Landowner liability is not much of a concern since there are "recreational use" statutes on the books in 49 states including Indiana. These statutes state that an injured person would need to prove that the landowner engaged in willful and wanton misconduct in order to recover damages. The only way that a landowner might not have protection under the "recreational use" statute is if that landowner charged a fee for access to their property.
IC 8-4.5-6-5 Liability for injury
Sec. 5. (a) A property owner has no duty of care to any person who is using a recreational trail.
(b) This section does not relieve a property owner from liability for injury that is a direct result of the property owner's:
(1) own use of a recreational trail; or
(2) gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.
The best way to be sure that liability issues are avoided is proper planning in designing the trail. The B&O Trail can draw on many successful trail designs to minimize this concern.
Feedback from experienced Indianapolis realtors concerning the new Monon Trail suggests the same benefits will occur locally.
"We had record sales in 1997 of homes in Forest Hills," says Chip Somerville (Somerville Team at Re/Max, phone 317.469.1900) referring to the area on the west side of the Monon Trail south of Broad Ripple. "Customers aren't yet concentrating their searches toward trail proximity, but adjacent neighborhoods set sales value records last year," Chip reports. "There's just tremendous interest in the Broad Ripple area."
Kurt Meyer (Baseline Real Estate, phone 317.579.6061) concentrates exclusively on commercial properties, especially in the Broad Ripple area. "The market is incredibly strong, with many inquiries from people wanting to be in this specific area," Kurt reports. The result is "pretty high prices that can be a shock for less experienced business owners," he explains. His experience is that the Monon Trail has had "a very positive effect on commercial values."
National market research of prospective home buyers reveals 78 percent rated natural open space as either "essential" or "very important" (American Lives Inc., 1995). A similar study of the Indianapolis market was conducted at the 1996 Home Show by Company of Pilgrims Inc. under contract to Davis Homes. In response to the question "What amenities are of tangible value in your home buying, renting or remodeling plans," 83 percent of Indianapolis consumers said they were "interested" or "very interested" in bicycling-walking trails. For comparison, in the same survey tennis/basketball courts and playgrounds received 73 and 55 percent ratings respectively.
Over the last decade, and in multiple U.S. regions, there have been a number of published studies of the relationship of real estate values to trail proximity. In Boulder (CO) total selling prices increased $4.20 to $10.20 per foot of proximity, beginning at 3200 feet from the greenway (1978). Proximity to Salem (OR) greenbelt parcels - privately owned in this case - added a premium of $1,200 per acre, in comparison to similar properties 1,000 feet or more from the greenbelt (1986).
Clustered housing designs incorporating green space were contrasted with conventional subdivisions in a 1990 study in Amherst/Concord (MA). The former appreciated at a compound rate of 22 percent, versus 19.5 percent for the latter. By 1989, this translated into a average differential selling price in excess of $17,000. Also in Massachusetts, a 1982 study of Worcester home sales documented a average premium of $2,675 for properties adjacent to park land versus properties 2,000 feet removed.
In Dayton (OH), park proximity added 5 percent in one study area and 7.35 percent in another (1985). Similarly, property values declined with distance from Phildelphia's Pennypack Park: from a 33 percent premium for adjacent parcels, to 9 percent at 1,000 feet, and finally to 4.2 percent at 2,500 feet (1974).
A 1973 study in Columbus (OH) revealed premiums ranging from 7 to 23 percent for homes facing the park, contrasted with homes a block distant.
Another source of insight to questions of property values and trail adjacency is surveys of residential and business property owners. A comprehensive 1992 study conducted by Penn State University under contract to the National Parks Service included data from three very different locales: the rural Heritage Trail (IA), the suburban-exurban Saint Marks Trail (FL) and the urban Lafayette-Moraga Trail (CA). Landowners along the three trails reported that their proximity to the trails had not adversely affected the desirability or value of their properties.
The City of Seattle (WA) surveyed homeowners and real estate brokers along the 12 mile Burke-Gilman Trail in 1987. They found that properties near, but not immediately adjacent to the trail sold for an average premium of 6 percent. Of those interviewed, 60 percent believed that trail adjacency would have a neutral or positive effect on the selling price of their property.
Neutral-to-positive expectations for property values were held by 87 percent of adjacent neighbors to the Luce Line Trail (MN). In the same 1988 study, 56 percent of farm neighbors held that same view, and 61 percent of suburban neighbors. The most positive expectations were held by the newest owners. Appraisers and real estate brokers claimed that trail adjacency was a positive selling point for "suburban residential property, hobby farms, farmland proposed for development, and some types of small town commercial property."
The popularity of trails and greenways is growing. For example, a series of studies conducted by the Rocky Mountain Research Institute in Denver (CO) found that "those who said they would pay extra for greenbelts and parks in their neighborhood rose from 16 percent in 1980 to 48 percent in 1990."
"The economic case for trails and greenways gets steadily more self-evident," says Rory Robinson, Indiana representative of the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program of the National Parks Service. "Our agency has compiled and summarized much of the published research on this subject and this is available to the public," he concludes. The NPS study is entitled "Economic Impacts of Protecting Rivers, Trails, and Greenway Corridors" (Fourth Edition, 1995) and is available through the NPS-RTCA regional office (1709 Jackson St., Omaha, NE 68102, phone 402.221.3481) or their national headquarters (PO Box 37127, Washington, DC 20013, phone 202.343.3780).
According to a National Park Service study, The Impacts of Rail-trails, most adjacent landowners experience a minimal loss of privacy from the establishment of a rail-trail. Generally abandoned rail corridors have a thick row of established trees and shrubs along their borders. In some cases, adjacent landowners have already taken steps to ensure privacy from trains, passengers, train crews and other former corridor users.
Our landscape architectures, Storrow & Kinsella have suggested natural plant screening using a variety of plants to make it pleasing to the eye. A few of the evergreens which make an excellent privacy screen are Taxus x media Hicksli, Ketekeeri Juniper, and White Pine. Very compact hedge plants are the Columnar Buckthorn and the Willowwood Viburnum. There are vines such as Sweet Autumn Clamatis, Trumpet Honeysuckle, and Fiveleaf Akebia which are excellent screens and their flowers add color.
We will be working with adjacent landowners to enable them to feel comfortable with the trail. A planting ceremony of trees, shrubs, and vines is a possibility. BOTA plans to be a good neighbor with this much-needed amenity for children, senior citizens, families, and other trail users.
The preponderance of evidence from rail-trails says NO. Rail-trails do not bring crime. For instance, Chief of Police Brian Searles of South Burlington, Vermont says that the recreation path is "one of the safest places in Burlington."
Does this mean that no crime will happen on the completed B&O Trail. No. There is no place on earth 100% safe. A man was murdered in North Salem during a church service. Children are murdered in schools. Women are abused in their own homes. Robbery happens in shopping malls and neighborhoods.
Survey after survey of the 885 completed rail-trails say rail-trails are safe. Most trails become safer than when they were abandoned rail corridors. Trail users become watch dogs for the adjacent neighborhoods. Russell Robbins of the New York Department of Transportation stated, "We have been building multi-use trails/bike paths for twenty years. In this time there have been no reported crimes associated with our trails, no vandalism, and only positive experiences. This is in a densely populated suburban area within the New York City urbanized area. Additionally, in fact, property values have risen within the corridor."
A newspaper article in the St. Petersburg Times (Florida) concerning the Pinellas Trail reports, "A bicycle officer initially was assigned to the two miles of trail in Clearwater, but [police spokesman Wayne] Shelor said the officer was soon reassigned because there was little crime. 'As a problem, it's minimal,' Shelor said. 'The sheer numbers of people on the trail during the day has an effect because crime lurks in the shadows.'"
An article from the Seattle Times concerning the Burke-Gilman Trail stated: Lagerwey (bicycle-program coordinator for the Seattle Engineering Department) stated that police stationed near the trail were very supportive of it, and statistics showed no increase in crime."
Everywhere you go you must use common sense. Trails can bring fun, relaxation, safety, and recreation to a neighborhood. In an April 5, 1997 Indianapolis Star article about the Monon Trail, Andy Bang was quoted as saying, "When people get out here on the trail, they're more relaxed, less pressured and more gentle."