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Policemen on bikes check in on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Washington, D.C.

What are Urban Pathways?

Urban pathways go by many names, including bikeways, trails and greenways. These pathways are used for healthy recreation andwhen seamlessly interconnected with pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure like sidewalks and bicycle lanescan be ideal routes for active transportation, including biking and walking.

Learn more about RTC's Urban Pathways Initiative, an effort to encourage the development, stewardship and use of urban pathways.




RTC's TrailBlog


Urban Pathways Lessons


Urban Pathways to Healthy Neighborhoods

Focus On: Personal Safety

Download four-page SAFETY summary
Return to Urban Pathways to Healthy Neighborhoods

Studies have shown that trails themselves do not generate crime (RTC, 1998; Greer, 2000). But in many urban areas, crime and safety are serious, pervasive issues, and even the perception of trail safety may influence trail use (Wolch, 2010; see citations below). Addressing concerns about crime and violence is particularly important in low-income urban communities where residents, especially children and women, may not be physically active due to violence or fear of violence (Prevention Institute, 2010). Strategies to increase physical activity on urban pathways need to consider crime and safety because they are broader determinants of health-related behavior.

Since trails are often community focal points, crime on the trail can be perceived differently than crime on the street—it may generate more attention that keeps people away from the trail. The following examples provide a variety of strategies that can be used to deal effectively with crime and safety issues, including: working with police, creating trail patrols, engaging youth, lighting and designing the trail properly, keeping the trail well maintained, and encouraging trail use through programming to increase "eyes on the trail" and to ensure the trail has a reputation as a safe space.


Incorporate concepts of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) to address potential crime and safety issues
CPTED is a way of developing or modifying the built environment to reduce the fear and occurrence of crime. Principles of CPTED include: natural surveillance, access control and territoriality (Making Healthy Places, 2011). To provide natural surveillance, design trails with clear sight lines and orient buildings so that windows face the trail, providing an "eyes on the trail" effect. Keeping urban trails well maintained will contribute to their attractiveness, which can be an important factor in increasing trail use (Reynolds, 2007). Establishing a sense of ownership by installing signage, art or landscaping demonstrates that the trail is cared for, and keeping the trail well maintained reinforces that sense of ownership, creating an environment where "crime is uncomfortable." Also, ensure the trail is in your city's 911 emergency locator system. Since trails may not have a standard street classification and/or no associated physical addresses, emergency responses may be delayed.

Dallas, Texas — Katy Trail
To improve emergency response to trail incidents, the city developed an innovative Emergency Locator System, using the Katy Trail as a pilot project. Signage markers with unique location identifiers are placed at every eighth of a mile; these are assigned geographic coordinates that allow emergency crews to easily determine the best route for reaching the emergency.

Start a citizen-led volunteer trail patrol and work with local law enforcement to monitor the trail regularly
Engage law enforcement by inviting them to trail events and activities. Attend neighborhood safety meetings and create a dialogue with police officers about monitoring the trail effectively. Provide training to volunteer patrols that helps them address concerns and make suggestions for common precautions (carry cell phone, be aware of your surroundings, travel during daylight hours, know your location).

The police do not necessarily make all communities feel safer. There may be distrust of the police, or fear of working with law enforcement officials. Citizen-led initiatives where not all participants have contact with police may be one way to overcome this mistrust. Volunteer trail patrols can act as a liaison between the community and the police. A regular presence of authority, whether law enforcement or volunteer-based, will help alleviate fear and may reduce the perception of crime and violence.

Learn more about how neighborhood residents and trail users dealt with incidents of crime on Washington, D.C.'s Met Branch Trail on the RTC TrailBlog.

Use programming to provide regular activities on the trail providing an "eyes on the street (or trail)" effect
Activities and events that invite community participation help introduce more neighborhood residents to the trail and create community ownership. Efforts to abate illegal graffiti and keep the trail well maintained must be frequent and consistent.

Crime may get more attention and media coverage if it occurs on the trail than if it occurs on a nearby street. Be prepared to respond to concerns and create opportunities for trail users and neighborhood residents to be involved in developing solutions, which may include hosting activities or informal meet-ups like walking clubs during high-risk times.

Case Study: Safety and Urban Pathways

Learn about several stragies used to make the Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Branch Trail safer, including murals, neighborhood involvement in trail patrols, and lighting.

Reynolds, K.D. et al. 2007. "Trail Characteristics as Correlates of Urban Trail Use." Health Promotion. 21(4):335-345.

Wolch, J. 2010. Proximity and Perceived Safety as Determinants of Urban Trail Use: Findings from a Three City Study. Environment and Planning, 42: 57-79.

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