The newsletter of AMERICAN TRAILS -- SPRING 1997

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NC study of trail neighbors: more good news on greenways

Effects of Three Cary Greenways on Adjacent Residents is a study of the effects of greenways on adjacent residents was conducted as a masters thesis by Lauren A. Tedder, then a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A survey began in fall of 1994 and culminated in a report summarized below. Lauren has graduated and returned to Florida to pursue an environmental planning career.

Executive summary:

Greenways have the potential to provide recreational opportunities, natural areas, and transit corridors for communities on land that would otherwise remain mostly unused. The benefits of greenways, however, often do not compensate for residents' fears of potential problems that greenways proposed near their homes might cause. The problems cited by these residents include increased crime, loss of privacy, litter, noise, and decreased property values. These fears lead to strong opposition to greenways as evidenced by local communities in the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina.

However, there exists no conclusive evidence that the incidents nearby residents fear actually occur on a frequent or even conspicuous basis. The purpose of this study was to determine if such problems plague the adjacent and nearby residents of three Cary, North Carolina greenways (Swift Creek Greenway, Black Creek Greenway, and Hinshaw Trail) and glean lessons for greenway planners from the residents' attitudes about the greenways near their homes, whether positive or negative.

In order to ascertain residents' perceptions and attitudes, a survey of those living near the three greenways was conducted. Respondents were asked questions designed to reveal their satisfaction with the greenway, their initial feelings toward the greenway, the frequency of problems they experienced, their use of the greenway, and their perceptions of the effect of the greenway on their property value. The results of the survey, which achieved a 75% response rate, supported the hypothesis that most residents feel satisfied with the greenways and that problems are minimal.

The data generated by this study should prove instructive to greenway planners. In addition, similar studies conducted in other parts of the United States lend support to the results of this study. One important lesson for greenway planners is the importance of initial attitudes. Planners should take care to instill positive feelings among affected residents toward a proposed greenway by involving them in the planning process, educating them on the benefits of greenways, presenting data that refute their fears of perceived problems, and calming their greatest fears of crime through crime prevention efforts. Reducing the number of occurrences of the most commonly reported problems will require adapting greenways to specific circumstances. For example, noise and loss of privacy problems may be ameliorated by increased buffers between the greenway and home, while open wood rail fences may more clearly signify property lines and reduce trespassing.

Misconceptions about the effects of greenways on nearby and adjacent residents need not prevent the development of greenways. This study provides greenway planners with knowledge essential for reducing fears among affected residents, winning the support of nearby residents, and decreasing the likelihood of negative impacts on these residents.

From the Web site of the Triangle Greenways Council of North Carolina: http://www.geo.duke.edu/tgc.htm