multi-use trail

Understanding the Value of Multi-Use Trails

Article by Laura Brown

Naugatuck Greenway
Naugatuck Greenway

Answering growing demand for alternatives to car based transportation and potential improvements to public health and quality of life, Connecticut has vowed to invest billions of dollars in new transportation infrastructure, including $100 million on pedestrian and bicycle paths[1]. While interest in multi-use trails is growing, they can be expensive to build (estimated $1,000,000 per mile) and community leaders are often asked to quantify the health and quality of life benefits. This was the case for a group of community leaders along the Naugatuck River Greenway (NRG), a proposed 44-mile multi-use trail that will run through eleven communities from Derby to Torrington when fully built. Committee members wanted to know: Who uses trails? How and when do people use trails? How much are people spending when they use the trail? What are other potential economic, public health, and quality of life impacts? What can we learn from other trails in our region? How can the trail support brownfield remediation?

In 2016, UConn Extension Educator Laura Brown partnered with the UConn School of Business Center for Community Economic Analysis, the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and the Naugatuck River Greenways Council on a multi-year research project to quantify the potential economic impacts of constructing the NRG, and provide recommendations to municipalities on how to maximize impacts during and after trail construction.

The study involved a literature review, collecting trail count data using infrared counters, a trail user intercept survey on five existing sections of the trail, three focus groups with trail administrators, local business owners, public health professionals along a similar fully built trail, and deployment of a Regional Economic Impact Model (REMI) analysis to estimate total economic impacts of the proposed trail. The analysis included estimates of construction costs, operating expenditures, user amenity benefits, user expenditures, as well as potential impacts on population, employment, income, and fiscal impacts. Reports from the study can be found at http://s.uconn.edu/nrg

The findings of the study showed that this trail, when fully constructed, could have a significant and positive impact on communities in the region. But, those impacts aren’t inevitable even if the trail is built. Trails have to be used, promoted, maintained, and the community, both residents and businesses must be engaged in using and developing the trail. The greatest potential economic impact would result from increased consumer spending by users as well as costs of construction, expansion and maintenance. Currently trail users are spending about $5.8 million annually on items related to trail use (including gear, rentals, clothes, and food) and this could rise to about $85.2 million by 2030 when the trail is fully built. Direct construction expenditures may reach $77.2 million by the year 2030.

Consumer surplus and health benefits also accrued significant economic value over time, including benefits to residents who don’t even use the trail or live in the same zip code as a trailhead. Consumer surplus describes the difference between how much people might be willing to pay to use the trail and how much they actually pay. This includes costs that are avoided like paying for gas to drive to a trailhead or for medical care as a result of health problems. Residents within closest proximity to trailheads and those nearby are expected to realize a combined annual consumer surplus of $13.8 million. That would be expected to rise to about $90.7 million by 2030 when the trail is fully built.

The more people that use the trail, the greater the economic benefit will be. Many users walk or bike on the trail often enough to realize health benefits by reducing incidents of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. The net present monetized value of health-related benefits would be expected to increase from about $10.4 million currently to $71.1 million in 2030.

The study has yielded other benefits beyond the impact numbers. As a result of the project, many other trail groups expressed interest in gathering data on their own trails to better understand their users and make better investments. UConn Extension partnered with the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and received a $62,000 recreational trails grant from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to expand the study to 15 other trails around the state, a project called the CT Trail Census.

[1] LetsGoCT. Connecticut’s Bold Vision for a Transportation Future. (2015). Retrieved November 15, 2016 at http://www.governor.ct.gov/malloy/lib/malloy/2015.02.18_CTDOT_30_YR_Vision.pdf

Assessing the Potential Value of the Naugatuck River Greenway

Originally posted on September 25, 2015

By John McDonald, Extension Intern

 

Naugatuck River
Naugatuck River in Waterbury. Photo: John McDonald

Greenways are multi-use trails that act as linear parks, often following the course of a river or former right-of-way such as a canal, railway or trolley line, or abandoned road. The Greenway movement gathered momentum in the United States through the 1980s and ’90s, and in 2001, the Naugatuck River Greenway was conceived. As of September 2015, there are only four unconnected, short segments totaling 4.1 miles in length. Completion of the greenway requires buy-in on behalf of the Valley municipalities and, with this in mind, an economic impact analysis was proposed by the Naugatuck River Greenway Steering Committee. The economic impact analysis will be a collaborative effort between the University of Connecticut Extension, UConn’s Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, and the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments.

This study will be the first economic impact analysis of a Connecticut greenway or multi-use trail. To date, a literature review has been drafted examining similar studies and situating the project within its historical and regional context. Trail user intercept studies are planned for fall 2015, and focus groups with administrators of existing Connecticut trails will follow in the spring of 2016. The data gathered by these methods will supplement the formal economic analysis done by CCEA and the end result will be a comprehensive evaluation of the impact that the construction of the Naugatuck River Greenway will have on the Naugatuck Valley. It is hoped that the findings will encourage Naugatuck Valley municipalities to invest in the construction of the greenway, which has the potential to be beneficial in many ways to the communities it will pass through.

Potential monetary benefits include jobs added, increases in property values and, by extension, property tax revenue, and recreational expenditures by trail users which is hoped will stimulate more purchases in the Naugatuck Valley. CCEA will conduct a formal economic analysis using existing economic data and an economic simulation model called REMI, designed by Regional Economic Modeling, Incorporated. This analysis will examine regional trends and the impact that the construction of the Naugatuck River Greenway will have on the regional economy. This, however, is only one part of determining the value of the greenway. Non-monetary benefits include health benefits due to increased physical activity, preservation value due to the conservation in perpetuity of the greenway as open space, and the sense of the greenway as a community resource with aesthetic and social significance.

The Role of Greenways and Multi-Use Trails in Connecticut

Posted on September 20, 2015 on Extension Community & Economic Development

By John McDonald, Extension Intern

 

treesThe concept of a network of trails in the state of Connecticut dates back to 1929, when the Connecticut Forest and Park Association established the blue-blazed hiking trail system (CFPA, 2006). In many cases, these trails follow steep ridgelines in their quest for the most commanding views. They are accessible only to those who are able-bodied and reasonably fit. The relationship between the blue-blazed trails and Connecticut’s municipalities centers on the essential compromise between development and conservation. They are not urban trails and do not function as unifying elements in the built environment.

Greenways and multi-use trails are gently graded and often paved or surfaced with gravel. These trails are widely accessible, often to the handicapped. They often follow obsolete rights-of-way such as disused railway lines, trolley lines, roads and canal beds as they wend their way through the rolling hills typical of Connecticut’s landscape. Many greenways follow the course of rivers, as did the old railways. As rivers, railways, and canals have served and, in some cases, still serve as transportation networks, they connect cities and towns. It stands to reason that greenways and multi-use trails can link communities in a manner that hiking trails cannot.

In 1995 the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 95-335, which institutionalized Connecticut’s greenways program, and the Connecticut Greenways Council recognized the state’s first greenway in 2001 (DEEP, 2015). This governing body acknowledges that greenways allow for the preservation of urban and suburban open space and provide connections between these. The linear nature of greenways and multi-use trails offers multiple points of access. Greenways provide a truly public place in areas where open land is hard to come by. They can and do function as urban parks, and encourage passive recreation.

Outdoor recreation has recently seen an overall increase in participation. Jogging, biking, and hiking are among the top five recreational activities nationwide (Outdoor Industry Association, 2013). Greenways and multi-use trails are mainly used by walkers, with bikers and joggers making up a smaller percentage of users. Many researchers have examined the relationship between greenway-related user expenditures and local economies and their findings are varied. Many studies do not differentiate between types of trail users, and caution is needed when estimating the sales revenue generated by multi-use trails and greenways. These trails may not provide the economic infusion desperately needed by many Connecticut communities.

Perhaps the most optimistic view of these trails is that through the provision of a physical connection between communities they will encourage individuals to explore their surroundings and give them a safe place to walk, jog, and ride, which in many areas is sorely lacking. Greenways and multi-use trails can also take their users back in time. In the Ruhr Valley of Germany, planners have tapped into the industrial heritage of the region. They have added to a greenway network that has been in existence since the 1920s, providing links to former industrial sites that now serve as museums and cultural centers (Bailey, 2014). In a once heavily industrialized state such as Connecticut, this strategy could be quite successful.

 

References

Bailey, H. (2014). Seeds of the future in icons of the past. Connecticut Post. Retrieved from http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Seeds-of-the-future-in-icons-of-the-past-5940386.php.

Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. (2015). Connecticut greenways. Retrieved from http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2707&q=323858&deepNav_GID=1704%20

Connecticut Forest and Park Association. (2006). Connecticut walk book: West. Rockfall, CT: CFPA.

Outdoor Industry Association. (2013). Outdoor participation report. Retrieved from http://www.outdoorindustry.org/images/researchfiles/ParticipationStudy2013.pdf