Encouraging Trail Access: Indiana’s New Limited Liability Law

Communities across the state are working to convert abandoned railway beds to trails as part of the national “rails-to-trails” movement and establishing other bike-walk linear parks and greenways. Beyond recreation and immediate health benefits, linear trails serve as important pedestrian and bike corridors through which people access schools, jobs, food, transit, and community centers. They can provide tree canopy and refuge for wildlife. They are a source of pride for communities, contribute to increased property values and quality of life.

Unfortunately, providing neighborhood access to those trails and greenways can be a challenge, particularly in communities where pre-established private property boundaries block access to trails. Several issues may need to be addressed to establish neighborhood trail access through private property, including available space, privacy, parking, improvements, maintenance, and landowner liability. Here we focus on the concern of landowner liability.

Liability Concerns

Concern and confusion over landowner liability provide a disincentive to establishing shared-use access points on or through private property. When private property owners consider granting recreational access through their property, the question of liability remains, “If I let people walk through my property and someone gets hurt, will I be liable?” Such concern can cause private landowners to delay or deny neighborhood access. As we build more trails around the country, enabling neighborhood access is anticipated to be a growing issue.

Limited liability laws can provide statutory protection for property owners who open their land to the public. They remove a significant disincentive to providing trail access on or through private property. Lowering barriers to access is critical for communities that are establishing rail-trails, greenways, parks, and similar areas used for recreational purposes. While it doesn’t solve all the issues of access, it is an important tool in the tool chest for encouraging and enabling trail access and use.

Indiana Limited Liability Legislation for Access to Trails, Parks and Greenways

Last week Indiana House Bill 1115, authored by Representatives Carey Hamilton and Wes Culver, passed the Indiana House and Senate unanymously; on Mar 9th, 2018, it was signed into law by the governor. The Bill limits the liability of landowners for recreational access to trails, parks, and greenways. Important: the Bill does not require landowners to provide access through their property to access a trail or greenway. Rather, it limits landowner liability if someone passes on or through their property for this purpose and is injured, similar to landowner immunity for other recreational purposes such as hunting and fishing.

Indiana already has limited landowner liability for hunting, fishing, and other recreational uses. HB 1115 includes access to rail-trails, parks, and greenways.

Nora and the Monon Trail

The Indianapolis northside suburb of Nora provides a case study for the impact of disconnected neighborhoods on trail access. Nora is the proud birthplace of the world-class Monon Trail & Greenway. Paved in 1999, a 3-mile section of the trail runs north to 96th Street and south to the White River (the trail extends for several miles in both directions beyond Nora). It traverses the edges of suburban neighborhoods, the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, nearby schools, and busy Nora Center.

Private property abuts the trail (green); properties in adjacent neighborhoods (orange) lack access unless provided through private property.

As is typical with suburban communities, many of Nora’s neighborhoods are disconnected from each other, and from a traditional urban street grid and pedestrian network. When neighborhoods exist before trail development, pre-established private property boundaries make access to trails/bikeways/greenways/other recreation challenging to retrofit.

Nearly all of Nora’s single-family residential neighborhoods adjacent to the Monon Trail lack formally established public access (approximately 560 households). In these neighborhoods, trail access occurs on or through private property, or not at all. Families might live within spitting distance, but have to drive to trailheads to get access.

Nora neighbor, Susan Wever, shares these concerns, “The edge of my property has become the entrance point for my entire subdivision and for residents of other nearby neighborhoods and apartment complexes. Dozens of people walk through my property every day to access the Monon Trail. If unable to access the Trail from my property my neighbors would have to walk (or drive!) a mile or so, along a fast and busy road that lacks a sidewalk, to get to an official trailhead.” Passage of HB1115 gives Susan peace of mind that she can continue to allow access without exposing herself and her family to unnecessary risk.

The Monon Trail is Nora’s primary pedestrian corridor. Landowner liability is a concern the Nora Alliance is working to alleviate because enabling trail access is a key component to connecting people to nature, recreation, schools, transit, food, jobs, and public services in Nora Center.

Similar State Legislation

Similar state legislation to promote recreational use of land and water are highlighted below.

Pennsylvania Recreational Use of Land and Water Act

Pennsylvania’s Recreational Use of Land and Water Act provides statutory protection for property owners who open their land to the public. The Act limits the liability, resulting from personal injury or property damage, of landowners who make their land available to the public for recreation free of charge. The purpose of the law is to encourage landowners to allow hikers, fishermen, and other recreational users onto their properties by limiting the traditional duty of care that landowners owe to entrants upon their land. So long as no entrance or use fee is charged, the Act provides that landowners do not have to keep their land safe for recreational users and have no duty to warn of dangerous conditions. This immunity from liability does not protect landowners who willfully or maliciously fail to warn of dangerous conditions. Here is a summary of the law and thoughts on how it could be strengthened:
http://conservationtools.org/guides/81-Recreational-Use-of-Land-and-Water-Act

Washington State Beach Access

Although it does not specifically address private property limited liability, cities, and counties in Washington State are required to develop Shoreline Master Programs (SMPs) that regulate development within areas near marine and freshwater shorelines. These SMPs must contain “a public access element making provisions for public access to publicly owned areas.” The WCZMP addresses public access through the local government public access plans required for SMPs, by developing and providing easily accessible information on existing public access to shoreline planners and the public. The Coastal Program also works with state agencies, local governments, and nonprofits to increase public access through land acquisition.
http://www.beachapedia.org/State_of_the_Beach/State_Reports/WA/Beach_Access

Maine Landowner Liability for Recreational Activity

Maine has a strong landowner liability law which protects landowners from suits by people who get hurt on their land while they are engaged in some recreational activity. The landowner is protected whether or not permission is given to using the land (Maine Revised Statutes Section 59a). This protection removes a strong motive for landowners to forbid people to use their land.
http://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting-trapping/accessing-private-land/landowner-liability.html

California Rights and Obligations of Owners

An owner of any estate or any other interest in real property, whether possessory or nonpossessory, owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for any recreational purpose or to give any warning of hazardous conditions, uses of, structures, or activities on those premises to persons entering for a recreational purpose, except as provided in this section.
http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=CIV&sectionNum=846

 

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EDIT  3/12/18: post updated to reflect signature by governor

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Indiana’s GIS Law

Years in the making, Indiana passes first comprehensive GIS law. It defines data exchange agreements, identifies framework data as essential elements of a statewide base map, emphasizes open access, establishes the first Geographic Information Officer as an appointee of the governor, establishes (but does not fund) a GIS fund, and recognizes the role of state universities and the not-for-profit Indiana Geographic Information Council.

Sponsored by Sen David Ford and Rep. Scott Reske.

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SECTION 2. IC 4-23-7.3 IS ADDED TO THE INDIANA CODE AS A NEW CHAPTER TO READ AS FOLLOWS [EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2007]:

 Chapter 7.3. Indiana GIS Mapping Standards

Sec. 1. As used in this chapter, “data exchange agreement” means an agreement concerning the exchange of any GIS data or framework data.

Sec. 2. As used in this chapter, “electronic map” has the meaning set forth in IC 5-14-3-2(d).

Sec. 3. (a) As used in this chapter, “framework data” means common electronic map information for a geographic area.
(b) The term includes the following:

(1) Digital orthophotography.
(2) Digital cadastre.
(3) Public land survey system.
(4) Elevation.
(5) Geodetic control.
(6) Governmental boundary units.
(7) Water features.
(8) Addresses.
(9) Streets.

Sec. 4. As used in this chapter, “fund” refers to the Indiana mapping data and standards fund established by section 19 of this chapter.

Sec. 5. As used in this chapter, “GIS” refers to geographic information systems.

Sec. 6. As used in this chapter, “IGIC” refers to the nonprofit entity known as the Indiana Geographic Information Council, or its successor organization.

Sec. 7. As used in this chapter, “political subdivision” has the meaning set forth in IC 36-1-2-13.

Sec. 8. As used in this chapter, “state agency” has the meaning set forth in IC 4-13-1-1.

Sec. 9. As used in this chapter, “state data center” refers to the state data center established under IC 4-23-7.1.

Sec. 10. As used in this chapter, “state GIS officer” refers to the individual appointed under section 13 of this chapter.

Sec. 11. As used in this chapter, “statewide base map” means an electronic map of Indiana consisting of framework data for Indiana.

Sec. 12. As used in this chapter, “statewide data integration plan” means a plan:

(1) to integrate GIS data and framework data developed and maintained by different units of the federal, state, and local government into statewide coverage of framework data; and
(2) that includes details for:

(A) an inventory of existing data;
(B) stakeholder data requirements;
(C) identification of data stewards;
(D) data standards and schema, costs, work flow, data transfer mechanisms, update frequency, and maintenance; and
(E) identification of appropriate data sharing policies and mechanisms to facilitate intergovernmental data exchange, such as data exchange agreements.

Sec. 13. (a) The governor shall appoint an individual as the state GIS officer.
(b) The individual appointed by the governor must be an experienced geography and mapping professional who has:

(1) extensive knowledge of the principles, practices, terminology, and trends in GIS, spatial data, analysis, and related technology; and
(2) experience in administration, project management, policy development, coordination of services, and planning.

Sec. 14. The state GIS officer shall do the following:

(1) Function as the chief officer for GIS matters for state agencies.
(2) Review and either veto or adopt both the:

(A) state’s GIS data standards; and
(B) statewide data integration plan; as recommended by the IGIC. If either of the recommendations is vetoed, the state GIS officer shall return the recommendation to the IGIC with a message announcing the veto and stating the reasons for the veto. If the IGIC ceases to exist or refuses to make the recommendations listed in this subsection, the state GIS officer may develop and adopt state GIS data standards and a statewide data integration plan. The standards and the plan adopted under this subsection must promote interoperability and open use of data with various GIS software, applications, computer hardware, and computer operating systems.

(3) Act as the administrator of:

(A) the state standards and policies concerning GIS data and framework data; and
(B) the statewide data integration plan.

(4) Enforce the state GIS data standards and execute the statewide data integration plan adopted under subdivision (2) through the use of:

(A) GIS policies developed for state agencies; and
(B) data exchange agreements involving an entity other than a state agency.

(5) Coordinate the state data center’s duties under this chapter.
(6) Act as the state’s representative for:

(A) requesting grants available for the acquisition or enhancement of GIS resources; and
(B) preparing funding proposals for grants to enhance coordination and implementation of GIS.

(7) Review and approve, in accordance with the statewide data integration plan, the procurement of GIS goods and services involving the state data center or a state agency.
(8) Cooperate with the United States Board on Geographic Names established by P.L.80-242 by serving as the chair of a committee formed with the IGIC as the state names authority for Indiana.
(9) Publish a biennial report. The report must include the status and metrics on the progress of the statewide data integration plan.
(10) Represent the state’s interest to federal agencies regarding the National Spatial Data Infrastructure.
(11) Serve as the state’s primary point of contact for communications and discussions with federal agencies regarding framework data, spatial data exchanges, cost leveraging opportunities, spatial data standards, and other GIS related issues.
(12) Facilitate GIS data cooperation between units of the federal, state, and local governments.
(13) Promote the development and maintenance of statewide GIS data and framework data layers associated with a statewide base map.
(14) Approve and maintain data exchange agreements to which the state data center or a state agency is a party to increase the amount and quality of GIS data and framework data available to the state.
(15) Use personnel made available from state educational institutions to provide technical support to the:

(A) state GIS officer in carrying out the officer’s duties under this chapter; and
(B) IGIC.

Sec. 15. The publication and access requirements of this chapter do not apply to data that would otherwise be exempt from public disclosure under IC 5-14-3-4(b)(19).

Sec. 16. With money from the fund, the state GIS officer, through the data center, the IGIC, and the other organizations, shall do the following:

(1) Ensure that there are adequate depositories of all GIS data and framework data obtained by a state agency.
(2) Acquire, publish, store, and distribute GIS data and framework data through the computer gateway administered under IC 4-13.1-2-2(a)(5) by the office of technology and through the state data center. The state GIS officer may also provide access through the IGIC and other entities as directed by the state GIS officer.
(3) Integrate GIS data and framework data developed and maintained by state agencies and political subdivisions into the statewide base map.
(4) Maintain a state historical archive of GIS data, framework data, and electronic maps.
(5) Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, provide public access to GIS data and framework data in locations throughout Indiana.
(6) Provide assistance to state agencies and political subdivisions regarding public access to GIS data and framework data so that information is available to the public while confidentiality is protected for certain data from electronic maps.
(7) Develop and maintain statewide framework data layers associated with a statewide base map or electronic map.
(8) Publish and distribute the state GIS data standards and the statewide data integration plan adopted under section 14(2) of this chapter.
(9) Subject to section 20 of this chapter, make GIS data, framework data, and electronic maps available for use by the Indiana Business Research Center.

 

Sec. 17. The state GIS officer shall coordinate with state educational institutions to do the following:

(1) Promote formal GIS education opportunities for full-time and part-time students.
(2) Provide informal GIS learning opportunities through a series of seminars and noncredit concentrated classes provided throughout Indiana.
(3) Coordinate research assets for the benefit of Indiana by maintaining inventories of the universities’ academic and technical GIS experts, data and technology resources as provided by the universities, and research interests for collaboration to pursue research grant opportunities.
(4) Implement an outreach network to Indiana political subdivisions to enhance communication and data sharing among state government, political subdivisions, and the business community.

Sec. 18. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a state educational institution may not bid on contracts to provide photogrametry services or framework layer data conversion services for the benefit of a state agency or political subdivision. This section shall not be construed to prohibit the purchase of any of the following by a state agency or political subdivision from a state educational institution:

(1) GIS data or framework data.
(2) Data previously created by the state educational institution as part of the educational, research, or service mission of the state educational institution.

(b) If there is a lack of qualified bids on contracts referred to in subsection (a) by entities other than state educational institutions, the state agency or political subdivision may, with the advice of the state GIS officer, solicit bids from state educational institutions.

Sec. 19. (a) The Indiana mapping data and standards fund is established for the following purposes:

(1) Funding GIS grants.
(2) Administering this chapter.

(b) The fund consists of the following:

(1) Appropriations made to the fund by the general assembly.
(2) Gifts, grants, or other money received by the state for GIS purposes.

(c) The state GIS officer shall administer the fund.     (d) The expenses of administering the fund shall be paid from money in the fund.     (e) The treasurer of state shall invest the money in the fund not currently needed to meet the obligations of the fund in the same manner as other public money may be invested. Interest that accrues from these investments shall be deposited in the fund.     (f) Money in the fund at the end of a state fiscal year does not revert to the state general fund.

Sec. 20. (a) Except as provided in subsections (b), (c), and (d), a political subdivision maintains the right to control the sale, exchange, and distribution of any GIS data or framework data provided by the political subdivision to the state through a data exchange agreement entered into under this chapter.
(b) A political subdivision may agree, through a provision in a data exchange agreement, to allow the sale, exchange, or distribution of GIS data or framework data provided to the state.
(c) Subsection (a) does not apply to data that is otherwise required by state or federal law to be provided by a political subdivision to the state or federal government.
(d) As a condition in a data exchange agreement for providing state GIS data or framework data to a political subdivision, the state GIS officer may require the political subdivision to follow the state GIS data standards and the statewide data integration plan when the political subdivision makes use of the GIS data or framework data as provided by the state.

Sec. 21. (a) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to permit the IGIC, the state GIS officer, or the state data center to recommend or restrict standards for GIS hardware or software that a proprietary vendor provides to any political subdivision.
(b) It is the intent of the general assembly in enacting this chapter to promote high technology enterprise and employment within Indiana. To the extent practicable, the “Buy Indiana Presumption” required by Executive Order 05-05, shall be observed with respect to all procurement decisions related to this chapter, so long as Executive Order 05-05 is in effect.

Sec. 22. The publication and access requirements of this chapter do not supersede IC 5-14-3.