GREENWAYS & CRIME

"A public trail? Not in MY backyard!! I don't want a facility that will bring in all those criminals, vandals, and crazy kids." So goes the refrain of many a citizen who has learned about a proposed greenway trail for their neighborhood. Yet greenway supporters point out that, on the contrary, trails are EXACTLY what is needed to reduce the level of crime being experienced in urban neighborhoods. Consider:

  • A study of the Burke-Gilman trail, which passes through high-density urban neighborhoods and crime-prone areas in downtown Seattle, found little or no crime or vandalism experienced by adjacent property owners. The study surveyed property owners, Realtors, and police officers (the officers recommended development of additional trails). Similar studies in suburban Minnesota and Wisconsin echo these findings.
  • A National Geographic article refers to greenway studies showing that "trails are no less secure than other areas of human use and cause no increase in crime... A long-term study of the Appalachian Trail revealed impressively low crime statistics considering the volume of people who use the facility." Statistics from a planner in Raleigh, North Carolina indicate "you're probably safer on a greenway than in most areas. People with a criminal mind-set don't usually frequent places like that."
  • A survey of greenways in several states has found that such parks "typically have not experienced serious problems regarding vandalism, crime, trespass, [or] invasion of privacy ... Prior to developing those park facilities, these concerns were strongly voiced in opposition to the proposed trail. After park development, however, it was found that fears did not materialize... concerns expressed by the neighbors opposed... have not proven to be a post-development problem in any of the [60] parks surveyed."
  • A former opponent of Seattle's trail (her home is adjacent to the trail) stated that the "trail is much more positive than I expected. I was involved in citizens groups opposed to the trail. I now feel that the trail is very positive- [there are] fewer problems than before the trail was built; [there was] more litter and beer cans and vagrants [before it was built]. Not a single resident surveyed said that present conditions were worse than prior to construction of the trail.
  • One property owner along a proposed 26-mile trail in Iowa was skeptical about the trail, and was part of a group saying (1) the land should belong to them; and (2) the trail would bring vandalism from city trail users. He went to see for himself He saw people pedaling, jogging, and walking..."You know something," he told his wife when he returned home, "all those people were smiling." He has since turned from trail opponent to one of its most diligent volunteers.

Why are greenways so free from crime? Controlled access to the trail (compared to pre-trail access) and observant trail users who report suspicious activity are the reasons most cited. Trails naturally encourage "crime-watch" activity. The attached letters, written by local law enforcement agencies from around the country, reinforces this conclusion.

Source: National Park Service, Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Prograin.
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