The Impacts of Central Ohio Trails

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Place: Columbus metro area

Overview

This thorough study of a 111-mile regional trail network around Columbus, Ohio found that trail users travelled roughly 11.9 million miles in 2014, mostly by bicycle. Higher population density, easy access from neighborhoods, connection to other trails, and longer trails are associated with greater use.

Relevance

This study is relevant for regional trail networks interested in collecting data on a wide range of topics related to trail use benefits. The authors’ sampling and analysis approaches follow accepted standards for transportation and survey research.

From a policy or outreach perspective, this report is particularly effective because each research finding is followed up by specific policy or planning implications.

The authors find no relationship between proximity to trails and property values, but the statistical approach is highly sensitive to model specification. Without additional detail it is difficult to know whether this finding is because there is actually no relationship between trails and property values or whether it is an artifact of model specification.

Location

The study addresses trails around Columbus, Ohio, population 835,957 in 2014. The trails are mostly in Franklin County, but also extend into Delaware, Fairfield, and Madison Counties.

Trail Type

This study evaluated the Central Ohio Greenway (COG), a 111-mile network that includes ten different trails. All but one of the trails is paved, and they vary in length from four to 31 miles. They include urban trails as well as connectors through rural areas between smaller towns.

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to generate statistically valid data around trail use, user preferences, and user demographics to inform trail planning and maintenance and to engage the business, health care, and real estate and development communities in regional trail planning.

This study was funded with grants from the Federal Highway Administration, Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, Ohio Parks & Recreation Association, and the cities of Columbus, Hilliard, New Albany, Westerville, and Canal Winchester.

Findings

  • Trail network users travelled approximately 11.9 million miles during 2014.
  • The highest user volume was on the Olentangy Trail in central Columbus, although trail segments in outlying suburban areas also had high use. Higher population density, easy access from neighborhoods, connection to other trails, and longer trails are associated with greater use.
  • Sixty percent of respondents are cyclists. Runners and walkers are the second and third most common with 21 and 19 percent of users, respectively.
  • Forty-five percent of respondents reported traveling more than 10 miles to use the trail and most trail users drive to a trailhead. This highlights the importance of planning for adequate parking space at popular trailheads.
  • Cyclists commonly travel more than ten miles on the trails, highlighting the importance of longer, uninterrupted, and connected trail segments. Currently only four of the ten trails are longer than ten miles.
  • Two-thirds of respondents visited the trail at least three times in the previous week and most report spending at least an hour during each visit.
  • Twenty percent of users report spending money when they visited trails, ranging from $17-$18. Cyclists are more likely than other groups to spend money.
  • Business leaders stated that trails are important for attracting talented employees to the area.
  • The authors found no relationship between proximity to trails and property values.

Methods

This study collected data on trail use, trail user behavior and preferences, business and community leader perspectives, and property values.

Trail use data were collected using infrared monitors at six permanent, existing monitoring locations to gather longer term, baseline data. In addition, the researchers conducted short-term counts at 61 representative locations between April and October, 2014. Data from the short-term counts were compared to data from the permanent monitoring locations to verify their accuracy. Sampling and data analysis procedures followed guidelines from the non-motorized chapter of the Federal Highway Administration’s Traffic Monitoring Guide.

Data on trail user behavior and preferences were collected via intercept and online surveys. The intercept survey instrument contained 19 questions and was designed to be quick for respondents to complete while on the trail and minimize inaccurate recall of use by only asking about the previous week. Using a random sampling plan they surveyed trail users at 19 locations along five trails. The online survey instrument was the same as the intercept survey but with 12 added questions regarding user preferences. Business and community leader perspectives were obtained via in-person interviews.

Property value effects were estimated using a statistical approach called a hedonic price model that compares sale prices of homes identical in all ways (e.g., house size, lot size, age) except for the home’s distance to trails. They obtained these data from county tax assessor records and used GIS analysis to identify homes within a quarter or half mile of a trail. Their sample included roughly 46,000 residential property sales.

Citation

Lindsey, G., T. Nordstrom, X. Wu, C. Wu, J. Ciabotti, B. B. Woods, R. J. Eldridge, et al. 2015. The Impacts of Central Ohio Trails. Prepared for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and the Central Ohio Greenways and Trails Group. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.