Multiuse Trails: Benefits and Concerns of Residents and Property Owners
This study found that the qualitative benefits to property owners–including access to recreation and the natural world and connection to neighbors–far outweigh the negative effects of living adjacent to a multiuse trail in this study. The negative effects, including trespassing, less privacy, and dog waste, were not widespread across users and may be mitigated with trail design.
Although the sample is small, the findings are likely applicable to many communities because residents close to many public trails share similar concerns. This is a qualitative study that identifies the range of topics to be anticipated when considering the impacts of trails on adjacent landowners. This is a particularly important line of questioning to address because concerns of trail neighbors are often the primary opposition to trails projects.
This study was conducted with residents and property owners near the Clear Creek Trail or Bloomington Rail Trail in Bloomington, Indiana. In 2013 the city of Bloomington had 81,115 residents and Monroe County had 139,634 residents.
Both trails assessed are multiple use, with different levels of infrastructure development. The Bloomington Rail Trail is unpaved, with shade and dense growth. It was popular for recreation even before it was officially designated as a trail. The Clear Creek Trail is paved, with bathrooms, access points and parking, trashcans, and benches, and has much higher use than the Bloomington Rail Trail. Both trails lie partially in the floodplain so they remain partially undeveloped, with open views.
The purpose of this study is to investigate the perspective of residents and property owners adjacent to multiuse trails to identify the most important benefits and concerns. While the benefits of trails to a community have been well-documented, the impact that trails might have on immediate neighbors is not as well known. The study was conducted by university researchers; the specific funding source is not provided.
Overall, most property owners had favorable perceptions of the trail. Negative perceptions were generally isolated and due to individual experiences.
The two greatest benefits identified by property owners were convenience and access (16 of 26 interviewees) and physical fitness (19 of 26 interviewees). The authors distinguish convenience (the ability to use the trail at any time) and access (the ability to reach the trail). The authors suggest that additional access points might mitigate trespassing concerns for neighboring residents. Consistent with findings in other trails benefits studies, respondents commonly said that proximity to the trail increased their level of physical activity.
Respondent perceptions about property values were mixed, with some believing they paid a premium to live next to the trail (8 of 26 interviewees). Many landowners, including both residential and commercial property owners, thought that although property value might not increase, the property’s salability would.
Based on previous research, the authors expected bicycle or pedestrian commuting to be identified as a common benefit of proximity to the trail, but only 6 of 26 interviewees mentioned this. The authors attribute this to the trails’ location connecting subdivisions rather than employment or shopping centers.
The social benefits of living near the trail were discussed by 9 of the 26 interviewees. Respondents stated that the trail provided a space for families to recreate together, for neighbors to meet other neighbors, and to visit over their back fences. The authors suggest incorporating ways to foster social interaction as a part of trail design in neighborhoods.
Respondents also frequently mentioned the importance of interacting with the natural environment, particularly for children. This benefit was often integrated into the overall perception of the trail, rather than a distinct, separate benefit.
Respondent concerns were few, and generally related to specific personal experiences. The most common concerns involved dogs being off-leash or not picked up after, noise, trespassing, and high trail use affecting privacy. Trespassing problems seemed to be attributable to a lack of access points in a neighborhood, which is highlighted as a design consideration.
Many respondents had concerns regarding trespassing, litter, and noise before the trails were built, but they ultimately had few problems after the trails were built.
Results from 26 adjacent landowner interviews were reported in this study, representing 37 properties. Of these properties, 61.5 percent were residential and the remaining were a mix of commercial and commercial/residential. Half owned property next to the Clear Creek Trail, 42 percent owned property next to the Rail Trail, and the remaining 8 percent were next to both. The authors used qualitative analysis methods to code responses into different topic areas.
Corning, S., R. Mowatt, and H. Chancellor. 2012. “Multiuse Trails: Benefits and Concerns of Residents and Property Owners.” Journal of Urban Planning and Development 138(4): 277-285.