Why Your City Should Invest in Active Transportation: and How to Get Started

Walking is good for your heart and biking can be fun, but what do they have to do with economic development? Finding the political support to invest in active transportation infrastructure can be difficult. But, putting the issue in terms of economic impact can make a lot of sense. So, what is the business case for investing in multi-use trails, bike share programs or striped bike lanes? 

Building the business case

A recent report (PDF) by the Urban Land Institute identified several ways investments in active transportation support real estate development. Trail-oriented development helps generate local property tax revenue. Trail-oriented development focuses on small to mid-sized communities that might not have access to public transit, but are located near trails. 

Let’s take a look at three ways this kind of development helps generate property tax revenues.


Walking trails and bike lanes improve access to employment centers, recreational areas and public transit. They also boost the appeal of nearby development. 

Franklin Avenue Bridge
Added bike lanes on the Franklin Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis help safely guide students and faculty to the University of Minnesota as well as nearby businesses.

Trails and bike lanes encourage healthier lifestyles by making active transportation the easy choice. Active transportation helps improve community residents’ fitness and overall well-being. As noted in a recent New York Times article, healthy environments are an increasingly attractive feature for retirees.

In the age of the Fitbit and a growing cohort of active, engaged retirees eager to take their daily 10,000 steps, retirement communities have been slow to change…. enter a new paradigm: the walkable, urban space
John F. Wasik - New York Times

Research shows that direct access to walking trails, bike-sharing systems and bike lanes can have a positive impact on property values. There is mounting evidence that proximity to bike trails raises property values. For example, according to the report (PDF) by the Urban Land Institute:

  • The value of properties within a block of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail have soared nearly 150 percent since the trail’s opening in 2008.
  • The value of properties near the Katy Trail in Dallas have increased 80 percent. 
  • In Minneapolis, every quarter-mile of proximity to an off-street bike facility raises the value of a home by an additional $510. 

Related Content: 5 Unsung Design Features That Make Places Better

Getting started

Given these trends, what type of public investments should communities do to make themselves more bikable and walkable? How can they encourage private developers to do the same?

Mammoth Springs Development
In the Mammoth Springs development in the Village of Sussex, Wisconsin, developers added bike trails to enhance the development and increasing appeal for residents.

In the article, “Three Simple Lessons from America's Most Bike-Friendly Communities,” we discussed key practices that America’s most bikeable communities are following. These include places to go, safe biking conditions and most importantly — having a plan. 

You'll need a plan

It all begins with a business plan. Identify your goals. Establish a baseline. Then figure out how best to fill the gaps in your network. Equally important is to come up with sound implementation strategies, project costs, funding sources and a timeline. 

A good place to start is by reading other communities’ and organizations’ plans.

Public private partnerships

Now that you have a great plan in place and public support, how do you address the other side of the coin – making sure developers work with the public sector to create truly walkable communities.

Metropolitan Market Place
The Metropolitan Market Place in Rochester, Minnesota is an example of a project that brought together developers and the public sector to create a great walkable environment. Read the project portfolio.

Similar to public officials, part of the answer is convincing developers it makes economic sense. 

Blair Williams, a Milwaukee based developer and president of WIRED Properties, doesn’t need convincing. He creates successful projects by encouraging ‘pedestrian collisions’ within his developments. 

“I try to create value in my development by fostering human connections and a sense of community. A key part of that is planning and designing real estate projects that get people out of their cars and onto their feet. I like to focus on creating more pedestrian collisions – not vehicle collisions. We need to create opportunities for people to interact as they pass each other on the street or outside a store,” Blair says.

Blair’s advice for getting through to his colleagues in the development community?

Just explain how people benefit and the positive impact on the community,” he says. “After they understand that, the rest is easy.
Blair Williams

Wrapping it up

Planners, economic development officials, community leaders and developers are increasingly seeing value in creating more walkable and bikable communities. However, political will to make the necessary investments doesn’t always exist. Highlighting the economic benefits of active transportation (as well as the health and environmental benefits) can help build political support. Once that support is garnered, it’s time to craft a business plan. A good plan will provide a long-term vision that many public and private partners can get behind and support. After all, it just makes good business sense.

About the Author

Andrew Dane

Darren Fortney is a transportation planner, SEH Principal and community engagement specialist dedicated to mobility solutions for all users. Contact Darren

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