A new report, “Middlesex Greenway Access Plan Health Impact Assessment” authored by researchers at the New Jersey Health Impact Collaborative (NJHIC), examines the potential health impacts associated with implementation of the Middlesex Greenway Access Plan. The goals of the Plan, sponsored by Together North Jersey, are to improve awareness and access and increase use of the Middlesex Greenway, a 3.5 mile rail-to-trail located within the communities of Metuchen, Edison, and Woodbridge in Middlesex County.
The Health Impact Assessment (HIA) looked at factors that influence health and safety, and included scientific research, public outreach and a survey completed by over 500 residents. Results suggest that the greenway could bring dollars into the local economy and is an important asset for physical fitness, especially benefitting senior citizens and children. The study also found that residents have some concerns about safely accessing the Greenway, potential crime and health risks from animals and insects. The report makes recommendations for how the Greenway can be improved to better protect and promote health as more people use the trail.
Specifically, the study found that:
- almost 70% of trail users reported getting more physical activity because of the Greenway, with disproportionately positive impacts for lower income individuals who have limited options for fitness;
- even without a single reported physical assault, personal safety concerns are a strong deterrent to use of the Greenway, particularly for women and the elderly;
- education for trail users about safety etiquette will help to minimize the risk of collisions and falls.;
- Greenway users reported making purchases of food or beverages while using the trail, which could amount to a boost of $120,000 in income to local businesses.
“Enhancing usability and physical fitness options will give greater benefit to all populations who bike or walk on the Greenway,” said Karen Lowrie (NJHIC Research Team). “We recommend that things like providing benches in strategic locations, addressing the perception of crime through improved signage, patrols and vegetation maintenance, promoting exercise loops, and encouraging local organizations to form walking and biking groups, can maximize the positive physical and mental health outcomes of Greenway use.”
Local stakeholders are looking at opportunities to begin implementing the HIA’s recommendations. “The HIA gives us dollars and sense reasons why active and passive recreation and open space is valuable to our towns,” said Mirah Becker of the Middlesex County Office of Planning. Bob Takash, President of the Edison Greenways Group, said that his nonprofit group “…eagerly looks forward to expanding the ways to develop the Greenway’s Health Benefits and publicize the initiatives, following the HIA data and recommendations.”
NJHIC will soon also release the report of the HIA of the Complete Corridor Plan for Bloomfield Ave., a four-lane arterial road through Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Montclair and Verona, NJ. The project was funded by Partners for Health Foundation. The report includes an assessment of the impacts of potential road diet modifications on safety, physical activity, social cohesion, access to services and local economic development. It will be available on the NJHIC website in the spring of 2015.
The NJHIC, facilitated by Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS), promotes strategies that integrate early consideration of health outcomes into planning and decision-making, and is committed to advancing health in all policies in New Jersey. NJHIC’s initiatives are designed to inform state, regional, and local decisions in order to build healthier communities and citizens.