Excerpt from Prosperity Comes in Cycles
by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders
Bicycle trails are good for business. They attract restaurants, brewpubs and retail shops catering to those who walk or pedal for fun, exercise and health. When trails connect centers of employment, recreation, education and culture, they also generate residential development aimed at people who increasingly prefer active transportation to fighting traffic. And when trails are extended and linked with one another, they expand tourism revenue from a growing breed of vacationers who want to get out of their cars and experience places at a more leisurely and enjoyable speed.
As trails succeed, they increase business activity, employment, wages, property value, income and, importantly, tax revenues in a self-reinforcing upward spiral. Specifically, trail improvements boost trail use which grows trail-adjacent businesses and property investments which, in turn, expand tax revenues and create public support for further trail improvements. By riding the trails of Indianapolis, my wife and I got a first-hand look at this virtuous cycle.
Indianapolis is famous for cars racing around its Speedway every Memorial Day Weekend. But this city has also recognized the many benefits of bicycling, as demonstrated by an impressive regional trail system and the 8-mile, multi-use Indianapolis Cultural Trail connecting parks, waterways, landmarks and other community destinations throughout the heart of the city.
The Monon Trail, an inductee in the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, links downtown Indianapolis with the town of Sheridan, 23 miles to the north. Located at the trail’s midpoint, the City of Carmel has been named as a silver level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. To maximize people-powered mobility, Carmel is concentrating commercial, residential and community buildings along the Monon Trail, including Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts and the Booth Tarkington Civic Theater, named for Indianapolis’s own Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. Further north on the Monon Trail, cyclists enter Carmel’s Arts and Design District, home to galleries, design centers, specialty shops and restaurants.
The Monon Trail also forms the spine of the Carmel Caffeine Trail, this city’s variation on the more-commonly found wine, brewery and distillery trails. Here, cyclists can recharge at any of 19 shops and cafes serving gourmet coffees and teas. Other attractions on the Monon Trail include the Indiana State Fairgrounds and the Broad Ripple Cultural District with trail-friendly restaurants and cafes like Brics, located in a former train depot. With this impressive connectivity, it’s not surprising that the Monon Trail attracts 1.3 million visitors a year (Rails to Trails Conservancy 2009). In addition to the businesses that benefit from proximity, real estate values are 11 percent higher near the Monon Trail (Flusche 2012).
At Broad Ripple, cyclists can switch to the Central Canal Trail, pedal past Butler University and visit the many attractions in Newfields Park including a beer garden, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the 100-acre Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park plus the home and surrounding formal gardens of the late businessman/philanthropist J.K. Lilly Jr. Further south, the Central Canal Trail becomes the White River Trail, which leads to several parks and the Indianapolis Zoo.
The White River Trail crosses White River State Park, the site of the Indiana State Museum, the NCAA Hall of Champions and the Eiteljorg Museum, featuring Native American/western art, culture and history. From here, pedestrians and cyclists can navigate trails flanking Indianapolis’s restored 19th Century downtown canals. In addition to walking or biking the 3-mile Canal Walk loop, visitors can also explore these quiet canals by kayak, pedal boat or Venetian-style gondola, complete with singing gondolier.
White River State Park and the canals are one of six districts in the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, an 8-mile pedestrian/bike path connecting parks, plazas and other key downtown destinations including the historically-significant Old National Centre, the Indianapolis City Market, and the Glick Peace Walk featuring luminescent art pieces that celebrate extraordinary individuals including Jonas Salk, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Susan B. Anthony.
The Indianapolis Cultural Trail has been good for businesses and property values. Over half of the owners of businesses on the trail reported an increase in customers with anticipated spending in some trail segments estimated to be as high as $3.2 million. New establishments and additional jobs have been attracted to the trail, with 25 percent of these new businesses choosing their locations because of the trail. Between 2008 and 2014, assessed value of properties within 500 feet of the trail rose by over $1 billion (Indiana State University Public Policy Institute 2015).
This city is best known for cars that average over 200 miles per hour as they race around the Indianapolis Speedway one day a year. Ironically, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail demonstrates that people are also attracted throughout the year to places where they can slow down and savor the sights of a city by traveling at leisurely, human-powered speeds (Rails-to-Trails Conservancy 2019).
Flusche, D. 2012. Bicycling Means Business: The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Infrastructure. League of American Bicyclists. Accessed 8-31-19 at https://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/Bicycling_and_the_Economy-Econ_Impact_Studies_web.pdf.
Indiana University Public Policy Institute. 2015. Assessment of the Impact of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene and Marilyn Glick. Accessed 9-17-19 at http://indyculturaltrail.org.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/15-C02-CulturalTrail-Assessment.pdf.
Rails to Trails Conservancy. 2009. Trail of the Month: March 2009. Accessed 8-31-19 at http://www.railstotrails.org/trailblog/2009/march/01/indianas-monon-trail/.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. 2019. Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Accessed 9-17.19 at https://www.traillink.com/trail/indianapolis-cultural-trail/.