Neighborhoods should welcome, not fear trails

July 26, 2009

One of the biggest obstacles faced by communities trying to develop bicycle and pedestrian trails is the attitude of NIMBY: Not in my back yard.

Some people fear trails will bring crime into their neighborhoods, even though common sense would tell them that criminals prefer to travel in vehicles on their already plentiful roads.

Some homeowners worry that trails will hurt their property values, even though the experience nationwide is that trails actually raise property values. Why? Because, once built, trails become a popular neighborhood amenity.

A great example of NIMBY is playing out in the Madison County city of Berea. Since the 1970s, there have been plans for a trail linking the city to Indian Fort Mountain, site of some great hiking trails and an outdoor theater.

The Indian Fort Shared Use Trail would be about four miles long and restricted to pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles. It would be built on land owned by the city or Berea College, which is donating an easement. No private land would be used.

However, a 4,000-foot section of the proposed trail has become controversial because, although it would be on college-owned land, it would pass near some suburban homes.

Berea’s City Council was to vote on the trail last week, but there wasn’t a quorum. For more than an hour, though, citizens commented on the trail. Most lived in the suburban homes, and they opposed the trail.

There were many reasons: They wanted the money spent on other things. They didn’t want strangers near their homes. They didn’t want any development that might disturb wildlife on the college-owned land.

“They’ve had this uninterrupted view and, you might say, use of the college property, and now some other use might be made of it,” said Paul Stolte, a Berea resident who supports the trail.

In addition to helping people get from Berea to Indian Fort, the trail would help residents in that growing suburban area have a way to get into town that doesn’t require a motor vehicle.

“I think it’s going to be an important transportation network,” Stolte said.

Neighborhood trail opponents have proposed an alternative route that would take the trail on the other side of the college property — near other homes instead of theirs.

“That is not the solution; I’ve already started getting calls from those people saying ‘we don’t want it behind our back yard,'” said City Council member Violet Farmer.

“I don’t think (the trail) would be the problem people perceive it to be,” Farmer said, although she understands the concerns.

“I would like to see a network of bike and pedestrian shared paths in town and throughout town,” she said. “It’s a really good project. I don’t know if we can find a solution or not.”

It’s clear that the successful cities of the future will be those that provide residents with safe places to exercise as well as environmentally friendly alternatives to driving cars.

The Indian Fort Shared Use Trail will be back on the Berea City Council’s agenda on Tuesday. Will council members give in to the “not in my back yard” sentiment? Or will they vote for the greater good and the community’s future?