The arteries of our trail culture

The Central Ohio Greenways are perhaps the most-used walking and biking trails in Central Ohio, with the popular Olentangy Trail being the busiest multipurpose trail in Ohio. Users logged more than 2.8 million miles along its 15-mile stretch from Downtown to Worthington in 2017.

There are 126 miles of trails that make up the Central Ohio Greenways, which include the Olentangy, Scioto, Alum Creek, Blacklick, Heritage and Camp Chase trails, among others.

The system is managed by a 20-member Central Ohio Greenways Board, formed in 2015 as a formal committee of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. A 2014 poll of 1,282 trail users revealed that 60 percent of respondents were bicyclists, with 21 percent identifying as runners and 19 percent as walkers. Ninety-one percent of those surveyed said they used the trails for health benefits, while 7 percent said their visit was primarily for commuting. Nearly two-thirds said they would be using the trail for more than one hour and reported they used the trail more than three times per week. Sixty percent of respondents were male and 36 percent were between the ages of 50 and 64.

MORPC planners monitor trail usage primarily by using infrared light streams crossing the trails at average waist height at 23 sections on the local trails. One use is counted each time the light stream is broken.

“Nationally, we are probably standing out in terms of our effort to conduct trail counts over an entire system,” says Bryan Townley, an associate planner at MORPC.

From 2014 through 2017, Central Ohio Greenways had a 5 percent increase in usage, boosted no doubt by the completion of the Scioto Mile, the Alum Creek Trail and the Camp Chase Trail.

Here's a list of the most-traveled trails, their lengths and the miles traveled on them in 2017. Overall, more than 11.5 million trail miles were recorded along Central Ohio Greenways. For maps and more information, visit centralohiogreenways.com.

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Columbus: A walking route for everyone

City leaders say it's good for residents and it's good for neighborhoods.

In addition to its work with Art Walks and the Walk with a Doc program, the city of Columbus' Healthy Places program has mapped out walking routes for more than 50 neighborhoods.

Each year, the city's Neighborhood Pride program targets three to five neighborhoods to focus on, bringing residents and city services together to identify and, it's hoped, remediate neighborhood problems and concerns. As part of that effort, the city's Walking Program creates a walking route for that neighborhood's residents.

“We get together with the local neighborhood leaders through the Neighborhood Pride program and invite them to participate in a neighborhood audit,” says Phil Hanson, the city's Walking Programs manager. “We chart the good and the bad; the good streets to walk—streets with trees that provide shade, low-traffic areas close to shops and destinations—versus those streets that feel less comfortable, with broken sidewalks or heavy traffic or safety concerns. And we look at accessibility: Is the route good for everyone—moms with strollers or people with mobility issues?”

After the audit, a route is created and submitted to the neighborhood stakeholders for approval. “We want to make this a neighborhood product,” Hanson says. “We want people to be advocates for their neighborhoods.”

It's a wonderful resource. But is anyone using the maps? “We print several hundred maps and distribute them in the rec centers, in the libraries. We give them out to the neighborhood leaders and civic associations. But without feedback, we sometimes have trouble knowing whether people are using the maps and walking more,” says Scott Ulrich, director of the city's Healthy Places program. “We don't have great data on usage. It's one of the things on our very long to-do list—trying to understand the impact of the maps on the neighborhoods.”

Are there any concerns about creating maps and encouraging residents to walk in neighborhoods that might have some safety concerns? Ulrich says, “We're everywhere. Every neighborhood has challenges. Rather than saying that people shouldn't be walking in neighborhoods that might have safety issues, we take the approach of, ‘Let's address those safety issues.' And sometimes encouraging residents to walk more—getting more boots on the ground—is a vital part of that solution.”

Search “neighborhood walking maps” at columbus.gov.