Quequechan River Rail Trail Health Impact Assessment
This study found that extending a rail-trail from the outskirts of Fall River, Massachusetts into the city center is likely to generate a range of benefits for the community, including increased physical activity, fewer pedestrian and cyclist crashes with motor vehicles, increased business activity and improved working environment, and less air pollution. This study is an example of a small city’s Health Impact Assessment, a single document that can be used by trail planners and advocates to justify the investment of public funds.
This study would be of interest to communities that are developing or proposing a trail and want to find an example of a comprehensive assessment of a single trail’s benefits. The study outlines a sound approach to assessing a broad range of benefits from trails in both quantitative and qualitative terms, using publicly-available local data and existing primary research.
This study is based in Fall River, Massachusetts, population 89,049 in 2013. Fall River is roughly one hour south of Boston, Massachusetts.
The Quequechan River Trail is a 1-mile paved rail-trail on the outskirts of town, and the analysis considers the impact of extending the trail 1.6 miles into the center of town.
The study is designed to assess the public health and safety-related benefits of the proposed trail to provide recommendations regarding trail design and maintenance to maximize those benefits and help justify the investment of public funds. The project was selected for a Health Impact Assessment by a Massachusetts Department of Public Health statewide program, Mass in Motion, to help municipalities encourage physical activities.
- The trail is likely to increase physical activity of residents, particularly those living within a mile of the trail. These neighborhoods have generally lower income and larger immigrant populations, and other studies have shown these are the populations most at risk of inactivity.
- Most crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists occur within one mile of the proposed trail. The authors anticipate that the number of accidents could be reduced if more cyclists and pedestrians were on the trail rather than the roadways. The trail’s safety will depend on well-designed trail-roadway intersections.
- The first phase of the trail was associated with increased business and improved quality of life for employees at several local businesses and institutions. The authors suggest that the second phase will have similar positive effects on adjacent businesses.
- The trail is predicted to reduce total vehicle miles traveled by all drivers within a 1-mile radius of the trail by 53.5 miles per day, a 1.4 percent decrease. This would likely lead to small decreases in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
The authors used existing scholarly studies to identify the connection between trails and activity, avoided collisions, crime, economic development, and social cohesion. They applied these relationships to existing conditions in Fall River using local demographic, health, traffic safety, and crime data. They then compared existing conditions to expected conditions with the trail. Where possible, they generated quantitative values; otherwise, they included a qualitative description of the relative magnitude of likely effects and the population that would be affected.
Air quality improvements due to fewer vehicle miles traveled were estimated using a spreadsheet tool provided by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration called the Congestion Mediation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Analysis Worksheet, specifically for bicycle facilities. The authors input local data on population, employment, households, proportion of commuters traveling via bicycle, and length of the proposed path. From these data the spreadsheet calculates anticipated reductions in VOCs and NOx, precursors to ozone formation, which can lead to respiratory illness.
Molina, J., K. Ito, P. James, and M. Arcaya. 2012. Quequechan River Rail Trail Health Impact Assessment. Massachusetts Area Planning Council.