The Economics of Greenways and Multi-Use Paths

| December 19, 2017
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There are radiating impacts associated with any public policy project, or public works initiative. Some are good and some are bad, but the ability to assess these is essential. Being able to financially quantify such projects is necessary to deciding on policy and effective implementation.

An example of public works projects with far reaching, and demonstrable, economic impacts are multi-use paths, or greenways. I have become familiar with the economic impacts of these paths because of the proposed NC 280 Corridor Bikeway plan and my involvement in hyperlocal, nonpartisan, governance.

These multi-use paths (MUPs), have been demonstrated to have positive financial impacts on adjacent land values, the local economy through the expenditures of path users (both locals and tourists) and more broadly, on the community’s ability to attract quality industry and associated well-paying jobs. For example, studies conducted in Maryland by the Department of Transportation found that a $191,893 investment in Maryland’s Northern Central Rail Trail subsequently increased state revenues by $303,750, the same year the trail opened. Additionally, the actual project itself, according to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, on average creates 9 jobs for every $1million expended, within the state the project is located. Taking into account “spillover” employment created in other states due to supply chains, the average number of jobs created per million invested rises to 12.

Numbers like that are hard to argue with and americantrails.org has a database of study after study touting the economic boons trails and greenways bring to communities.

In addition to that, these paths have greater quality of life impacts, such as those related to transportation and healthcare. 

Accessible pedestrian and bike paths lead to a greater ability for residents to commute alternatively to work or school. In North Carolina, 40% of all trips are 2 miles or less, and yet 87% drive and only 13% walk or bike, according to NCDOT. AAA has found that it costs roughly $8,400 a year to operate a motor vehicle and roughly $300 to own and operate a bicycle. These paths make it easier for those who struggle with affordable transportation options to access work and school. Adding safe pedestrian and bike routes to a community also generally decreases the amount of cars on roadways, resulting in lower maintenance costs, and increased safety for both vehicular traffic and pedestrians and bikers.

These MUPs also have significant health benefits that in turn impact the community economically. Inactivity and obesity are approaching epidemic proportions in America, and designing communities that combat these issues is becoming an ever more important policy imperative. Promoting community health in turn impacts regional healthcare systems and their insurance markets, making public health once again, an economic issue.

It is vitally important to think about policy issues such as these holistically, taking into account all of their impacts, long and short term, and on issues that are not immediately readily apparently, such as local insurance rates. After studying policy issues such as these for years it is fascinating to be presented with local issues that are being decided in real time, and the ability to see the overall economic import of these projects is vital to “selling” them to a community and determining their benefit to a municipality.

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