Multi-use Trails and Crime
To understand the impact on crime of converting the Seminole Gulf Rail corridor to a multi-use trail, we must first understand what is already occurring along the unused rail line. Take a quick look down the corridor today from any given road that intersects with the rail line, or from the backyards of many residences along the rail line. You can easily see instances of illegal dumping, trash, numerous liquor and beer bottles, evidence of ATV and motorcycle use, etc. Recently, the president of Friends of BERT gave a presentation to one of our local communities adjacent to the rail line and a resident described how the unused rail line was used recently to access their home to steal bikes. Reports of vagrants are common and there are even reports of individuals setting up camps along the rail line. It is easy to find evidence of locations along the existing rail line as ‘party central’ with stacks of beer bottles and cans. One can only imagine what goes on there, out of sight from prying eyes, and this presents a real challenge to police to consistently patrol.
Certainly, there will always be individuals who oppose trails at all costs that like to make predictions of how terrible crime will become once the multiuse trail is opened to the public for both nearby homeowners and trail enthusiasts. Convincing those individuals differently is a challenge, if not impossible, but happily they are by-far the minority. But there are others who express concerns or have legitimate questions about the potential of increases in criminal activity once a multiuse trail opens. It’s those individuals that we all need to listen to and help them understand the true relationship of trails to crime. The bottom line is that the overwhelming data, evidence and research suggest that not only is it false that crime will increase with the advent of a trail, but crime in most cases actually decreases along the trail. Google ‘crime and multiuse trails’ and you can read the numerous studies that have shown that multiuse trails are among the safest places in the United States and crime rates are actually lower than comparable areas. In fact, some of the best advocates for trails are local law enforcement officials. One quote from the National Association of Police Organizations summed it up nicely; “Compared to the abandoned and forgotten corridors they replace, trails are a positive community development and crime prevention strategy of proven value”.
It’s not hard to understand why this would be the case. Imagine a cluster of abandoned homes in any given city. These homes are a blight on their communities and create an instant attraction for high levels of crime. Now imagine a similar set of homes occupied by responsible homeowners where, for obvious reasons, crime rates are a fraction of those of the abandoned homes. Trails are no different, particularly for unused and abandoned rail lines. In fact, trails become an important component of security given the multiple set of ‘eyes’ from trail users. The more people present the less likelihood of criminal activity. Additionally, trails are maintained by parks and recreation professionals who partner with local law enforcement to create another layer of crime prevention that does not otherwise exist along unused rail corridors. Like most parks in the US, trails are often closed at night with some level of police enforcement to ensure they are not being accessed during evening hours creating yet another level of security.
Numerous studies have been completed over the years that prove this out. For those who like statistics, one can Google study after study that show how trail crime levels are significantly below the national averages when compared to crime levels of surrounding areas. Hard core trail opponents refer to stories of trails attracting drug dealers, rapists and even murderers and perhaps flash a newspaper article of a crime event, but without any real empirical evidence to back up their claims. But don’t be fooled! Although trails, (like all other locations in America), are not crime free zones, trails are some of the safest places where you can enjoy the out-of-doors and the overwhelming research and evidence proves that out. It’s time to put an end to the old trope that trails somehow attract crime. Again, my suggestion is to do the research for yourself. Below are some quick links to get you started. For those individuals with legitimate questions and concerns about crimes and trails, what you will discover should be very reassuring. Enjoy!
Department of Transportation – Rail Trails and Safe Communities
National Recreation and Parks Association
Pinellas MPO – Pinellas Trail Impact Study