Assessing the Cost Effectiveness of a Community Rail-Trail in Achieving Physical Activity Gains


  • Christian G. Abildso
  • Sam J. Zizzi
  • Steve Selin
  • Paul M. Gordon


Built environment, rail-trail, cost-effectiveness, physical activity, public health


Increasing physical activity has become an important goal for many parks and recreation agencies. Recreation programming and infrastructure changes to increase physical activity are recommended as effective; however, cost-effectiveness evidence is lacking. The purpose of this research was to conduct secondary analysis of existing data to assess the costeffectiveness of constructing a community trail in affecting community physical activity. Cost-effectiveness ratios were calculated by comparing annualized trail costs, ascertained in 2006, with three physical activity promotion effectiveness outcomes calculated by combining objective trail sensor counts and self-reported physical activity from intercept surveys collected in 2001: (a) community users becoming more physically active due to trail use, (b) community users newly active because of the trails, and (c) community users reporting they met physical activity recommendations because of trail use. The resulting ratios (per user; in 2011 USD) were $122.64, $329.22, and $157.27, respectively, for the outcomes mentioned above, suggesting that building a community trail is a cost-effective approach to increasing community physical activity. Furthermore, parks and recreation professionals should note that increasing annual maintenance and marketing costs to increase the number of trail users may be the most costeffectivemethod of increasing trail use. Extrapolating our findings to the entire United States population could result in reducing the number of sedentary adults by approximately 300,000 at a cost of just under $100 million annually, or 0.22% of the $44.82 billion spent by the federal government on highways in 2008.





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