Misconceptions About Crime on Trails

Residents often express concerns about safety from crime when new trails are proposed. These fears and concerns need to be  considered and addressed as part of the plan for any new trail.  The best way to determine whether crime will increase after building a trail is to review all the evidence from other trails and see what the outcomes were. This should give a reasonable prediction on whether it would be likely for a new trail to cause an increase in crime, or would be ‘unsafe’ to use.  Below is a representative sample of studies conducted on this issue.  The overwhelming evidence of hundreds of studies is that trails are safe, and do not pose a risk of increased crime, and in fact may decrease it. The sources are hyperlinked so that you may read the complete studies for yourself.

The Burke-Gilman Trail is a paved 12-mile trail that runs mostly through residential neighborhoods in Seattle. Police officers do not observe any increase in vandalism or burglaries at homes adjacent to the trail. Criminal activity associated with the greenway, in comparison to its landscape context, was negligible. The researchers concluded that greenways are not an attractive nuisance and do not attract crime or a criminal element.

Source: Evaluation of the Burke-Gilman Trail’s Effect on Property Values and Crime

The Two Rivers Trail is in Sacramento, CA. Enthusiastic usage increases "eyes on the trail." According to the National Recreation and Parks Association, and Sacramento's parks and law enforcement staff, bike trails tend to reduce crime by cleaning up landscape and attracting people who use the trail for recreation and transportation.

Source: TWO RIVERS TRAIL- PHASE II

“The data suggest that greenway-adjacent properties do not incur greater risk of crime than other properties within the same neighborhood statistical area. On the contrary greenway-adjacent properties had lower crimes rates 75% of the time.”

Source: PREVENTING CRIME WITH ENVIRONMENTAL  DESIGN GEORGIA WALKS SUMMIT MARCH 8, 2019

The largest study of crime incidence along trails, and the only study of truly national scope, was conducted by the Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC), a national trail advocacy non-profit group, in cooperation with the National Park Service. The main finding from the police survey was that trails had not increased crime rates, and in some cases may have reduced them.

Source: Rail-Trails and Safe communities: The Experience
on 372 Trails

“The trail does not encourage crime, and in fact, probably deters crime since there are many people, tourists and local citizens using the trail for many activities at various hours of the day.”

Pat Conlin,
Sheriff Green County, Wis.

“Since the trail was constructed and
opened for use we have found that the
trail has not caused any inconvenience to
property owners along the trail. The
residents seem to enjoy having the trail
near their homes.”

Charles R. Tennant Chief of Police,
Elizabeth Township, Buena Vista, Pa.

"As far as problems on the path are concerned, they are minimal. There is a heavy population on the path during the day, so any illicit activity is quickly reported and dealt with... The path has been a tremendous asset for the town and for the residents to take advantage of. In addition to its great recreational uses, it offers a safe travel alternative for the youth and elderly to riding or walking on the streets.”

Sergeant Mike McLean, Lexington Police, December 2007