Those of us who use trails regularly are aware of their value. It might mean a
shorter commute to work, a convenient way to get exercise, or something less
definable, the feeling of renewal you get after a long walk or ride.
But these days, when money is tight and investment in
trails and other infrastructure is under threat, all too often our elected
officials and administrators want to know how to define the value of trails economically. How do miles of bike paths
and walkways equal returns that can be measured in dollars and sense? "Give us
some hard numbers," they say.
Luckily, those numbers are proving fairly easy to find. New research released last month by the University of Cincinnati proves that
homebuyers will pay more for houses that are close to trails, increasing
property values and in turn boosting the amount of property tax revenue for
The research, by planning professor Rainer vom Hofe
and economics professor Olivier Parent, studied houses along Ohio's Little
Miami Scenic Trail, a78-mile rail-trail that cuts across the northeastern
portion of Cincinnati. Parent and vom Hofe found that homebuyers were willing
to pay a premium of $9,000 to be within 1,000 feet of access to the trail.
"A bike trail like this has many types of returns," vom Hofe said in an
interview at www.theatlanticcities.com. "Residents can use it as a way to
commute, and most people use it for recreation. For local governments, you can
make a strong argument that they get back some of the money invested in these
public amenities in the form of higher property taxes. We see positive
spillover in more densely populated urban areas as well as less densely
populated, suburban areas."
The research used street network distances between residential properties and
the closest trail entrance, in addition to standard parameter estimation. The
average home studied was about 40 years old and had an average 2,203 square
feet of living space. The average price was $263,517.
"This study estimates some compelling figures that should make any local
government dependent on property tax revenue take a second look," says RTC's
Research Manager Tracy Hadden Loh. "However, the return on investment the
government receives for investing in green, active infrastructure goes far
beyond just property values - we need more research measuring the health and
mobility benefits of trails in order to completely quantify the total return on
As a planner, vom Hofe says that even amid tough economic times and tough
budget decisions by local governments, the research emphasizes that investment
in infrastructure and public amenities is a solid investment that will result
in a positive return for communities.
It is not the first time that independent research has quantified the positive
impact that trails have on economic activity. A 2008 study by the National
Association of Homebuilders found that trails were the number one amenity
desired by potential new homebuyers. And trails are one local improvement
project that voters consistently support. A recent survey found that 66 percent
of voters would support the imposition of additional sales tax if it was used
to pay for trails and greenways.
The need to quantify the benefit of trails is a task the trails community is actively
pursuing. American Trails recently hosted a webinar on "Making the Case for
Trails in Tight Economic Times," during which the testimony of real estate
agents, tourism promoters, planners and small businesspeople all captured the huge
role trails play as drivers of economic activity. The evidence is compelling
and continues to grow, highlighting the inaccuracy of political claims that
trails investment represents "frivolous spending."
Though the importance of trails to tourism is not a
new concept, what is remarkable is the growing relationship of these pathways
to real estate and small business development. The Pedal to Properties real
estate franchise, which has grown from a handful of clients to 22 agencies in
Colorado and California in just a few years, is built around a national trend
that shows buyers are placing more importance on shorter commute times and
finding a home near urban centers and public transportation. The buying
experience even starts with a tour by bicycle.
On the GAP, the Trail Town Program is helping communities and businesses
maximize the economic potential of the trail through grant and loan assistance,
business training and technical support. As a result, since 2007 there's been
an overall increase of 54 new and expanded trail-serving businesses,
creating 83 new jobs in eight communities.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has been at the forefront of this effort. Our
groundbreaking surveys of the economic activity of trail users in the Northeast
and Midwest paved the way for communities all over America to state the case
for trails using data, and dollars.
It is evidence that may be worth its weight
in gold during the coming months, as legislators opposing trails and active
transportation use erroneous economic arguments against what has proven to
make a lot of economic sense.
Top and bottom photos by Carl Knoch/RTC.Center photo courtesy of Pulte Homes, Issaquah, Wash.
Everyone who reads this should send this to your congressmen and women. They are talking about spending billions to bail out Fannie and Freddie again. There are betters ways to spend our hard earned dollars.
When the Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, welcomed the Morgana Run Trail more than five
The Trail Town program, which since 2007 has helped communities along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP
The recent political focus on the reauthorization of the multi-year surface transportation bill provided
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) this morning released a groundbreaking report that for the first time
A letter we received recently from a reader of Rails to Trails magazine provided a tremendous insight
A growing number of American cities are beginning to understand the massive potential of rail-trails
"Can't wait for them to finish this!" writes a recent TrailLink.com reviewer of the Saucon Rail Trail
In the ongoing conversation about why Americans need more biking and walking options in their transportation
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
Washington, DC 20037