Trails in Indiana

Monon Trail: A Civil Engineer's Perspective - Alan Hamersly



Through Alan Hamersly's eyes we can see the birth of the landmark project in the state of Indiana that has transformed people's lives.


Bridging a Bridge

There are many people involved in a trail project; from the grassroots community advocates that provide the beginning momentum and vision of what could be, to the landscape architect who takes those ideas, looks at the possibilities and transforms them into a functional and beautiful design that appears as if it has always been there. And then there is the civil engineer who, with ruler, transit, and a multitude of formulas, tables, industry standards and knowledge; transforms the visions and designs into a built, universally accessible, safe and sound trail. This is the work of the civil engineer; and the trail project is the landmark Monon Rail Trail in Indianapolis.
The engineer is Alan Hamersly of Butler, Fairman & Seufert, Inc.. He received his civil engineering degree from Purdue University; a university that has consistently ranked in the top ten schools for “Civil” from U.S. News & World Report, and whose program celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2012.
He began working on the Monon Rail Trail project in 1991 when there weren’t any standards for “how to make a trail,” how to provide accessibility ‘to everyone,’ or what site furnishings such as drinking fountains or benches were needed. And, at that time in the history of trail development the really big question was: “If we build it, will Anyone come and use it?” You only need to be on the Monon on a sunny weekend day near Broad Ripple in Indianapolis to have the answer: more than 1.5 million trail users per year and a national Rails-To-Trails Conservancy Hall of Fame inductee in 2009. Obviously the trail designers; the landscape architects and civil engineers, got it right.
Civil engineers were first recognized as a profession in 1828 with the establishment of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Their original charter described the work of the civil engineering as "...the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man, as the means of production and of traffic in states, both for external and internal trade, as applied in the construction of roads, bridges, aqueducts, canals, river navigation and docks for internal intercourse and exchange, and in the construction of ports, harbours, moles, breakwaters and lighthouses, and in the art of navigation by artificial power for the purposes of commerce, and in the construction and application of machinery, and in the drainage of cities and towns."
In 1961, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), expanded and clarified the description of civil engineering to: “Civil engineering is the profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and physical sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the progressive well-being of humanity in creating, improving, and protecting the environment, in providing facilities for community living, industry and transportation, and in providing structures for the use of humanity."
Today, the knowledge base is so great that the field of civil engineering has expanded and diversified into specialized disciplines. At Purdue University there are no less than nine areas of study ranging from Environmental to Geotechnical to Materials to Transportation Engineering. More than twenty years ago, though, Alan Hamersly was trained in all of those fields and he applied that knowledge of road surface treatments, signage, load bearing for bridges, erosion controls, accessibility and grading, etc. to this new, at the time, type of transportation way: the rail trail.
Fortunately, other organizations have been established that have since answered Alan’s questions on universal accessibility and trail ‘making’ standards. The United States Access Board, is the federal overseer of universal accessibility standards (ADA---Americans With Disabilities Act). Currently they are developing new standards for public right-of-ways and shared use paths. How to build a trail can be found in many, many publications including the Federal Highways Administration website:, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
Alan Hamersly left his stamp of approval as a licensed civil engineer on any trails he designed by way of his ‘stamp.’ Before a trail is constructed, the builders rely on a set of construction drawings to tell them every thing they need to know. The drawings include where the trail is to be built, site preparation, grading, demolition, widths, thicknesses, materials, sizes, details, schedules, special materials, treatments, products, and specifications, etc. The project is built to these specifications without recourse. The importance of the work of the civil engineer is manifested on every set of construction drawings for work that is done in the right-of-way of a city, town or rural area which is where most multi-use paths are constructed. An embossed ‘stamp’ that includes the engineer’s name and state license number must be on the drawings; certifying that they have been reviewed by a qualified engineer.

Beginning with the Monon Rail Trail Project; Alan’s training and career opportunities have allowed him to expand his expertise in bridge and road design into trail master planning, design and construction; providing a civil eye on civil projects. 

Article by Christina Jones