I’m an avid mountain biker and hiker. The main reason that Brenda and I live in Travis Country is because of access to the Barton Creek Greenbelt and Wilderness Park where I spend a lot of time. One disadvantage of the neighborhood, at least in my opinion, is the limited connectivity to surrounding communities. For instance, there’s no way to walk or bike to a restaurant or convenience store via sidewalks or bike paths. Although there are mountain bike trails that connect to Sunset Valley and even downtown, they are far from beginner friendly and suitable only for experienced riders.
Because of this I’ve been really excited about the City of Austin’s Urban Trails Plan, the Violet Crown Trail, and the Mopac Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge. These projects promise the ability to ride from Travis Country to destinations ranging from Buda to Manor, and also provide local access to entertainment and shopping without the need to drive.
When I think of the prospect of connecting my neighborhood to this network I have visions of rides with the grand kids to the ice cream store, or riding down town for dinner and a movie. But when the city approached our HOA’s board of directors to request access to neighborhood property to evaluate possible ways to participate, the reaction was quite different. The request was refused and at least one board member called the possibility of connectivity “a disaster for the neighborhood” and predicted that trails would “drastically change (the) neighborhood and increase crime and … flood (the) neighborhood with non-residents in all our amenity areas and greenbelts“.
Clearly these are two quite different points of view. One sees trails as an opportunity for residents of the neighborhood to connect with the broader community and the other as an opportunity for residents of the broader community to invade the neighborhood. I’m sure that both are valid to some extent, and in fact there are many gated communities in the area that have decided that isolation is the best course.
I did a quick Google search to see if there is any data on how urban trails affect communities and came up with only a couple of freely available studies. One, titled “Preceptions of How the Presence of Greenway Trails Affects the Value of Proximate Properties” published in 2001 took a look at nine studies of trails in different communities and concluded that;
“… there was broad consensus that trails have no negative impact on either the saleability of property (easier or more difficult to sell) or its value”.
The second, “The Impact of Greenways on Property Values: Evidence from Austin, Texas” published in 2005 concluded that;
“Physical access to a greenbelt had a significant, positive impact in one case, but was insignificant in two others. No negative greenway impacts were recorded”.
Although the summaries are focused on property values the issue of crime was addressed in at lease one section. On page 120 the “Perceptions” study included this quote from one of the included studies…
“In summary, this study indicates that concerns about decreased property values, increased crime, and a lower quality of life due to the construction of multi-use trails are unfounded. In fact, the opposite is true. The study indicates that multi-use trails are an amenity that helps sell homes, increases property values and improves the quality of life (p. 3).”
Both of these studies include a lot of information and references to opposing opinions so they are a great starting point for further study if you’re so inclined.
Based on this quick search it seems that, at the very least, it’s not obvious that negative impacts would outweigh the positive and there should be room for a discussion.
So what’s your opinion? Are urban trails a plus or a minus? If there’s some of both what’s the best way to accentuate the positives and minimize the negatives? Would you support or oppose a plan to connect your neighborhood to a trails network, or would it depend on the specific plan or type of trail?