Presentation at the 2005 Active Living Research Annual Conference
The Health Field Model postulates that health status is a function of behavioral, genetic, environmental, socioeconomic, and other factors. Important environmental factors may include accessibility to parks, trails, and other walking and cycling infrastructure that facilitates physical activity. Although hundreds of municipalities have built thousands of miles of multiuse urban greenway trails, little is known about how trail use correlates with the physical characteristics of trails or whether these trails induce sufficient activity to generate meaningful public health benefits. Policy-makers need information about correlates of urban trail use so they can improve design and management of them.
We hypothesize that the health of individuals is influenced by physical activity levels that, in turn, are influenced by land use and environmental factors, including the availability and characteristics of walking and cycling infrastructure. Our primary aim is to explain variation in traffic on multiuse urban greenway trails as a function of the physical characteristics of trails, the morphology and demographics of surrounding neighborhoods, accessibility, and trail-related management policies. We have three secondary aims: (a) to develop a model for forecasting trail traffic that analysts can use to estimate traffic on proposed or existing trails; (b) to measure the elasticity of trail traffic in response to policy variables; and (c) to communicate relevant findings to policy makers and other practitioners responsible for development and management of walking and cycling infrastructure.
We propose to measure trail traffic at approximately 25 locations on six trails in diverse neighborhoods in Indianapolis, Indiana, using infrared trail monitors, remote video technology, and field observations. We will identify and measure trail characteristics and urban morphological characteristics hypothesized to correlate with trail use using geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing technology, and field observations. In particular, we will focus on policy variables such as the mix of contiguous land uses, tree canopy cover along the trail, and the availability of parking and rest facilities at access sites. We also will
survey residents for information about use of trails, patterns of physical activity, and health and socioeconomic status.
We then will model trail use as a function of the socio-demographic characteristics of users, neighborhood characteristics, distance and accessibility to trails, characteristics of access sites, and physicalcharacteristics of trail segments. Our modeling approach will enable us to estimate changes in levels of physical activity associated with policy or managerial changes such as improvement of access sites or provision of drinking water facilities, trail expansion, or increases in canopy cover. Policy makers and administrators will be able to use results for a variety of applications, ranging from modeling physical activity on trails, to marketing, to management of capital assets.
An interdisciplinary team of researchers (planning, geography, health economics, engineering, parks and recreation, medicine, exercise psychology, and medical sociology) will model physical activity on trails using counts of trail traffic from battery-powered infrared monitors, data from surveys, and analyses of trail and land use characteristics using GIS. An advisory team with members from federal, state, and local health, transportation, planning, and recreation agencies will cooperate in the research and assist with dissemination of results. Results will be presented at conferences and published in journals.