” says John McGee, one of the project initiators and assistant professor of forestry in the college and geospatial extension specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Cutting edge technology

The CGIT team is working to convert the available bike and pedestrian infrastructure information into a standard, seamless digital format.

    A biker's shadow on pavement
When it's completed, this innovative digital database will be sent to statewide decision-makers and possibly to Virginians via a Web-based geographic information system (GIS) application. GIS is a technology that links physical features on the earth to a database of their descriptions, locations, and characteristics.

The team recently created a model of how the trail data will be represented in GIS and used by planners. Once the model receives final approval by VDOT, the center will create the actual database and Web application.

    Mountain biker riding

Stephen Sedlock, research scientist at the center, says that the application will allow users to zoom into a specific area, add map data as a backdrop, and quickly obtain information for segments of trails.

“It will be a very flexible application that can be tailored for different levels of technical knowledge. It also has potential public use,” says Sedlock.

CGIT is also preparing a pilot bike trail database for Virginia’s New River Valley. Virginia’s Giles, Pulaski, Montgomery, and Floyd counties and city of Radford will all be included in the pilot project.

Significant student contributions

Much of the project’s progress so far has been accomplished with the competent help of graduate students Kristin DallaPiazza and Travis Thekkudan from the Department of Geography, and Jen Otey from the Department of Forestry.

DallaPiazza, a research assistant at the center, has made extensive contributions to the project by organizing trail information and designing a database of collected geographic information.

Thekkudan, also a research assistant at CGIT, and Otey, a former graduate student and now forestry project associate, helped with the gathering and checking of Virginia’s available bike and pedestrian trail information from local planning commissions and state agencies.

Thekkudan found significant support for the project across Virginia.

“Often times planners and GIS analysts we contacted provided additional information to aid in our data searches, or made suggestions to help improve the development of this database,” he says.

What’s next?

Sedlock says that, even though the trail database will not be available for direct public Internet access until the project’s completion, anyone can ask his or her local planning district commissioner for the latest trail information.

In the future, and as funding allows, CGIT will continue to extend and adapt the Web-based GIS application to public use.

“This is where [we] can really begin to dream, as we could potentially enhance the public Web application to include nearby facilities such as campgrounds, pet-friendly areas, restaurants, lodging, and other businesses,” says McGee.

  • For more information on this topic, e-mail Patrick Fay, or call (540) 231-8490.

From the homepage

    Two bikers on a trail; image features a grid overlay to illustrate digitizing trails

Thomas Dickerson, graduate research assistant at CGIT and graduate student in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, created the illustration on the homepage.


    A bike tire

Greenways — or ribbons of open space — preserve the landscape and connect people and places. Many of Virginia's bike and pedestrian tails are located in greenways. They are important to your community because they

  • improve the quality of life and support healthier lifestyles;
  • enhance property values;
  • provide alternative transportation routes;
  • help reduce pollution by encouraging walking and biking;
  • protect local wildlife and natural resources;
  • prevent floods by naturally absorbing stormwater; and
  • act as outdoor classrooms.

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