Monday, June 17, 2013

Trails, Crime, and Loss of Privacy

Two issues that arise nearly every time a new trail project is proposed are crime and loss of privacy.  The proposed Merritt Parkway Trail is no exception.  Fortunately, to address those concerns, we have decades of trail development and use to look back on.  And time and time again, the answer we find is that these concerns are unfounded.

Studies that draw conclusions from rail-trails are not necessarily apt parallels for the Merritt Parkway Trail.  Abandoned rail corridors sometimes become magnets for illicit behavior which moves elsewhere when the trail is built; the undeveloped space in the southern half of the Merritt corridor has never attracted that kind of behavior, so it would be misleading to use rail-trail studies to make a point.  More appropriate parallels are those trails built in highway rights-of-way.  There are plenty of those to look to for experience.  One prominent example is also in Connecticut.

In Manchester and East Hartford, the Charter Oak Greenway has been under development for decades, piecemeal, to connect residential neighborhoods and other destinations including Manchester Community College and Charter Oak Park.  Future sections will connect to Bolton Notch State Park, the DOT commuter lot on US Rt 44 in Bolton, Rentschler Field (home of UConn Huskies football), the Pratt & Whitney facility, and the Connecticut River.  Today, 7.8 miles of this trail are complete, with fewer than 5 miles left to build.

Most of the completed Charter Oak Greenway has been built on land alongside I-384.  Much of it is in sight of abutting homes.  As part of the Merritt Parkway Trail feasibility study, ConnDOT interviewed Manchester’s Director of Public Works and Chief of Police.  The Charter Oak Greenway is closer to the nearest homes than the Merritt trail will be, so any negative influences would be magnified.  And what did ConnDOT find?  No complaints about loss of privacy, even as the trail passes only 20 feet from a home in one location.  No influence on emergency response.  The only trail-related complaint was about tree removal.  Fortunately, in the Merritt corridor, the right-of-way is so wide that no trees which may have to be removed will be visible from abutting homes.

We shouldn’t blame Merritt Parkway abutters for bringing up these questions.  It’s only natural to worry.  Thankfully, trail success stories from all over the country can put those concerns to rest.  And we can focus on making the Merritt Parkway Trail the best it can be, for neighbors and visitors alike.

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