filed under: crime & liability

Rail-Trails and Safe Communities

The experience on 372 trails

by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC)

Rail Trails and Safe Communities

While rail-trails are hugely popular and successfulonce they are open, during the development phase trailpromoters often have to answer a wide range of concernsthat local residents may have about the impact of the pro-posed trail on their community. Stories of trails attractingdrug dealers, murderers and rapists are perpetuated bytrail opponents with only a handful of newspaper head-lines to back up their assertions rather than empiricalresearch. Despite numerous studies that have concludedrail-trails do not generate crime, concerns persist and fearof the unknown continues to provide fertile ground fortrail opponents. The research that has been conducted,along with anecdotal evidence, suggests that converting anabandoned rail corridor to a trail actually tends to reducecrime by cleaning up the landscape and attracting peoplewho use the trail for recreation and transportation.

Recognizing the need to address these concerns, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) conducted a survey of all rail-trail managers in aneffort to document the level of crime on trails and identify the mitigation measuresused by trail designers and managers. The objectives of this study were threefold:1) to document the levels of crime on urban, suburban and rural rail-trails withcurrent statistics and comprehensive data, 2) to examine trail management strategies that can mitigate crime and improve trail safety, and 3) to put crime on trailsin perspective. A summary of past studies, our methodology, results, recommendations and several case studies follow.

Published January 1998

About the Author

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people. RTC’s mission, and its value, is magnified in urban areas, where one mile of trail can completely redefine the livability of a community. Where trails are more than just recreational amenities, creating opportunities for active transportation and physical activity—improving our health and wellbeing—as they safely connect us to jobs, schools, businesses, parks, and cultural institutions in our own neighborhoods and beyond.

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