Summary Report Indiana Trails Study: A Study of Trails in 6 Indiana Cities
This study found that trails in six Indiana cities are very popular with residents, especially those who live closest to the trail, and including residents in volunteer patrols and maintenance can improve the trail experience for others and solidify residents’ support for the trails. The benefits of these trails can be expanded if cities are able to increase use by commuters and visitors.
This study would be of interest for those looking for a snapshot of user attitudes about community trails in a broad range of communities. This study was carefully done and very detailed, and the methods used for counting use and interviewing trail users would be appropriate for many trail impacts studies.
The study assessed trails in six cities across Indiana: Fort Wayne, Goshen, Greenfield, Indianapolis, Muncie, and Portage. They range from small (Greenfield, population 20,841 in 2013) to very large (Indianapolis, population 828,841 in 2013). The cities were selected because they represented a range of community sizes, populations, locations, trail funding methods, and trail types.
The six trails included are multi-purpose trails, and all had been in operation for at least two years when the study was conducted. The following trails were included:
- River Greenway Trail (Fort Wayne), 15 miles
- Maple City Greenway Trail (Goshen), 10 miles
- Pennsy Rail Trail (Greenfield), 3.1 miles
- Monon Rail Trail (Indianapolis), 7.6 miles
- Cardinal Greenway Trail (Muncie), 10 miles
- Prairie Duneland Trail (Portage), 6 miles
The Indiana Trails Study was developed to provide information about trail use and users’ and neighbors’ attitudes about the trails, in part to justify the increasing commitment of funds for trail planning and development by local, state, and Federal governments. The study was funded by the Indiana Department of Transportation with additional funding by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program.
Average monthly traffic on the trails ranged from 2,600 on the Pennsy Rail-Trail to 27,500 for the Monon Trail. Trail use is a function both of the length of the trail and, because these trails are mainly used by locals, the size of the nearby city. For all trails, the average user lives within two miles of the trail.
Between 76 percent and 100 percent of the users of the six trails reported a more favorable view of the city due to the trail. On average, 42 percent of users stated they were willing to pay a fee ranging from $5 to $20 per year. The proportion ranged from a low of 27 percent of users in Greenfield to a high of 61 percent in Muncie. Respondents who stated they would not pay a fee often suggested that taxes should pay for ongoing maintenance.
The trails surveyed are used regularly by adjacent landowners, averaging 70 percent across all trails and up to 95 percent in Indianapolis. Nearly all adjacent landowners saw the trail as having either no effect or a positive effect on their property value and ability to sell their home, ranging from 86 percent in Muncie to 95 percent in Indianapolis. However, realtors interviewed did not see any substantial differences in property value near the trails.
Roughly two-thirds of respondents saw the trail as a better neighbor than they expected and that the trail improved neighborhood quality. The second question was only asked of property owners who purchased their home before the trail was developed. The most common concern voiced by property owners was the lack of safety patrols on the trails, identified by 19 to 29 percent of respondents.
The authors conclude by highlighting the importance of neighbors as constituents when developing trails, and the need to expand trail development plans to the surrounding neighborhood to ensure adequate parking and privacy. The authors also suggest targeting two under-represented groups to expand the user base: commuters and visitors.
To learn about trail use, the study used data from infrared trail counters, originally designed to count wildlife crossings, installed on the trails. These counters allowed the authors to identify peak use hours and survey trail use around the clock. Using in-person counters, the authors determined that the infrared counters systematically undercount trail users by 15 percent, but they did not adjust their results to reflect this undercounting.
To learn about user attitudes, the authors employed intercept surveys, which they followed up with mail surveys. Adjacent property owners were assessed via mail surveys. Response rates for the adjacent landowner survey ranged from 38 to 51 percent. Information about trail effects on property values was gathered via phone interviews with local realtors.
Wolter, S. and G. Lindsey. 2001. Summary Report Indiana Trails Study: A Study of Trails in 6 Indiana Cities. Eppley Institute for Parks & Public Lands, Indiana University. 2001.