Innovation at Work

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RTC’s national research and mapping programs utilize some of the country's most cutting-edge tools, methods and data to assist communities and trail advocates in building, maintaining and generating support at all levels for trails and connected walking and bicycling infrastructure—with a goal to catalyze trail development nationwide.

Latent Demand Study: Barriers and Motivators for Trail Use

In 2019, RTC conducted a nationwide study of the perceptions and habits of more than 7,200 people from all 50 states regarding trail use and active transportation. Assisted by RTC’s open trails database—the most comprehensive existing database of trails in the United States—RTC surveyed respondents in two groups: those for which a zip code had a trail within 2 miles, considered as “having trail access,” and those with a zip code farther than 2 miles, or “not having trail access.”

Key highlights

  1. Prior awareness of neighborhood trails was the strongest predictor of trail use, and removing non-infrastructure barriers like lack of awareness can have significant impact on people’s use of trails.
  2. The second most significant way to increase trails use—build more trails where people are.
  3. The findings of this study elevated key questions and next steps, and informed a future follow-up study on barriers to trail use by race and ethnicity.

The study provides powerful proof of how access and awareness of trails impact trail usage: The more connected trails there are, and the more people know about trails and how to safely access them, the more people will use them.

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Strava Connectivity Study Yields Inspiring Early Results

In FY 2019, Strava-collected data was used to conduct network connectivity and gap analyses at three locations where gaps in trail networks were recently connected. The analyses found that in the new places where new trail connections were made, trail use increased by 40% to 80%! Additionally, a ripple effect was felt across the trail networks to the tune of 2% to 18%, suggesting the impact gap closures can have in other sections of a connected system. RTC has long been a proponent of trail connectivity, and we are thrilled that the study provided quantitative evidence that trail connectivity induces trail usage.