IMPROVING PATHS AND
TRACKS PART 1
Most transport tasks undertaken by rural people in developing countries take place on paths
and tracks. These link small communities to sources of water and firewood, farmland, and
village centres. They also provide access to the nearest part of the road network which can, in
some regions, be up to several days' walk away.
Simple improvements to paths and tracks can often bring about substantial benefits to rural
communities by making the paths safer and easier to use. Spot improvements on short
sections of the path or track are usually the most effective. These are targeted at improving
specific problems, of which the most common are:
slipperiness and erosion caused by poor drainage;
slipperiness and erosion caused by steep gradients;
wet and marshy ground;
dangerous, steep and rocky sections; and
difficult stream or river crossings.
In many cases these problems can be remedied by using simple techniques, some of which are
This Technical Brief describes the:
identification of problems on paths and tracks;
items to consider in the planning of path and track improvements;
recommended standards to adopt;
methods of constructing a path or track including the surfacing materials; and
organization of the work.
Identification of problems
The identification of problems on paths and tracks starts with consultations with the users.
This is most important, not least because problems may not be evident at all times of the year.
Other problems, such as load carrying on the path, may not be obvious. Village-level meetings
are effective and may be sufficient by themselves to identify the problems on paths which are
used mainly by local people.
Technical inventory surveys are carried out to gather information on the physical condition of a
path or track. Information is usually only recorded for sections where there are existing or
potential problems. The type of observations and measurements required are:
reference number and location of the section (relative to obvious landmarks);
length of section (can be paced out, but preferably measured with a tape measure);
gradient of path or track;
crossfall (sideways slope) of surrounding land;
type of problem (e.g. slippery section, gully erosion, etc.); and
details of the situation with possible solutions (sketches and notes).
The survey is usually carried out by an engineer or technician but it is preferable if the
technician is accompanied by the users of the path or track who can point out or confirm the
problem areas. For long-distance footpaths and in cases where priorities for improvement need
to be set, consultations and technical inventory surveys can be supplemented by traffic
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