Great Rivers Greenway Design Guidelines


The GRG Design Guidelines have been developed in an effort to improve long term sustainability, reduce maintenance needs, improve facility quality, and enhance the overall experience of greenway users. The guidelines set the standard for design, are meant to improve the design process of facilities, and set expectations for designers, builders and partner organizations. They are not intended to be static, but living guidelines which will be updated as needs change and new lessons are learned.


The guidelines are intended to be used by design professionals to develop and layout greenway trails and amenities. These guidelines set baseline performance standards for typical facilities, but are by no means exhaustive. The guidelines are intended to standardize many typical facilities, while allowing for the design creativity to make the greenways world-class facilities. Throughout the development of greenway design, the guidelines should be used as a reference document for designers, Great Rivers Greenway, and GRG’s municipal partners. This document should be used for reference purposes only, all trail features will require design and engineering to meet specific site conditions. The primary responsibility for construction plan correctness, accuracy, and consistency, lies with the Architect’s and Engineer’s of Record. These guidelines serve to inform designers but should not replace the design professional’s work nor their professional quality assurance and control responsibilities. For goals, targets and vision see Design Goals.


The guidelines were developed over the course of an 11 month process. Extensive design and evaluation workshops were held with GRG staff. Additional workshops were held with municipal partners from throughout the region, construction managers who oversee greenway implementation, and through a peer review process with associated design professionals.


Design guidelines set the standards for the basic greenway elements. They promote consistency and a recognizable level of quality that users can expect in the greenways. As these important regional assets have been developed over the last decades many different approaches and design solutions have been tried and tested. Many have been highly successful and a few have been problematic. It is important to learn from both and create guidelines that limit some of the variability seen in previous iterations, promoting higher quality overall.

  • Base elements like the trail itself should remain consistent, promoting an equitable and consistent network.
  • Elements where flexibility is allowed still need to perform at the highest of standards.
  • Design creativity should be focused on strategic areas where higher maintenance and/or partner commitment are the most appropriate.
  • Design elements need to fit the goals and priorities of the District, first and foremost.
  • Materials selections need to take into account the existing assets and should build upon already developed brand and identity.
  • Elements that require more routine replacement should fit within the existing sections that have been used elsewhere whenever possible.


This is just a sampling of the benches that have been used on the greenways to date. While there are good reasons to have elements that fit different aesthetics, replacement of damaged elements or elements at the end their lifecycles can be a challenge where there is little consistency. Furthermore, greenway elements can be useful tools for branding and in creating a recognizable system. Too much variation can be a detriment to creating a “legible” greenway network.