Why Trails are the Unexpected Solution to Meeting Today’s Community Standards

For the past 50 years, most city designs have prioritized vehicular travel and made non-car travel difficult. Urban sprawl has caused unprecedented traffic congestion, air pollution, loss of open space, and worsening collective health. However, public infrastructure trends are shifting dramatically. Now, planners and developers are moving away from car-centric clusters and toward solutions that put people first. Green infrastructure, or what most of us know as public trails and parks, is helping communities thrive because it prioritizes the needs and desires of residents.

The construction of trail networks helps make a community more desirable, accessible, navigable and livable. Areas like the Town Center CID are implementing trails as part of our smart growth agenda for community improvement because they bring a variety of benefits that improve quality of life. Trails provide options for multimodal transportation, which means they accommodate various modes of transportation and the connections between them, i.e., going from driving to walking to cycling. What’s more, this travel alternative adds a safe, attractive and affordable way to get around.

Trails offer flexible use and broad accessibility for all ages and abilities, whether used to take a short walk, a recreational run, a brief seated respite, or an exploration of a new neighborhood by bike. They are a way to physically connect nature to the built environment, and they become spaces for bringing people together. Evidence shows that when communities invest in green infrastructure, they see a significant return on investment.

So how exactly do trails help?

  • They encourage healthy habits

  • They add transportation options

  • They stoke economic revitalization

No expensive gym membership required.

The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that 60% of American adults are not regularly active, and another 25% are not active at all*. Shared public trails remove the common hurdles of limited time, access, and expense associated with physical activity. Instead, they help people build it into their everyday routine. If you have a scenic trail close to home, work or school, you are more likely to use it when you run errands, grab lunch, or visit a friend. They offer just what we need in our busy schedules—convenience and opportunity!

In places like Town Center, trails connect to parks and playgrounds, creating a thoughtful network of recreational areas. They have made exercise multi-modal as well; since 2015, the CID has installed six bikeshare stations, which have been wildly successful in getting people to ride on its eight-mile trail network.

“People can’t get out of their cars unless we provide them with another way to get where they’re going.”

– Smart Growth America

Trails are a perfect alternative transportation option for bicyclists and pedestrians. Studies show that commuters desire additional ways to get from point A to point B, but they simply lack the opportunity**. With multi-modal options, regional planners can serve the diverse demands of its population while maintaining an efficient and fair transportation system. Trails are an especially attractive multi-modal solution, as people can avoid congested roadways by travelling through beautiful, natural areas.

Town Center CID recognized the value of trails and multimodal transportation early on, and it was central in the 2017 update to its master plan. In its studies and communications, the CID prioritizes walking and biking as fundamental modes of travel from one location to another. The Noonday Creek Trail, the most prominent trail in the district, runs behind office parks, adjacent to residential complexes and near commercial centers, connecting users to a variety of destinations in the area. Through the Town Center bikeshare program, the CID also provides last-mile transit connectivity and micro-mobility options. We partner strategically with organizations such as Georgia Commute Options to explore transportation alternatives for area employees, such as transit and biking.

Putting your money where your trails are.

If the health and transportation benefits aren’t convincing enough, let’s look straight to the bottom line. Amenities like trails help spur economic development. They lead to more jobs, further travel choices, revitalize local businesses, and direct consumer spending. Because they offer accessibility, recreation and connections, trails have become both residents’ and visitors’ chosen activity for exploring an area or getting their exercise in. Trail networks are desirable for those determining where their investments will be most valuable and are quickly becoming a prerequisite for homebuyers, companies, and tourists interested in a community.

Town Center’s Noonday Creek Trail has already made a noticeable difference in the district’s economic landscape. Earlier this year, we announced the development of the first new Class-A office space in nearly 12 years. Its chosen location? Right next to the main trailhead. It even encouraged the developer to donate three acres adjacent to the trail for greenspace.

The shift toward green infrastructure reflects planners’ responses to the needs of residents. People have started to prioritize trail networks as an appealing solution to health, traffic and economic issues. They are attractive, low-cost solutions for place-makers to enhance quality of life by encouraging healthy habits, providing multi-modal options and impacting business. Expect to see all smart growth agendas emphasize quality of life initiatives that design livable, walkable systems in our cities. For districts (literally) paving the way like Town Center, trail systems are a key component to a vibrant future.

* U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 1996.

**Trails and Greenways: Advancing the Smart Growth Agenda. Rails to Trails Conservancy. Hugh Morris. September 2002.–greenways-advancing-the-smart-growth-agenda&id=3595&fileName=TGSmartgrowth.pdf

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