Factual analysis of the south fork conservancy proposal
Factual Analysis of the South Fork Conservancy Proposal June 15, 2012
I. SummaryThe South Fork Conservancy proposal, which will affect 800 homes, 2,500 people and $280 millionworth of property, depends on the veracity of nine critical assumptions. 1. Atlanta is underparked 2. There is a community demand for more access to parks 3. The best way to address underparking is to increase access to parks and connecting trails (i.e. increase park utilization) 4. That by increasing park utilization, the community will experience six categories of benefit: a. Improved conservation b. Improved security c. Improved Quality of Life d. Increased property values e. Improved community health f. Reduced transportation congestionThis review indicates that there is no data to clearly support four of the assumptions: that Atlanta isunderparked, that increasing access and connecting trails is the best way to increase utilization, thatutilization will improve security, and that transportation congestion will be alleviated.There is, however, data that contradicts five of the assumptions: that there is community demand forgreater access to parks, that increased park utilization will improve conservation, that Quality of Life willbe improved, that property values will increase, and that community health will improve.Of the nine critical assumptions, five are refuted by available data and four are indeterminate owing toabsence of data, inconsistency of data (some results positive, some negative) or ambiguity of data(undefined terms such as what constitutes being underparked).In the absence of any affirmative data that supports any of the nine critical assumptions underpinningthe SFC plan and given the magnitude of potential negative impact on the scale planned, it isrecommended that the effort to establish new trails linking all the designated parks, preserves andgreen spaces be postponed. Proceeding with a plan based on five false assumptions and fourunresolved assumptions is inherently highly risky.However, in researching the data to validate each of the assumptions, it has become clear that lawenforcement and security underpin all six of the intended benefits (Conservation, Security, Quality ofLife, Property Values, Community Health and Transportation Congestion). In all of the studies, non-compliance by trail users with existing rules either exacts a direct price (such as habitat destruction) oran indirect price (such as reluctance to use trails by the rest of the public). No matter what the intendeduse of the trail, whether increased bicycling, increased utilization by sedentary persons, improvedconservation; every single paper touches directly or indirectly on the impediment of perceived lack of
rule enforcement and/or security. It would appear clear that none of the desired outcomes can beachieved without some reliable and sustainable means of enforcing rules – preferably without exactingan additional financial toll or requirement of time upon residents or users.II. IntroductionSouth Fork Conservancy (SFC) introduced the concept of soft surface connecting trails along the 32 milelength of South Fork Creek in 2009 and called a meeting of neighborhood and conservation groups todiscuss the general proposal.In 2011 SFC submitted an application to Park Pride, which was accepted, to conduct a set of publichearings to discuss SFC’s connecting trail plan, focusing on the first four mile segment from I-85, throughCheshire Bridge, along the north side of Morningside Lenox Park neighborhood, through MorningsideNature Preserve, Zonolite, Johnson Taylor Nature Preserve and ending in Emory University. This fourmile segment is known as the Muscogee Trail. A South Fork Visioning Steering Committee was formedby Park Pride to put parameters around the effort and assist Park Pride in conducting four plannedpublic sessions to develop a conceptual design of the connected trail system. Park Pride’s role is that ofan independent facilitator managing a process of community review of park proposals.South Fork Conservancy does not have a single mission statement or clear articulation of its goals butthese have become clear through the Steering Committee sessions as well as in the public meetings.South Fork Conservancy believes Atlanta to be underparked compared to other cities. In order toaddress this underparking, SFC is seeking to establish soft surface trails connecting public lands adjacentto South Fork Creek including parks, nature preserves, green spaces, utility easements, etc. The goal isto increase the public utilization of existing land through better access (entrances and parking) andthrough trail connectivity. The stated benefits which SFC believes will be generated from improvedaccess and connectivity (i.e. increased utilization) include 1) Improved conservation, 2) Improvedsecurity, 3) Increased property values, 4) Improved Quality of Life (QOL), 5) Reduction in transportationcongestion and 6) Improved community health. Problem: Atlanta is underparked Measurement: Percent or Number of People Using the Parks/Greenspaces Solution: Increase access points and establish connecting trails Benefits: Improved conservation, security, property values, QOL, traffic congestion and community health.Additionally, SFC has made the claim that there is a significant community desire for increased accessand trails.The purpose of this report is to assemble data pertinent to this argument and assess the validity of thatargument based solely on the data available. There are three challenges to this exercise.
The first challenge is that SFC has made many claims verbally and in its promotional materials but havenot made available any data or reports to substantiate those claims. For assessment purposes, it issometimes necessary to infer what SFC’s argument might be in the absence of any materials from SFC.The second challenge is one of nomenclature. In any comparison exercise, it is important to have cleardefinitions that ensure that one is comparing apples-to-apples. Different park circumstances have comeup in various conversations, some pertinent and some not. For purposes of this report, we use fourcategories of park changes (Park Change Categories 1-4). Urban renewal/park creation – Creating entirely new parks (example in Atlanta, Centennial Park) which did not exist before. Usually done as part of a larger campaign to address urban blight. Rails-to-trails – Creating new parks from rail conversions (example in Atlanta: Beltline). A subset of above but with particular characteristics. Both Urban Renewal and Rails-to-Trails tend to lead to improvements in property values and reductions in crime since they are major improvements over what existed before. Park restoration – Restoring existing but dilapidated parks (example in Atlanta: Olmsted). Again there tend to be improvements in crime and property values because these are restorations that occur in neighborhoods that are already on the rebound. Park conversion – Changing the use of existing parks, typically from preserves to recreational parks (example in Atlanta: South Fork Conservancy Proposal). Unlike the above three classes where you are starting from a low benchmark (urban blight, abandoned rails, recovering neighborhoods), in this circumstance you are making a change in an environment with a high benchmark: stable and prosperous, usually with low crime and high property values. In other words, given that metrics are already quite positive, it is statistically more probable for a change to cause a negative outcome. This is the least studied of the four park change categories.The third challenge is that much of the data that does exist has been produced by advocacy groups andgroups with a commercial stake in a positive assessment of the value of parks and trails. There is littleresearch produced by independent and neutral parties. Voluminous, objective, replicable data isexpensive and often times difficult to collect, requiring significant resources. As a consequence, much ofthe easily accessible literature is based on much less rigorous criteria. Characteristic of these weakstudies are 1) unclear methodologies, 2) reliance on surveys of opinion rather than measurement ofobjective fact, 3) small sample sizes, 4) low replication/validation by others, 5) inconsistent comparisons(apples and oranges) and 6) absence of testable hypotheses.SFC’s proposal for the South Fork Creek falls into Park Change Category 4, conversion of an existing setof parks to new purposes. In this case, making use of unutilized or underutilized land for trail purposesas well as repurposing existing nature preserve land for recreational purposes (hiking trails). There areseveral distinctive features of the Muscogee Trail which raise particular issues. These include: Heterogeneous current usage – some land is nature preserve, some easement, some utility right of way, some privately owned, some recreational park, some fallow green space, etc.
Topologically closed environments – several stretches of the Creek are characterized by sharply winding curves (paralleling the Creek), high banks, short lines of sight, heavy forestation/ground vegetation, constricted widths of land, etc. Residential community enclosure – long stretches of the route are bounded by owner-occupied homes where privacy, security and property rights are paramount issues. Past conservation success – Several stretches have had active neighbor involvement in various conservation activities including stream bed clean-up, invasives removal, replantings, and other such activities. The consequence is that various stretches of land have come to serve as a wildlife reservoir with everything from deer, beavers, snapping turtles etc. to blue heron, pileated woodpeckers and other birds uncommon to an urban environment. Physical constraints – There are numerous sections where the narrowness of the public land adjacent to the creek available for a path vitiates any goal related to conservation, privacy, etc.This report will examine the following critical claims: There is a material existing community demand for increased access and trail connectivity That Atlanta is underparked That the preferred solution to underparking is to increase utilization by improving access and creating trail connectivity That increasing park utilization will lead to o Improved conservation o Improved security o Reduced QOL incidents o Increased property values o Improved traffic congestion o Improved community healthThe approach will be to examine the logical integrity of each of the assertions and then to examine thedata available to support the argument. To the extent possible, only data from studies done on ParkConversions (Park Change Category 4) will be used, however, given the general absence of such studies,other studies will be used with the relevant caveats noted. In the absence of data from South ForkConservancy itself, data from Park Pride, Rock Creek Watershed Alliance, Neighbors and from Googlesearches will be used in good faith, recognizing that there is an overall lack of consistency and datacomparability when using data from disparate sources.III. ContextSouth Fork Conservancy has proposed creating a path or trail originating at the confluence of South ForkCreek with North Fork Creek at I-85 connecting to Cheshire Bridge Road and connecting parks all alongthe 32 mile stretch of South Fork Creek. They estimate that this will be a twenty year effort. It is likely
to affect between 5,000 and 10,000 households either adjacent to the parks or within two blocks of theparks along the whole 32 mile stretch.SFC is starting with an initial four mile segment, known as Muscogee Trail, stretching from CheshireBridge Road, through Morningside Lenox Park and Johnson Estates to Emory University. This will affectsome 300 owner-occupied homes adjacent to the parks and another 500 units within two blocks, orsome 2,500 people in total (there are another estimated 1,900 people affected in apartments adjacentto the parks, mostly at the western end of this first phase).The property value of owner-occupied homes within two blocks is estimated in aggregate at $280million (800 homes times an estimated average value of $350,000 per home).There are at least three major urban initiatives that may have some future impact on SFC’s proposal. Subject to the TSPLOT, there is a Clifton Corridor proposal in the portfolio of proposed transportation projects. The proposal would locate a light rail line adjacent to the CSX rail line with a station at Cheshire Bridge, one at Zonolite and one at Emory University. The adjacency of light rail stations with SFC proposed trail access points would likely affect both the volumes and nature of trail usage; likely increasing the number of users and possibly increasing the ratio of bicyclers to walkers. Atlanta Department of Watershed Management has major pipe replacement plans on the books for several sections of the proposed route, including Johnson Taylor. When these projects are executed they will have significant impact on conservation and neighborhoods for the duration of the construction work. For example it is estimated by Atlanta Water that the work in Johnson Taylor will necessitate the removal of some 100 trees. Atlanta Department of Watershed Management has plans for a significant sewer capacity relief project, likely to locate overflow tanks in the western area of SFC’s proposed trails.In summary, this is a proposal likely to affect the long term safety, security and quality of life for some2,500 people in 800 homes with an aggregate property value of $280 million. In addition it will affectthe viability of an existing wildlife population that includes at least beaver, deer, coyotes, snappingturtles, box turtles, blue heron, pileated woodpeckers, barred owls, red tailed hawks, and numerousmigratory birds.Given the magnitude of the possible consequences, any proposal needs to be pursued with care andwith a solid factual foundation.IV. Analysis of ArgumentIn this section, each of the elements of the SFC argument will be addressed in order.
Is there a community demand for increased access and connecting trails?The evidence for this assertion is based on a survey designed by South Fork Conservancy and conductedas part of the Park Pride Visioning process. Several hundred hardcopies of the survey were distributedin various venues and online versions were linked through numerous community groups (MorningsideLenox Park Association, Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition, etc.) representing some 20,000 communitymembers in the general vicinity of the proposed trails. This effort elicited 192 completed surveys (lessthan 1% of the targeted population). It should be noted that members of South Fork Conservancyparticipated in the survey though none of their members live in the affected neighborhood but it is notpossible to determine exactly how many SFC survey participants completed surveys. There are tenboard members and it is assumed for purposes of analysis that they have at least ten additionalmembers that completed surveys, i.e. 20 SFC advocacy responses among the 192 total responses.Question 10 on the survey asked, “You would like more access to nature trails in your neighborhood andsurrounding areas” to which 73% responded in the affirmative. However, in the prior question 9,“Overall, how satisfied are you with the nature trails in your neighborhood?” only 17% indicateddissatisfaction, 33 people in total (of whom perhaps 20 might be members of the SFC group advocatingchange). 78% of participants were satisfied or indifferent to the current status of parks. This nearly 80%number mirrors the proportion of neighbors participating in the public sessions who are opposed toimplementing a connecting trail.There have been approximately 40-50 neighbors from three clusters (Johnson Taylor; Robin Lane;Charline/Homestead; and Lenox Road/Lenox Circle) who have articulated strong opposition to the plan.There have been perhaps a dozen other neighborhood residents attending the three public sessionswho have expressed interest in details for the plan or who are strong advocates for the connecting trailidea.In summary, less than 1% of neighborhood community have expressed any interest in the proposal(response rate of survey) and of those that did respond, nearly 80% are satisfied with the parks as theycurrently exist.The apparent contradiction between Question 9 (78% satisfied with parks) and Question 10 (73% wantmore parks) is easily reconciled. Question 10 is a non-consequence question akin to “would you likebetter schools”, “would you like more effective policing”, “would you like easier access to libraries”, etc.Most people would prefer something for nothing. Question 9 is more consequential because it forcespeople to make trade-off decisions. How satisfied are you with the status quo answers the question asto how important is it to make any changes, given that there are always risks and trade-offs attendant tochange. 78% satisfied with the status quo indicates that there is relatively low appetite for change tothe park system as it currently exists, or at least a low appetite for changes that would increaseutilization via access and connectivity.
CONCLUSION There is little or no evidence (based on the survey) of community support for increasing access and connecting trails. Less than 1% response rate and less than 20% of those that did respond dissatisfied with existing parks. Participants from the neighborhood who have attended the public sessions are roughly 80% opposed to the connecting trails proposal, recognizing that attendance is a self-selected sample.Is Atlanta underparked compared to other cities?By its nature this is a subjective question without any qualifiers. Compared to what other cities and onwhat basis might we determine that Atlanta is underparked? SFC has not stated on what basis theybelieve Atlanta to be underparked.One common measure of comparison is acres per 1,000 residents within city limits. The Trust for PublicLand maintains such comparative statistics. Figures in this analysis are drawn from their 2011 City ParkFacts Report. Atlanta is, by city proper population size, the 33rd largest city in the US. Its acres per 1,000residents (APR) is 7.2. Among the other top 50 cities (by population size) with an APR in this range areSeattle (8.9), Baltimore (7.7), Boston (7.6), Cleveland (7.3), Philadelphia (7.2), Long Beach (7.2), Tucson(7.2), San Francisco (6.6), Detroit (6.5), and Los Angeles (6.2).There are roughly 30 cities in the top 50 cities by size which have APRs greater than Atlanta. Howeverthese include low density cities (i.e. large land size for the population) such as El Paso, Charlotte,Oklahoma City, Virginia Beach, etc. It could be argued that these are not quite comparable to Atlanta.Compared to such high density cities as Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Newark,Miami, etc. who have a collective APR of 6.8, Atlanta is above that average. The average ofIntermediate-High density cities (San Jose, St. Paul, St. Louis, Las Vegas, Cleveland) who averagecollectively an APR of 7.3, Atlanta is right at that benchmark.For Intermediate-Low density cities such as Columbus, Raleigh, Phoenix, Dallas, Bakersfield, San Diego,etc., which have a collective APR of 13.5, Atlanta ranks in the bottom third of that group.If we use Acreage per 1,000 Residents, to which group of cities ought we to compare Atlanta? Is Atlantamore like a Boston, Baltimore, Seattle or Cleveland or is it more comparable to Phoenix, San Diego, ElPaso or Oklahoma City? And if it is the former group rather than the latter, do we then consider Boston,Baltimore, and Seattle underparked as well? We have the APR numbers to make comparisons but itisn’t clear what those numbers actually tell us.Another measure of how well a city is served by its parks systems is the number of users (again from thesame source, The Trust for Public Land). On this measure Atlanta performs much better. It is 12th outof 60 cities with an absolute user rate of 7.9 million users per year. On a park usage per resident basis,
Atlanta is in the top 8 cities out of 60 with 16.3 usages of parks per resident compared to an average of7.3 park usages per resident for all 60 cities.Yet another measure might be numbers of usages divided by the number of acres, more of a measure ofhow intensely parks are used. On that measure, Atlanta does better yet coming in at 7th place with2,024 usages per acre compared to an average of 698 usages per acre per year for all the other cities.So compared to the top fifty cities by size, Atlanta is in the bottom third in terms of acres per resident(for all major cities) and at average for what might be deemed most comparable cities. Atlanta is in thetop quarter in terms of degree of park utilization. CONCLUSION Is Atlanta underparked? The answer depends on which measure you are using. Since SFC has not specified on what basis Atlanta is underparked, it would appear that the answer is indeterminate; by some measures possibly yes and on other measures no. Since this is a major rational for the need to increase access to parks and increase connecting trails, the absence of any clear data to support that there is in fact a problem needing to be solved is a major weakness in the argument.What is the best way to increase park utilization?South Fork Conservancy believes Atlanta to be underparked and that the best way to address that is byincreasing park utilization. No data has been made available to substantiate that assumption. However,it is logical that increasing utilization of existing parks is probably easier than acquiring new park land.We have already seen that Atlanta is the 8th city most successful at generating park usage per resident(at 16.3). Looking at six of those more utilized cities (St. Louis is an outlier at 49.5 park usages perresident), the range of usages per resident is 18.8-24.3. While there is room for improvement, there isnot a lot of room.To what degree are conversions of nature parks to recreational trails successful at increasing parkutilization? SFC has made no data available. A Google search yields a study by the MichiganDepartment of Community Health which examined interventions on seven different trails in Michigan.The interventions were intended to increase the utilization of those seven different park systems. It isnot possible from the descriptions to determine the degree to which the topographical andcircumstantial conditions match those of the Muscogee Trail. The interventions included such actions asextending the length of trails, adding signage, adding benches, etc.Five of the trails experienced increases of usage of roughly 200%, i.e. they doubled their pre-intervention usage rate. Two of the trails experienced a drop by half in their usage rate. So 1/3rd ofprojects intending to achieve similar goals as SFC by adding trails and access failed in their intended goal,
having a negative impact on utilization. 2/3rd achieved their goal and the degree of increase was adoubling of usage. In most ventures, a 35% failure rate is a red flag requiring significant conviction in thevalue of the outcomes compared to the high risk of failure.Adding trails and access can increase utilization but from the above data, there is a high failure rate. Is itthe best way to increase utilization? It is not possible to answer that question without examining thealternative means of increasing utilization absent additional access points and connecting trails. ThePark Pride methodology has not focused on actions that would increase utilization without using trailsand there is no readily identifiable study that would shed light on this question.The Park Pride methodology is focused on answering the question, “How do we best implementconnected trails” which is presumed to lead to increased park utilization. The better question is “Whatare the factors that impede your use of parks”. Answering that question would provide the foundationfor determining whether there are better ways of increasing park utilization. As will be seen in thediscussions below, there is a strong argument to be made that the best way to increase trail utilization isto increase rule enforcement.It should be noted that in the Michigan Department of Community Health study, they found thatincreased usage of trails appeared to be a function of existing users using the trails more intensivelyrather than drawing in non-users as was the intent: Based on the present evaluation, the trails in Michigan are not frequently used by population subgroups at risk for developing a variety of chronic diseases linked to physical inactivity (e.g., children, teens and older adults).In other words, the seven trail extensions/connectivity projects had a 35% failure rate in terms ofincreasing utilization and a 100% failure rate in terms of improving community health outcomes.This study has the benefit, even though we can’t be sure of comparing apples-to-apples, of having hardmetrics for comparison purposes. CONCLUSION In a single study, but which uses objective data, 1/3rd of trail interventions intended to increase usage of trails by non-users failed to increase trail usage at all (it fell by half) and 2/3rd increased trail usage but primarily by those already disposed to hike existing trails. If the goal is to increase utilization by non-users, it appears that adding trails is not a particularly viable approach.
Will adding trails and access points improve conservation?SFC has asserted that adding trails and access points will in the long run benefit conservation efforts byattracting larger groups of users who will become more committed to conservation. They have notmade available any documented evidence that adding trails does actually increase conservation.In contrast there are two sources of information that exist to contradict the assertion that adding trailsimproves conservation. Jeff Young, a resident neighbor, contacted Dr. Becky McPeake, an expert inurban wildlife, to solicit any research available on the impact of trails and off-leash dogs on wildlife. Theresulting 17 papers which were forwarded to Mr. Young from Dr. McPeake and her broader network ofwildlife specialists indicates a strong and negative correlation between trails, off-leash dogs and wildlife.Mr. Young has collated this information in his June 2012 Report: The Impact of Recreational TrailDevelopment for Human and Domestic Dog Use on Urban Wildlife Habitat.This detailed research is consistent with the guidelines and observations in Planning Trails with Wildlifein Mind: A Handbook for Trail Planners prepared by the Trails and Wildlife Task Force, Colorado StateParks and Hellmund Associates in 1998. Among the observations: Typically, the impacts to wildlife from trails aren’t as great as those from intensive development. More and more, however, we realize that— no matter how carefully we tread and no matter how much we desire to “leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but pictures”— building trails can effect wildlife. By entering an area, we may change the ecology of a system that is complex and frequently hard to understand. As with anything we build in the landscape, a trail changes its surroundings. Some of these changes are minor and temporary—such as when a deer moves away from an approaching hiker, to return to browse once the hiker has gone. Other changes have wider ramifications and duration—such as when aggressive bird species follow trails, expanding their habitat, displacing sensitive species, and preying on songbirds and other sensitive neotropical birds. These changes to a trail’s surroundings may extend for hundreds or even thousands of feet on either side of a trail. (They are sometimes referred to as trail distance effects.) Collectively these effects define a zone of influence associated with a trail. This zone is also the primary experience area for recreationists using the trail. Without wildlife in this zone, trail users would have a less diverse experience. Trailheads and other trail facilities, which have their own characteristics and impacts on wildlife, contribute to the extent of a trail’s zone of influence and should not be forgotten in the planning process. Any trail will have at least some negative impacts on wildlife. Such impacts must be weighed with the benefits of the trail. Riparian areas play a disproportionately large role in maintaining biodiversity. Plants in riparian soils are especially vulnerable to trampling because compacting soils damages and limits roots, reduces aeration, decreases soil water, and destroys soil structure.
The construction of a trail directly impacts the habitat it displaces. Specifically, vegetation removed in the process of building a trail is no longer available for use by wildlife. Once a trail is built, its physical presence also can change its environs. The trail may have created a new ecological edge, perhaps increasing the light intensity and prompting a shift in the composition of wildlife and plant species, thus changing biological diversity. Dogs can cause considerable disturbance (because they may chase and kill wildlife), but less so if they are on a leash and don’t leave the trail. Paradoxically, bird watching and other forms of nature viewing that intentionally seek out close encounters with wildlife may have a significant impact. CONCLUSION There is no evidence from SFC to support that increasing the number of trails and the utilization of parks will increase conservation in those parks. Data collected from wildlife management experts indicates exactly the opposite – increased trails and utilization inherently reduces conservation. Most of this research indicates that there are various strategies for attempting to mitigate that negative impact but that there will always be a negative impact. Importantly, much of the impact mitigation has to do with compliance of trail users with trail rules, an issue addressed below in the QOL section. Both SFC and Park Pride have indicated that there is no basis for believing that Atlanta Police Department or Atlanta Parks will be able to address compliance issues. As a consequence, it has to be the conclusion that increased trails, access points and utilization will have a deleterious effect on conservation along the Muscogee Trail.Will adding trails increase security on the Muscogee Trail?SFC has frequently advanced the nostrum that more eyes on the trail will increase security. Howeverthe basis for this nostrum are Park Change Categories 1-3 (Urban Renewal, Rails-to-Trails, andRestoration) all of which have distinctly different circumstances, principally being that they arecharacterized generally by being large, open spaces with long lines of sight and the changes beingimplemented on a negative base of prior existing crime. In these circumstances, more eyes on the trailand the more users will indeed usually positively influence crime reduction.This experience is not necessarily transferable to the Muscogee Trail which is characterized by sharplywinding curves (paralleling the Creek), high banks, short lines of sight, heavy forestation/groundvegetation, being enclosed by residential homes, etc. There are no studies that have been located thatassess crime (personal and property) in trails comparable to Muscogee before and after trailimplementation.
It is important when investigating the potential impact of increased utilization on crime to have cleardefinitions. In general there is an absence of data about crime and trail utilization and in particular analmost complete absence of objective data as it pertains to Park Change Category 4 (Muscogee Trailproposal where existing fallow land or preserved land in stable neighborhoods is repurposed torecreational land). When discussing crime for Muscogee Trail in this report there are three categories: Physical and Property Crime In-Park – This is perhaps the most traditional concept and would include physical attacks occurring inside the boundaries of the park as well as theft of goods from individuals or from properties physically abutting the parks. Physical and Property Crime Vicinity – In the few studies of crime available, there is usually little or no data covering crimes committed in the vicinity of the parks (usually within two blocks) and yet this is a prevalent concern of neighbors. Quality of Life crimes – The violation of city ordinances which include such things as off-leash dogs, cleaning up after pet waste, noise, hours of park usage, fire, personal usage of drugs and alcohol, littering, etc. This is a well documented issue and is discussed in its own section below.In this section we will only be discussing physical and property crime. It is important to address In-Parkcrime and Vicinity crime separately as each has a further complicating issue.For In-Park crime, the issue is comparability. The first issue of comparability is whether statistics arebeing generated for Park Change Category 4, and the answer is, usually not; available statistics are forrural trails or for Park Change Categories 1-3. The second issue of comparability is baselines forcomparison. Some studies will measure an In-Park crime rate (for example) of 5 instances per 100,000users and note that it is safer than the City or State average of 10 instances per 100,000. City and Stateaverages, however, include many high crime zones. Most neighbors will be comparing against theirneighborhood crime rate and want to know that the park is as safe, or safer than their neighborhood. Ifthe neighborhood crime rate is 3 instances per 100,000, then they will fairly conclude that the park is40% more dangerous than their neighborhood even though it is 50% safer than the city or state.Neighbors need to know that the in-park crime rate is as low, or lower than their neighborhood crimerate and no one is able to provide evidence that supports that conclusion, especially if it is MuscogeeTrail comparable.Vicinity crime has the challenge of not being able to disentangle cause-and-effect. If a home isburglarized two blocks from a park, it is not readily feasible to determine that the existence of a parkeither increased or decreased the odds of burglary. What is missing are any data-based studies lookingat crime statistics before and after the implementation of new connecting trails in established, stable,prosperous neighborhoods. In the absence of such studies it is impossible to affirm to neighbors thatcrime will not increase.It becomes doubly difficult to make this argument when one acknowledges the fact that most majorurban policing strategies are based on the broken windows hypothesis (areas with an aggregation ofminor law infringement become the target for increasing law breaking; see the original article, BrokenWindows: The police and neighborhood safety by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson). Given that it
is acknowledge that APD and Parks will be unable to police parks and given that the data demonstratesthat increased park utilization drives increased QOL infringements, there is a logical reason forconcluding that increased utilization will also increase neighborhood property crime.It is worth noting that while there is little hard data as to actual crime rates on and adjacent to trails, theperception of crime is seen by connecting trail advocates as a major deterrent to trail usage and there isa material literature on the many and various means of improving security on trails and communicatingthat improved security to users. This is important in part because improved security requires anexpenditure of resources that all parties in the South Fork Visioning process agree are unlikely to beavailable, particularly in a consistent and sustained fashion.It is also important because it indicates that even though hard data is absent, trail advocates dounderstand crime on trail and in nearby neighborhoods, or the perception of crime, to be a real issue.Park Pride has done some research on the issue of crime correlated with trails but was unable to cometo any fact-based conclusions. It is widely acknowledged that the fear of personal and property crime intrail environments is most probably much greater than the reality, however there is no hard data for aPark Change Category 4 trail (like Muscogee Trail) to either support or refute concerns regarding crimeon trails. CONCLUSION It is likely that the perception of personal and property crime risks on and adjacent to trails is greater than the reality. However, the absence of any objective data makes it impossible to come to any conclusion other than Undetermined. In the absence of data, there are logical and experiential reasons to believe that increased utilization could increase neighborhood crime.Will increasing access and connecting trails reduce Quality of Life incidents?It has emerged through the Visioning process that the issue of Quality of Life (QOL) incidents is muchgreater and more pervasive than had been anticipated. Typical Quality of Life issues include 1) Off-leash aggressive dogs and associated dog attacks with injuries including dog-on-dog and dog-on-person 2) After curfew park usage 3) Illegal fires in the park 4) Parking congestion including blocking of driveways and blocking of streets to emergency vehicles 5) Excessive noise (barking dogs, shouting owners trying to find lost off-leash dogs, beach parties with music) 6) Trash 7) Drinking and drug paraphernalia 8) Off-path usage (bicyclers)
9) Occasional use by homeless people, and 10) Adjacent home property intrusions (off-leash dogs running up onto porches, defecating in gardens, human pedestrians cutting across private property, picking flowers/fruits, etc.)There is reasonably robust data from Johnson Taylor Nature Preserve from 2005 when a new accesspoint and bridge were put in to increase utilization of the Preserve. The data indicates that increasedpark utilization is directly correlated with increased QOL issues. Subsequent research, formal andinformal has revealed these issues to be common, particularly for enclosed parks such as MuscogeeTrail. While the mix and volume vary by trail circumstance, virtually all urban trails experience themajority of these issues.The root cause can be traced to two key issues that affect the change of QOL from one level to another.The primary driver of QOL is lack of enforcement of existing statutes and regulations. A secondarydriver appears to be the change in mix from primarily local usage to mixed neighborhood and non-neighborhood usage. Basically: the increased proportion of individuals with no ties to theneighborhood, the increased rate of non-observance of rules and regulations. Neither of these is acause easily addressed.Virtually all trail planning manuals emphasize the importance of matching level of security investmentsto the level of anticipated usage. CONCLUSION There is no rigorous national study that has been located regarding impact of usage upon QOL impacts on adjacent and near neighbors despite it being a frequently acknowledged issue in most trail extension literature. However there is reliable data from Johnson Taylor as well as plenty of experiential data to substantiate the magnitude of the problem. Increasing usage, if not mitigated by rule enforcement, will increase QOL issues.Will connecting trails and access points increase or decrease property values?Park Pride researched this issue. Only a single research paper was based on actual objective data (asopposed to surveys of opinion as to whether a property would be easier to sell or would be worthmore). That study, The Effect of Environmental Zoning and Amenities on Property Values: Portland,Oregon by Noelwah R. Netusil, indicated that while there were many variables that would potentiallyaffect the outcomes, trails near residential property decreased property values by 7%.It is a common opinion among home owners and real estate sales people that access to parks shouldincrease property values (and there is some evidence to indicate that this may be true for homesbeyond two blocks of the park) however, the research, usually by advocates and state developmentagencies who have a stake in a positive research outcome, is usually ambiguous – there are too manyuncontrolled variables to be able to make a reliable prediction on whether the conversion of existingparks to a connected trail will have a positive or negative impact.
That said, it is also notable that the National Park Service observed that “Increases in nearby propertyvalues depend upon the ability of developers, planners and greenway proponents to successfullyintegrate neighborhood development and open space. Designing greenways to minimize potentialhomeowner/park user conflicts can help avoid decrease in property values of immediately adjacentproperties.” (Emphasis added).This amplifies the importance of the QOL section above. Where there is rule enforcement, there willgenerally be low QOL issues and low homeowner/park user conflicts. The belief on the part of SFC andPark Pride that APD and Atlanta Parks will be unable to secure new trails and enforce usage rulesbecomes particularly pertinent. CONCLUSION The one available report based on objective data indicates that a trail would negatively affect nearby property values by a material amount (7%). The complexity of trail variables and their impact on property values is acknowledged throughout the research literature. Given the NPS assessment that designing greenways to minimize homeowner/park user conflict is critical and the simultaneous assessment of Park Pride and SFC that there is no means for controlling that conflict, it is only logical to conclude that there is a likely and material risk that the connecting trail would negatively affect adjacent and near property values.Will access and connecting trails decrease traffic congestion?SFC has presented no data or reports to support this view. The trail is intended in the beginning to be asoft surface trail which would discourage its use for significant biking transportation, particularly giventhat it will be a narrow trail (four foot) also meant for hikers and walkers.From a micro/neighborhood perspective, it is notable that a number of trailheads are being proposedfor low-traffic/cul-de-sac neighborhoods. If the trail heads serve their function of increasing access andutilization, then perforce, these neighborhoods would see an increase in neighborhood traffic andparking.From a macro/city perspective, in the absence of any data, forecasts of usage, etc. it is not possible toconclude that the trail will have any material impact on traffic congestion. However, were the trail to bepaved and/or were a light rail Marta station to be built at Zonolite, it is conceivable that bicycle volumeswould rise to a level to affect congestion. CONCLUSION Absent any forecasts, data or reports from similar trails elsewhere, it is impossible to conclude that a soft surface connecting trail will have any impact on congestion.
Will the trail have a positive effect on community health?SFC has not made any data or reports available to support this contention. However the data from theMichigan Department of Community Health study mentioned above is reasonably robust and indicatesthat trail creation serves to give existing trail users more options for hiking but does not have an effecton the targeted populations needing greater exercise. In other words, trail usage will rise but it willconsist of the same people already using the trails, few net new trail users will change their habits andbecome regular trail users.If additional access and trails are not causing people to change their exercise habits, then it is unlikelythat additional trails will improve community health. The already healthy users may become marginallymore healthy but the unhealthy will not change their ways because of additional access and trails. CONCLUSION There is no evidence to support that providing additional trails and access will improve community health and there is reasonably solid evidence that it will not change the community’s health patterns.V. Report Conclusions Based on Data AssessmentSFC has advanced an argument based on nine critical assumptions. All nine assumptions are shown tobe either wrong (five assumptions) or inconclusive (four assumptions).Given the low level of support for any changes (17% dissatisfied with existing park system) and the highlevel of opposition to connected trails (80% of adjacent neighbors in opposition), and the magnitude ofpotential impact (800 homes, 2,500 people, $280 million of property value) there is little objective basison which to proceed. This analysis might change were SFC to make available objective data to supporttheir nine critical assumptions.This exercise has demonstrated a critical factor that underpins all improvement efforts – the reliableenforcement of rules, regulations and ordinances as they pertain to park usage. Absent enforcement,most solutions are likely to fail to deliver the desired benefits. If Park Pride and South Fork Conservancyare both correct that Atlanta Police Department and Atlanta Parks cannot be considered likely to reliablyand consistently enforce park rules (an experience shared by Rock Creek Watershed Alliance over thepast decade), then any changes will be clearly at the cost of local neighbors. Either they will suffer adecline in QOL, Security, Property Values, etc. or they will have to make available time and moneythemselves to maintain some minimum level of security. Hence the overwhelming importance ofinvolving local neighbors and working with them to address local concerns first before making anychanges.