The benefits to a community of developing green infrastructure are vast. Trails and greenways provide facilities for recreation and physical fitness activities, increasingly important community assets as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Americans grow heavier and unhealthier each year. Trails bring environmental benefits such as heat island mitigation, habitat preservation and storm water runoff purification. Natural infrastructure — soil, grass and trees — helps mitigate a variety of pollutants in built environments. And, by providing alternative transportation options, trails can have beneficial impacts on air quality and congestion. Trails in some urban areas are known to carry more than 1,000 commuter trips each day. These benefits are all the more robust when a region develops a system or network of trails rather than a singular facility.
This paper draws on existing research and case studies to provide comprehensive documentation of the benefits green infrastructure can bring to a community and a region, and the impact trails and greenways have on advancing smart growth objectives. In addition, transportation planning theories of induced demand and system extent, as well as social justice issues associated with regional trail development, are explored.