That a new trail will bring crime to an area and increase
public safety concerns is an often-used objection to trail projects,
particularly in communities without relevant examples close
by. However, a mountain of experiential and recorded evidence in
fact demonstrates the opposite - that public pathways bring activity, ownership and
care to areas once abandoned and neglected, and provide a deterrent to crime
and anti-social behavior.
Nevertheless, opponents of trails, biking and walking
continue to use this disproved red herring to block trails that have the
potential to greatly improve their community.
So it was great to see the Kentucky New Era newspaper tackle
the issue head on. As the community of Hopkinsville in southeast Kentucky
pursues its rail-trail ambitions, the New Era editorial board decided to
respond to concerns about crime and safety by going to straight to an expert.
This week the paper conducted and published a discussion on trails, crime and
safety with Hopkinsville Chief of Police Guy Howie, who had experience with
trails relationship to crime during his time with the police department in
His comments will not surprise those who have experienced
the impact of public pathways in their community, and echoes that of other law enforcement officers interviewed about the connection of crime to local trails. The full story online requires
a subscription to view, so here's a sampling of Chief Howie's responses:
"What's there now, it's already being used by some for both
legal and illegal purposes. Once we improve that and it's being utilized by
law-abiding citizens, and it's maintained and kept up, the people who are using
it for illegal purposes now aren't going to want to stay because they don't
want to be discovered."
"Every place that we looked or I talked about, or had
personal knowledge of, any time those facilities are used, there's generally
not a problem. Nowhere could we find where crime went up along those areas to
any significant extent. ... There are projects like this all across the country. Nobody
has come up with any research that we're aware of to the contrary, or to the
negative. It's just a perception, and where it comes from, I don't know."
KNE: "Do you think people who have property that abuts the
trail should be concerned?" Howie: "No. I think they should be ecstatic. Right
now, it's already being used by those people. ... It's deserted and that's why
they're using it. If I owned a piece of property and it backed up to the
rail-trail, I would be excited that it's going to be improved."
"There is evidence out there that shows things like this
improve property values. I know the one in Spring Field, Tenn., it improved the
property values there."
"I did talk to Greenville's chief of police, and he said
they've had little to no issues with the one that runs from Greenville to
"I'd actually like to see it in an ordinance, that the trial
is closed from dusk till dawn, unless there's a special event and it's
"I think some of the bigger cities, and I like to compare
Hopkinsville to a small city with some big-city problems at times, I think
there's probably a concern about sexual assaults. Again, how do you defeat
that? Well, you use it. You have hours of operation for the trail. You don't go
out for a walk at midnight, or you don't go for a jog at 9 o'clock at night
after dark. You make sure the trail is monitored and that it's accessible
enough for police to get down it."
"I think the more recreational opportunities that a
community can offer to the public, the healthier the community becomes. If you
have activities for kids to do, they are able to do that instead of hanging out
and getting in trouble. Where can a dad in some of these neighborhoods teach
his kid to ride a bike? I certainly couldn't do it on Remington Road with the
way some of those cars come through there. People could go for a walk and not
have to worry about traffic. I just think it would help the overall health and
welfare of the community and improve the quality of life."
I use the greenway in Springfield TN. after work several times a day, I've never been nervous or saw any bad activity there. I love it. I go to the Greenville Ky railtrail on occasion because I like it because its not as busy to ride my bike on! I would be nervous if I was caught there at night but like the article says, you don't go for a jog or ride at midnight?? I LOVE railtrails and have traveled to Georgia, Illinois and going to Cumberland Maryland in June to ride the GAP trail to Pittsburgh Penn. What a great way for people to become active and for money to go back into the economy. YaY to a trail in Hopkinsville!!
There have been numerous University studies over the years that have shown that trail use REDUCES CRIME rate, mainly because there are more eyes and ears from more trail users. More people means criminals aren't going to go into these areas as much as they would. Violent criminals generally steer clear of rail trails and areas near rail trails for the most part. Rail Trails also increase property values compared to areas off the trail.
One of the longest trails in the U.S. backs up to my subdivision. It's a beautiful, meandering, heavily wooded crushed limestone trail. My friends and I ride this trail during the day AND at night. Just as the police chief mentioned, when law abiding citizens use a trail, the criminal element doesn't want to be anywhere near it. This is even more so at night. With the advent of very powerful LED lights, my friends and I are a thorn in the side to anyone trying to hide. If you're up to no good in my area and think no one will be on the trail at night, think again. With work and family obligations, the only time we have on the trail is before work and after work. Even in the summer, when we start our ride at 6 PM by the end of the ride, it's either dark or starting to get dark. When I frequently leave our after ride meeting at 9PM, it's always dark. In the winter, it's dark when we start.
So, DON'T close the trails at any time. Law abiding citizens only keep the trail safe because it's being used.
I live just north of Hopkinsville. When I moved to the area and heard about the proposed rail-trail I tried to talk with every council member to tell them my experiences when I lived outside of Atlanta - and enjoyed visiting friends who bought houses backing up to the Silver Comet Trail. Folks out at the west end of the state resisted the trail but changed thier way of thinking when revenue increased with cyclists stopping to shop, eat and sleep.
My husband and I ride across states e/o year. We plan our routes to ride on rail trails if available. Indiana was the state with the most DIFFERENT trails. A little work to zig and zag, but a whole lot of fun.
Patiently waiting for Hopkinsville to get on board!
Massachusetts has the most used rail trail in the country, the Minuteman Trail going from Cambridge/Somerville to Bedford. It is now such a big draw that people advertise their location on the trail when selling a house, as it increases the value of the property.
Crime is not a problem.
re: Kentucky Police Chief: Trail Likely to Deter Crime in Hopkinsville.
In Iowa, it has been shown that not only does trail development reduce crime, but that every dollar spent on trail development returns three dollars in health care savings.
my wife and I have ridden every trail in the country that
is 10 miles or longer. In all our travels the trails are
a benefit to all the communities..I am glad that more states
are trying to build more trails. All the trails we have
ridden are all different. Get out there and ride the trails
see what they have to offer.
I think trails are a wonderful thing; people moving, getting fresh air, smiling and being around other people; all wonderful things.
There are a couple of problems with the rails to trails idea that sadden me greatly.
1. We have a major problem with funding in the whole USA.
a. It is way cheaper to buy right of ways for a trail than it is for a railway.
b. It is less expensive to install a trail than it is to install a railway.
2. We have a transportation crisis. How to move masses of people and product and keep them off the roads.
a. One solution that keeps appearing everywhere in the country is rail. One train can remove hundreds of cars and potentially hundreds of large trucks from our roadways.
Indeed, some of the Rails that are being ripped up (at great cost) and turned into trails (at great cost) are in need of repair (at great cost). However, the cost of repairing the rails and using them as a light rail type system seems liks such a better use of funds.
Walking and biking trails can weave through neighborhoods, can actually become a part of the community.
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