By Bob Weaver
Trails and greenways are not exotic. At least they shouldn’t be seen as exotic. Places to comfortably walk, run and bike should be as commonplace as the four-laners that criss-cross our towns. For all they can bring to us – connectivity, conservation of recreational and wild spaces and even economic opportunity – it’s taken some time for the benefits of trails to be understood. Thankfully, the tide is turning. However, there are still misconceptions out there.
One misconception: “Trails bring crime.” How is this commonly-held belief perpetuated? As a proponent, it would be easy to blame the media. A crime on or even near a trail is much more likely to be reported on than a crime on a plain old street or avenue. In some ways, it makes sense. Parks and trails are of interest to people. They have Facebook pages and Twitter handles. Over time, they develop an identity. Crimes are sensational news. Mix the two together and you’ve got a story. The problem lies in our perceptions.
There’s surely something in our imagination that gravitates to a trail crime story – the vulnerable person, walking (gasp!) in a quiet area. Cue the dramatic music. It’s the stuff of scary movies or bad afternoon tv melodrama.
Chances are, your commute is more dangerous.
Yes, crime happens on trails. If it happens in your community and your trail is in that community, it will happen. This statement is not meant to be flippant, but to underline a couple of points from the starting point that trails are part of the community. As the American Trails Federation points out in this piece, no one would suggest that we not build roads, malls, schools, et al. Yet, crime occurs at all of the above. A couple of points:
- Trails can actually reduce crime and are shown, in numerous studies, to be ‘good neighbors.’
- Trail crime can be reduced through the good work of knowledgeable designers who create them and the proactive citizens that use them
Designing a safe trail is something professional planners have studied and continued to refine over the years. Without getting too academic, you can see it all around you on a visit to many of the best trails. Security phones where necessary. Open views. Signage that clearly posts rules and regulations including hours. And of course, policing. This means not just officers, but citizens themselves. An animated, lively trail where you can count on passing others is one of the best defenses against random crime.
If you’re tempted to assume that trails bring crime, talk to someone who regularly uses a trail. Chances are they will tell you a different story – and invite you on their next trip out.
Any other myths about trails out there you think we should dispel? Let us know!