October 2008

Grant Results

National Program

Active Living Research

SUMMARY

Researchers from the Indiana University Center for Urban Policy and the Environment used new technological tools to:

  • Examine patterns of trail use in Indianapolis across hours of the day, day of the week, month and weather condition.
  • Analyze the relationship between trail use and physical characteristics of trails, characteristics of surrounding neighborhoods and trail management policies.
  • Create statistical models for tracking and analyzing trail use that can be used by people in other parts of the country to better understand trail use in their state or community.

Key Findings

  • Trail users tended to be cyclists, male and White. Many came to the trails in groups of two or more.
  • Trail use varied systematically by hour of the day, day of the week and month but not from year to year. Average daily use on weekends was about 60 percent higher than average daily use on weekdays.
  • Trail use is higher in areas with high population density, trail greenness, higher percentages of commercial establishments in the neighborhood, parking spaces and longer trail segments between intersections.
  • Simulated models using infrared and remote sensors are effective in forecasting traffic on urban trails.
  • Trail traffic ratios and models can be used to estimate urban trail traffic in a variety of situations.

This project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) Active Living Research program (for more information see Grant Results). The program funds research that improves knowledge and policies regarding ways that environmental factors affect physical activity, particularly for children.

Funding
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this solicited project with a grant of $149,943 between December 2003 and November 2006.

 See Grant Detail & Contact Information
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THE PROBLEM

Community characteristics such as lack of sidewalks, inadequate transportation to sites for exercise and limited accessibility to trails constitute barriers to physical activity, according to researchers at the Indiana University Center for Urban Policy and the Environment. In response, hundreds of municipalities have built thousands of miles of multiuse urban trails to promote physical activity and health.

As a result of increasing interest in promoting physical activity in urban areas, the Federal Highway Administration has increased support for urban trail projects. For example, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century provided new funds to states to create and maintain recreational trails.

A 2000 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics concludes that the quality of available data about pedestrian and cyclist preferences is only fair or poor. New geographic information system (GIS) and remote sensor technologies may allow researchers to address this problem by creating better statistical models that examine relationships between trail characteristics and use.

Policy-makers need this information to identify characteristics of trails that make them attractive to pedestrians and cyclists. They also need information regarding patterns of trail use across days of the week, seasons and neighborhoods.

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RWJF STRATEGY

RWJF has developed three integrated strategies to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic: evidence, action and advocacy.

Evidence

Investments in building the evidence base will help ensure that the most promising efforts are replicated throughout the nation.

The Foundation's major research efforts in this area — Active Living Research, Healthy Eating Research and Bridging the Gap — are contributing to the nation's collective knowledge about the changes to policies and to community and school environments that are most effective in increasing physical activity and improving nutrition for kids.

RWJF also seeks to evaluate innovative approaches under way in states, schools and communities across the country.

  • For instance, RWJF supported an independent evaluation of efforts to implement Arkansas Act 1220, which mandated a comprehensive approach to addressing childhood obesity in public schools.
  • The Foundation also funded a separate initiative to analyze body mass index (BMI) data for all Arkansas public school students. Already, the BMI analysis has indicated that, in just three years, Arkansas has halted the progression of the epidemic in the state.

Action

RWJF's action strategy for communities and schools focuses on engaging partners at the local level, building coalitions and promoting the most promising approaches.

RWJF is working with the Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based advocacy organization whose mission is to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, nutritious food. The Food Trust has been bringing supermarkets back to underserved communities in Pennsylvania, and with RWJF is working together to replicate those results nationwide.

RWJF is also working closely with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (a partnership of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation) to support its efforts to improve nutrition, physical activity and staff wellness in schools nationwide.

Advocacy

As staff learns from the evidence and action strategies, RWJF shares results by educating leaders and investing in advocacy, building a broad national constituency for childhood obesity prevention.

RWJF supported the National Governors Association when Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee designated wellness in schools, homes, and workplaces as his Chairman's Initiative for 2005–2006.

Through the Leadership for Healthy Communities initiative, RWJF works closely with national organizations that represent elected and appointed officials — such as the National Conference of State Legislatures and the U.S. Conference of Mayors — to educate their members about successful approaches to increasing physical activity and healthy eating among kids. The goal is to support leaders and decision-makers in their efforts to create healthier states, counties and cities.

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THE PROJECT

This project was part of RWJF's Active Living Research program (for more information see Grant Results). The program funds research that improves knowledge and policies regarding ways that environmental factors affect physical activity, particularly for children.

Greg H. Lindsey, Ph.D., and colleagues from the Indiana University Center for Urban Policy and the Environment used new infrared and remote sensing and other technology to examine patterns of trail use in Indianapolis across hours of the day, day of the week, month and weather condition.

They also used new technological tools to analyze the relationship between trail use and physical characteristics of trails, demographics of surrounding neighborhoods, trail accessibility and trail-management policies such as tree coverage or recreational facilities.

Methodology

Researchers:

  • Measured trail traffic at 30 locations along a 33-mile network of five trails in Indianapolis. Infrared sensors placed at one-mile intervals along the trails recorded trail traffic 24 hours a day, all year. Field observers also recorded traffic on the trails.
  • Described characteristics of neighborhoods surrounding the trail network using geographic information systems (GIS) satellite images and Census Bureau data.
  • Measured "greenness" of trails using remote sensors designed to measure vegetation.
  • Analyzed trail surfaces and features such as trees or buildings using light detection and ranging (LIDAR) tools. LIDAR is a new technology that creates a three-dimensional image accurate to within a few centimeters.
  • Created statistical models to forecast trail use as a function of time of day or year, amenities and surrounding neighborhood characteristics. The models focused on factors including trail surface, amenities, parking and surrounding neighborhoods that are amenable to policy changes.
  • Surveyed by mail 800 Indianapolis residents regarding their health status, income level, use of trails and patterns of physical activity. As of February 2008, researchers had not yet analyzed the survey, and no findings were available.

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FINDINGS

Lindsey and colleagues reported the following findings related to trail use in an article published in 2006 in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. See Bibliography for details.

  • Trail users tended to be cyclists, male and White. Many came to the trails in groups of two or more.
    • Cyclists accounted for 46 to 61 percent of trail users. Walkers ranged from 19 to 39 percent, and runners ranged from 5 to 23 percent.
    • Men accounted for 56 to 75 percent of trail users. Data from field observers noted that from 58 to 83 percent of users were White and 6 to 37 percent were African American.
    • Some 30 to 40 percent of users came in groups of two or more.
  • Trail use varied significantly by hour of the day, day of the week and month but not from year to year.
    • Over one year, average daily use was 87 percent higher on weekend days than on weekdays. Sunday use was generally higher than Saturday use. Average monthly use differed across trails, partially due to the occurrence of specific events, such as the state fair, that occurred adjacent to one trail.
    • On weekdays, trail use was generally higher in late-afternoon and early evening hours. On weekends, trail use rose somewhat later in the day and maintained a constant rate until late afternoon.
  • Daily trail use is positively associated with the percentage of college-educated adults older than 25 and with neighborhood median household income.
  • Trail use is higher in neighborhoods where there are higher percentages of minority residents relative to White residents. This contrasts with field observations, which indicated that Whites accounted for a disproportionate percent of users.
  • Trail use is higher in areas with high population density, trail greenness, higher percentages of commercial establishments in the neighborhood, parking spaces and longer trail segments between intersections.

Lindsey reported the following findings regarding measurement tools and methodologies in the article published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, an article published in 2007 in Landscape and Urban Planning (abstract available online, click on article 5) and a recent (2008) article in the Journal of Urban Design:

  • Statistical models based on data recorded by infrared and remote sensors at actual trails are effective in forecasting traffic on urban trails. About 80 percent of the variation in trail use in Indianapolis can be explained as a function of day of the week, month, weather, neighborhood characteristics and socio-demographic characteristics. (Journal of Physical Activity and Health)
  • Trail traffic ratios and models can be used to estimate urban trail traffic in a variety of situations. Many jurisdictions do not have the resources to mount comprehensive trail monitoring programs. The models developed for this study allow planners to extrapolate from small samples that are more feasible for them to collect. (Landscape and Urban Planning)
  • Data collected from Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) instruments provide precise and accurate pictures of trail viewsheds (the area viewable from any particular spot on the trail). Viewsheds include trail curves or turns, density and type of vegetation and characteristics of land adjacent to trails. Researchers can correlate viewsheds with patterns and preferences of trail use. (Journal of Urban Design)

Limitations

Lindsey and colleagues noted the following limitations of the study in published journal articles:

  • The analyses were limited to a five-trail network in Indianapolis. Indiana is in a temperate climate zone with significant seasonal effects, but these seasonal effects are not as great as in regions farther north. Replication in other climatic regions, with different seasonal patterns, would provide useful comparative information. (Journal of Physical Activity and Health)
  • While technologies for measuring trail features such as tree canopies have improved, they are not always completely accurate, so care must be taken in interpreting data from them. (Journal of Urban Design)
  • The infrared sensors that measured trail traffic missed some observations due to malfunction, vandalism, insects or human error. Although they collected complete counts for almost 93 percent of the possible days, missing observations limited researchers' ability to conduct certain analyses. (Landscape and Urban Planning)
  • Errors associated with extrapolation of a small sample of counts to annual counts ranged from 6 to 36 percent. If data are used to estimate traffic on an existing trail segment, this error range is small. (Landscape and Urban Planning)

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RECOMMENDATIONS

Lindsey and colleagues made the following recommendation in the article published in Landscape and Urban Planning:

  • As models are refined and data become more generally available, these should be put on Web sites that practitioners can use to estimate traffic on trail segments.

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CONCLUSIONS

Lindsey and colleagues reported the following conclusions from the study in the journal articles:

  • For policy-makers, the most important findings concern the correlation between trail traffic and measures of the physical environment. "These findings are important because decision-makers can manipulate them through policy choices such as zoning or through investment decisions." (Journal of Physical Activity and Health)
  • "Planning theorists hypothesize that mixed land uses may encourage pedestrian activity. These results, which indicate that trail traffic is higher in neighborhoods with greater proportions of commercial land use, constitute evidence in support of this hypothesis. People may be using trails to access commercial areas and other destinations or in conjunction with other activities in mixed use areas." (Journal of Physical Activity and Health)
  • The finding that trail use is positively correlated with the density and health of vegetation is important from a managerial perspective because adding vegetation to parks can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time. (Journal of Physical Activity and Health)
  • "Trail advocates have built broad political coalitions to support projects to develop trails, but some administrators and technical experts in state and federal agencies remain skeptical that trails and other facilities for pedestrians and cyclists have important roles to play in metropolitan transportation networks." (Landscape and Urban Planning)

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LESSONS LEARNED

  1. Explain research to community members in order to increase acceptance and attention to findings. Many people use trails, although they may have little interest in particular tools or methods for analyzing trail use. Researchers took community members and press representatives on tours of Indianapolis trails and pointed to trail attributes that the project suggested influence trail use. (Project Director)

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AFTER THE GRANT

As of February 2008, Lindsey continues to analyze data from the study and plans to write additional articles focused on data from the survey and the surveillance videos.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Identifying Environmental Factors and Policies that Influence Physical Activity

Grantee

Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs (Bloomington,  IN)

  • Amount: $ 149,943
    Dates: December 2003 to November 2006
    ID#:  050037

Contact

Greg H. Lindsey, Ph.D.
(317) 274-2016
glindsey@iupui.edu

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Book Chapters

Spruijt-Metz D, Berrigan D, Kelly LA, McConnell R, Dueker D, Lindsey G, Atienza AA, Michel S, Irwin ML, Wolch J, Jerrett M, Tatalovich Z and Redline S. "Measures of Physical Activity and Exercise" in Handbook of Assessment Methods for Obesity and Eating Behaviors, Related Problems and Weight: Measures, Theory and Research (2nd edition), Allison DA (ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc., 2008.

Articles

Lindsey G, Han Y, Wilson J and Yang J. "Neighborhood Correlates of Urban Trail Use." Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 3(Suppl. 1): S139–S157, 2006. Available online.

Lindsey P and Lindsey G. "Using Pedestrian Count Models to Estimate Urban Trail Traffic." Journal of Regional Analysis and Policy, 34: 1–18, 2004.

Lindsey G, Wilson J, Anneyang J and Alexa C. "Urban Greenways, Trail Characteristics and Trail Use: Implications for Design." Journal of Urban Design, 13(1): 107–132, 2008.

Lindsey G, Wilson J, Rubchinskaya E, Yang J and Han Y. "Estimating Urban Trail Traffic: Methods for Existing and Proposed Trails." Landscape and Urban Planning, 81(4): 299–315, 2007. Abstract available online (click on article 5).

Ottensmann JR and Lindsey G. "A Use-Based Measure of Accessibility to Linear Features to Predict Urban Trail Use." Journal of Transport and Land Use, 1(1): 41–63, 2008. Abstract and article available online.

Survey Instruments

"Indianapolis Trail Use and Physical Activity Survey." School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, fielded Spring 2006.

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Report prepared by: Mary Nakashian
Reviewed by: Mary B. Geisz
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: M. Katherine Kraft
Program Officer: Terry Bazzarre
Program Officer: C. Tracy Orleans

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