The economics of alternative transportation

Alternative transportation infrastructure has repeatedly been shown to contribute to local economies across the United States through job creation, commercial business growth, enhanced tourism, and increases in real estate value (National Recreation and Park Association 2016).

Strengthening the local economy

Findings from a 2012 study to estimate the economic impacts of active transportation in New Jersey, reveal that investments in active transportation contribute significantly to job creation. In 2011, governmental agencies in New Jersey invested $63.17 million on active transportation infrastructure, which represented less than 1% of all transportation spending in the state during that same year. This investment translated into 648 jobs, approximately $44.57 million in wages and salaries, $15.68 million in tax revenue and $75.62 million contribution to the state gross domestic product (Brown and Hawkins 2012).

According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, infrastructure investments in 11 cities in the U.S. revealed that multimodal infrastructure create the most local jobs (i.e. direct, indirect and enhanced jobs) than comparable investment in road infrastructure for only motor vehicles (Garrett-Peltier 2011).

Within two miles of the proposed route...

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return on investment


jobs within two miles

Moreover, general investment in motor vehicles and fuel tends to leave the local economy while use of multimodal infrastructure has been found to directly lead to a greater investment in local businesses. Research indicates that non-automotive expenditures have a regional economic impact that can be $219,000 per million dollars greater than automobile expenditures (Miller, Robison and Lahr 1999).

Multimodal transportation also provides local businesses with a type of customer that behaves differently than motorists: one who is more apt to spend significantly more time noticing and considering the businesses they pass. Consequently, businesses near multimodal facilities see an increase in opportunities to cater to walkers and bikers, driving local economies through spending on food, beverage, and retail (National Recreation and Park Association 2016).

Increasing local property values

For many, nearby active transportation opportunities are a determining factor when considering relocating to an area. A growing body of research shows the connection between safe access to active transportation and increased property values. Several studies have been conducted to research the effect multimodal opportunities have on property values, spanning from local analyses along specific routes to comprehensive, nationwide inventories of 90,000+ home sales by the Department of Interior. 

The results were clear: average home values increased in areas where homes are perceived to have greater walkability and access to multimodal infrastructure, spanning from an additional $4,000 to $34,000 nationwide above comparable homes without such access (Cortright 2009). Furthermore, a local analysis of home sales indicated that houses along trails sold 41.87% faster than other homes (Della Penna 2006).

Several studies have been conducted to measure the effect that public access trails have on property values. In general, a summary of the literature indicates that trails tend to have a generally positive effect on property values.

Homes with access to nearby rail trails opportunities saw...

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highest average increase in value

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Less time on the market

A 2008 study on the impact of one trail’s development in Southern Ohio had on 376 neighboring properties. In this study, it was demonstrated that proximity to the trail positively impacts property values. Specifically, the model results suggested that for every foot closer to the Little Miami Scenic Trail a single-family residential property is located, its sale price increases by $7.05 (Karadeniz 2008).

A more local study examined home sales in seven towns in Massachusetts along which the Minuteman Bikeway and Nashua River Rail Trail. Statistics on list and selling prices and on days on the market were analyzed. The analysis shows that homes near these rail trails sold at 99.3% of the list price as compared to 98.1% of the list price for other homes sold in these towns. The most significant feature of home sales near rail trails is that these homes sold in an average of 29.3 days as compared to 50.4 days for other homes (Della Penna 2006)