For many of the early years of the rail-trail movement, supporters of trail development often had to work pretty hard as salespeople of sorts - convincing a skeptical community that if they would build a trail people would use it and love it and the local area would benefit in a myriad of ways. Back in the days when there wasn't the data and compiled experiential evidence, the promises of these benefits had to be taken on faith, which made the task all that harder for those rail-trail advocates.
Today, such is the enthusiasm for places that encourage biking and walking that these times look a bit like the dark ages. Sure, some parts of America are slower on the uptake than others. But driven by a greater awareness of our health, demand in the housing market for homes that feature trail accessibility, and the proven relationship of walkable and bikeable downtowns to stronger local economies, we are at point now where grassroots demand for trails is pushing supply.
We saw a terrific, but increasingly common, expression of that demand in Lynnfield, Massachusetts this week. At a public meeting to hear what local residents and businesspeople most wanted to see developed in their town in the coming years, more walking trails came out on top, ahead of even new fields with lighting. That demand is being driven by local energy to convert a disused section of rail corridor into a rail-trail and connect it to existing rail-trails in the area. Nice.
More and more we are seeing communities realize that, although fields for organized sports are terrific, they serve only a small segment of the local population, are very limited in their accessibility, and represent a significant drain on already strapped local budgets.
Public trails provide a recreation and transportation option for pretty much the entire populace, and once built require far less maintenance expenditure than other recreation assets, not to even began to speak of transportation facilities. Accessible, easy to use, open-to-all places for exercise are the only way we are going to target the many millions of Americans who need to be more physically active in order to improve their health.
Of course, the other people pushing the demand for rail-trails are local real estate agents. Industry research shows that the selling price of a home increases for every foot it is closer to a trail. Whereas people opposing development of a rail-trail used to argue that it would reduce local property values, now we hear the argument against trail development on the grounds that it would increase local property values! I guess you can't please everyone!