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Impacts of Trails and Trail Use

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When decision makers consider building new trails in Indiana, they want to know if the existing trails are heavily used and viewed favorably. For both of these factors, research indicates that the trails are successful.

arrow Download the complete article (pdf 428 kb) with charts and details of survey responses.


Urban Trails are Heavily Used in Indiana

photo of people on trail

The Monon Trail in Indianapolis


Communities across Indiana are interested in building urban greenway trails. These trails offer inexpensive recreation— safe places to walk, bike, run, or skate. Many wind through scenic areas where users can enjoy nature while pursuing fitness, and they are valued for conservation and economic development.

Potential trail neighbors, however, sometimes wonder about the trail users who will pass by their properties. And decision makers need information to decide if trails are good investments. Studies of trails can inform decision makers as well as those who use and are affected by them. The Indiana Trails Study (Eppley Institute for Parks & Public Lands and the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment 2001) and other ongoing studies of trails conducted by the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment (Center) provide useful information that show:

• People make thousands of trips to urban trails annually, even in small communities.

• Trail traffic is heaviest in larger communities, and can be heavy enough to cause congestion.

• Trail traffic is heaviest when the weather is warm, after 4 p.m. on weekdays, and on weekends, but people use trails every day of the year and every hour during the day.

• Trail users are disproportionately White, younger adults who have above average incomes and rates of college education.

• People use trails mostly for exercise and recreation. Fewer than five percent of Indiana trail users report use for commuting.

• Most people use trails for walking and biking, far fewer for running and skating.

• Most users drive to trails, travel less than five miles to get there, and spend less than 10 minutes traveling to/from the trail.

• Most users spend about an hour on the trails per visit.

• Walkers and runners average three to four miles on a trail per visit respectively; bikers and skaters tend to travel farther.

• Almost all users view the trails as safe, and nearly all view their cities more favorably because of the trails.

• Neighbors who complain about urban trails are a minority, but the most common complaints regard unauthorized motorized vehicles on the trails, litter, parking problems, and unleashed pets.

Trail Information Is Important for Policy Makers

When considering building new urban trails, decision makers examine the benefits to the community. These benefits may include recreation, conservation, economic development, and a positive influence on the health of residents and on attitudes about the community.

Policy makers should be aware that most users of any new trails probably will be people who are young, well educated, middle to upper class, White, and interested in walking or biking. Trails near densely populated areas are likely to attract more users since people are most likely to use a trail if they live or work within 10 miles of it and can travel to it in less than 10 minutes. Since
most trail users drive to the trails, analysts can consider the number of people who live or work within a 10-minute drive of a planned trail site to help estimate potential usage.

Although people who have complaints about the trails are a minority among trail neighbors, their concerns are important. Adequate patrols can help ensure the safety of users and residents and can reduce the number of unauthorized motorized vehicles and unleashed pets on the trails. Adequate trail maintenance will reduce litter and enhance the beauty of a trail. And careful planning can alleviate parking problems. Trail planners also should consider the implications of activity patterns and possible congestion during peak hours to ensure that the experience of both trail users and trail neighbors is positive.


One ongoing research effort at the Center involves urban greenway trails.Researchers at the Center study characteristics of the trails and the people who use them.They are interested in the factors that can affect the success of these trails in Indiana communities and in information that can help decision makers and municipalities ensure that trails will function as assets to the communities where they are located. The Center for Urban Policy and the Environment is part of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. Information about urban trails and other community issues can be accessed via the Center Web site at Contact the Center at (317) 261-3000.


Greg Lindsey, director, Center for Urban Policy and the Environment, and Duey-Murphy Professor of Rural Land Policy, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis
Nguyen Luu Bao Doan, research assistant, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis
Marilyn Michael Yurk served as editor.

arrow Download the complete article (pdf 428 kb) with charts and details of survey responses.

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