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Safety on the trail: Did you know?

By June 22, 2023January 5th, 2024No Comments

Did you know, numerous studies across the country have shown that greenways, in general, tend to be safer than the communities surrounding them? That said, the City recognizes that safety is one of the top issues on people’s minds regarding the Three Mile Creek Greenway. That’s why the City has taken proactive measures to prepare a safety plan for the Three Mile Creek Greenway. Here are some important pieces of that plan:

Greenway Safety Studies from Other Communities

On both local and regional scales, there have been numerous studies completed regarding Greenway safety after these projects were built. Overall, the perception of crime and property value reduction was unfounded after implementation. In 1995, Cary, NC surveyed residents living near three Greenways and gauged their satisfaction with the greenways and details about any problems. Residents felt satisfied with the greenways and stated that problems were minimal. Studies in Mecklenburg County, NC; Denver; Seattle; Tampa; and other cities reported similar results showing less crime on greenways than the communities as a whole. Two studies of crime statistics in Mecklenburg County show greenways have lower crime rates than the surrounding community. They found that most greenways provide a safer alternative than roads and attracted both existing and new residents who used the trails frequently. The first study was done in 1997 along the Mallard Creek Greenway comparing the incidence of crime with the surrounding police district to the entire city. The incidence of crime along the Mallard Creek Greenway and adjacent properties was nearly half that of the surrounding police district and only 12.7% of the countywide crime statistics. Later, an extended study explored recent crime rates along all 14 greenways within Mecklenburg County between 2001 and 2003. 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 crime rates 75% of the time.

Safety through design of the Three Mile Creek Greenway Trail

Trail safety begins with thoughtful engineering and design, which is the highest priority for the City of Mobile. Careful attention has been given to site planning and design on the first phase of the Mobile Greenway Initiative, the Three Mile Creek Greenway Trail. Specific areas such as parking lots, trailheads, wooded areas and restrooms have been critically studied, planned and mitigated in order reduce safety concerns. Planners and designers acknowledge the balance between retaining or creating a natural setting that is safe and preserving the naturalness of an area. Design strategies have included measures such as allowing clear visual access, having appropriate lighting and security features in key areas, and providing multiple access and egress points. Encouraging the use of the trail through community engagement and partnerships to continually increase the number of users will create more “eyes on the path.”

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), a concept developed by a criminologist at Florida State University in the 1960s, takes a multidisciplinary approach to deterring criminal behavior in the design process. This important work was based on previous research studying how the built environment influences the rate of crime. Designing Greenways using CPTED principles has the potential to reduce crime by focusing on three interrelated principles that comprise CPTED concepts and strategies: Natural Surveillance, Natural Access Control, and Territoriality.

Natural Surveillance design strategies included in the Three Mile Creek Greenway

  • Parking lots, picnic areas, trailheads, play areas, and restroom facilities are being located near streets and other activity centers so they are easily observable by other citizen and MPD patrols.
  • State-of-the-art lighting, cameras and WiFi are being installed in parking lots and along the Greenway, which feed into MPD Project Shield and can be monitored instantaneously by the MPD.
  • 24-Hour lighting is limited to parking areas and trailheads rather than along the entire trail to discourage use after dark when trails are closed.
  • Benches are being planned in areas where Greenway users have good views of surrounding areas.
  • Landscaping will be maintained at least 5-feet from the edge of trail with a mowed strip or groundcover bordering the trail.
  • Trees will be limbed up to 7-10 feet high and risk assessments conducted annually or after a tropical cyclone event, and large and dense shrub plantings will be avoided to increase visibility.

Natural Access Control design strategies included in the Three Mile Creek Greenway

  •  Clearly visible and lighted entries to park buildings such as restrooms and locate them in areas close to other activity areas. Clearly defined paths between parking lots and other facilities.
  • Maintaining at least 10 feet between greenways and wooded areas to offer long sight lines and distance from potential attacks.
  • Establishing a clear separation between regional public trails and adjacent private property with landscaping, fencing or other screening treatments.
  • Throughout the Greenway, and especially in isolated areas, clearly marked paths or exits will be clearly marked so users see egress options.
  • Greenway open and closed hours will be clearly marked and signage placed to note the hours that the greenway is open to the public.

Territoriality design strategies included in the Three Mile Creek Greenway

  • Incorporating facilities (existing and planned) into the Greenway that provide cues for appropriate uses. For example, incorporating children’s play areas will encourages family use.
    Clearly delineating between public and private property along the trail with the use of fencing, landscaping, paving, and other design features.
    Reflecting environmental and cultural context throughout the Greenway with elements such as gateways, signage, seating, art, paving patterns, and other features. 
  • Providing clear directional and informational Trail signage to orient users to the greenway layout as well as facilities along the greenway. Signs will clearly identify trail names, roads, and features, especially at intersections, as well as trail length and distances to facilities. Mile markers will be installed as well as indications of the Greenway intended use.
  • Greenway rules will be posted at all access or gathering points in the park. Rules will clearly convey the acceptable uses and discourage unacceptable uses.
  • Cameras and WiFi locations will be visible and clearly marked.

Greenway Security

The Mobile Police Department, Mobile Fire-Rescue, City of Mobile Parks and Recreation, Public Works and professional design consultants have worked as a team to create a safe environment for all users and residents of the Greenway trail.

Security Features

In addition to the above CPTED principles, state-of-the-art solar lighting, cameras and WiFi are being installed in parking lots, trailheads and along the Greenway trail. These cameras feed into MPD Project Shield and can be monitored instantaneously by the police officers. WiFi may seem like an unusual feature on a Greenway, but it allows users without mobile cell phone reception to make emergency calls and access the City’s online 311 reporting system for maintenance requests or to report problems.

Design elements have been created in addition to training our first responders to navigate the trail in the most efficient way possible. Special gates along the trail are secured with a “knox” box, which allows the first responders to access in case of an emergency. This allows for quick response if a 911 call for help occurs along the trail. 911 operators will be trained to virtually navigate the trail and identify the most responsive routes in relation to the emergency along the trail, locate the closest access point to direct emergency vehicles, and signs clearly identifying trail names, nearby roads, and features (especially at intersections), as well as mile markers will help users identify their location to have good communication with 911 operators.

Greenway Hours of Operation

Greenway trails have identical hours as City parks and will be closed from 10:00pm until dawn, and lighting will be automatic. Additionally, the use of the trail is strongly discouraged during times when visibility is reduced.

Law Enforcement & Patrols

Law enforcement personnel will patrol greenway parking lots and trails at times determined by usage and analysis of activity. Patrols may be conducted on foot, bicycles, Segway, utility vehicles and/or by mounted patrols. In certain cases, an official Mobile Police Department vehicle may access the trail at specific locations. Bicycle patrols have been shown to be particularly effective due to the ability to monitor entire stretches of greenway systems. Locally and Nationally, their presence has been shown to be a great crime deterrent.

Medical Emergencies

The City’s Greenway trail is closed to motorized vehicles, but is designed to accommodate large service vehicles such as a fire trucks and ambulances in case of an emergency.

Community Watch Program

Many cities with a greenways system have groups and individuals who volunteer to patrol the trail and do special projects such as litter cleanups and tree plantings. In Boulder, Colorado, there are Greenway Walkers who frequent the greenways and are encouraged to pick up trash and report maintenance problems to the Street and Bikeway Maintenance hotline. The Midtown Greenway Coalition in Minneapolis has an organized Trail Watch with riders scheduled for two-hour evening shifts to ride the greenways to provide a friendly presence and report any incidents. Incentives are offered by local bicycle shops and restaurants to encourage people to volunteer. They also have an “Adopt a Greenway” Program with over fifty groups volunteering to help with litter cleanups and landscape planting and maintenance. Buncombe County could advocate and provide support for the formation of community watch groups that will monitor the greenways. The City of Mobile will work with local partners and non-profits to develop similar programs to provide additional safety features for users of our Greenways as the trail program progresses.

Other Safety Considerations

Another very important benefit of Greenways is that they improve the safety of their users by providing off-road facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians which are much safer than traditional roadways. Nationally, over 5,000 pedestrians are killed every year on streets. Sixteen percent of those fatalities are children. Other important safety requests include:

  1. Avoid congestion on the trail. To allow all users safe passage, please avoid walking more than two people abreast. Ideally, form a single line in congested areas or when others are trying to pass.
  2. Stay to the right, pass on the left. As with vehicles, please always stay to the right of the greenway trail unless you are passing.
  3. Cyclists should ride single file at a safe speed. Please slow down in congested areas, especially in areas with reduced visibility or during hazardous weather conditions. Always maintain a safe speed that allows for quick braking and turns. Remember that pedestrians always have the right-of-way.
  4. Pets must remain on a leash. All four-legged greenway users must be kept on a leash that is six feet long or shorter. Always pick up after your pet and dispose of animal waste.
  5. Avoid blocking the greenway. To help prevent collisions, please step off the trail if you need to pause or take a rest.
  6. Hide any valuables left in vehicles at the Trailheads. To prevent theft, place any valuables out of sight within your vehicle. Also, please remember to always lock your car doors.
  7. Proper greenway etiquette. Prevent accidents involving children and adults by ensuring that everyone understands these rules and how to be safe on the greenway.
  8. Listen for others. Headphones may impair your ability to hear and react to potentially dangerous situations.
  9. No motorized vehicles. Any electric or gas powered motors are not allowed on Mobile’s Greenways, trails or parks. ADA-approved electronic personal mobility devices are allowed.
  10. Wear a helmet. Cyclists, roller skaters/bladers, and skateboard users are strongly encouraged to wear helmets. It is state law and a city ordinance for children under 16 years old to wear a helmet while on a bicycle.