Bike Routes Sea Level Rise 6 ftClimate change is a highly charged issue with much debate focusing on how sea level rise, heat waves, flooding and extreme weather events will impact major transportation infrastructure such as roadways, bridges, tunnels, subways, rail and bus stations, parking lots and airports. Not much attention has been given to the potential impact of these climate events on non-motorized transportation including sidewalks, hiking trails, bicycle paths, public parks and recreational facilities. With growing interest in healthy lifestyles, as well as increasing use of non-motorized modes for daily commutes, it is imperative that future planning and policy decisions consider mitigation strategies that accommodate pedestrians and bikers.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, there are many low-lying areas that will certainly be affected by flooding caused by sea level rise, increased precipitation and storm surges. Researchers at the University of Delaware and Morgan State University are assessing the vulnerability of non-motorized transportation facilities, starting with an analysis of trails and bike routes in Delaware. Ardeshir Faghri, PhD, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Delaware, and Hyeon-Shic Shin, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Architecture and Planning, Morgan State University, are modeling sea level to predict the number of trails and bike routes in Delaware that will be impacted by low, medium and high sea level rise at the end of 2100. In addition, they are estimating the length of trails inundated by various levels of sea level rise. Understanding sea level rise and its impact on pedestrian and bike facilities will enable the development of strategies to minimize or eliminate the negative impacts.

The researchers have developed a GIS-model of sea level rise to identify the number of facilities projected to be affected by the three different scenarios of sea level rise. Both the length of inundation and the maximum depth of water were estimated. Next, the team will allocate a level of service required to repair and reinstate the facility to good working condition, ranging from minor rehabilitation (A) to hazardous requiring major rehabilitation (F). The prototype model (a 1740 meter trail in Sussex County, Delaware) projected if the sea rises 0.5 meters by the end of century, the trail will have level of service C and if sea level rises 1 meter, the level of service will be F. With sea level rise of 1.5 meters, the model projected almost complete inundation of the trail – a finding that implies the trail would be “gone”.

The next stage of research will assess flooding related to storm surge. A survey will also be conducted to establish baseline attitudes toward walking and biking during heat waves. Future work includes expanding the study to trails and bike routes in Maryland.

Ultimately, the researchers hope to share a better understanding of how climate change will impact non-motorized transportation facilities along with guidelines on how to integrate the impacts of climate change in short- and long-range planning for these facilities. Strategies might include elevating parts of a trail or moving it land-ward.

“Direct impacts of climate change have been investigated in many fields,” said Faghri. “However, there is a lack of knowledge and research on how non-motorized transportation facilities will be influenced by climatic stressors such as sea level rise. This MATS UTC-funded research represents a step forward in our understanding of probable significant impacts for bikers and pedestrians. We’re expecting to publish the work in February 2017.”

Dr. Faghri may be contacted at faghri@udel.edu.