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To city, state leaders: Bike, walking trails worth the investment

From Lat W. Purser III, CEO of Lat Purser & Associates, Inc. and a member of the Catawba Lands Conservancy board:

As real estate developers, my colleagues and I dedicate a lot of effort to imagining the kinds of communities in which people want to live, work and play. We analyze data on market prices and absorption. We observe the characteristics of properties that sell quickly. We talk to people about the aspects of communities that they find most attractive.

It is increasingly evident that people are choosing places to live where they can safely walk and bike to school, to work, to restaurants, shopping and parks. Consequently, these types of facilities weigh heavily in the locations chosen for investment by many developers. Proximity to the 17-mile Swamp Rabbit trail was a major consideration in my firm’s recent investment in a 150-unit apartment project in Greenville, S.C., a city that has embraced transportation alternatives.

This week North Carolina and Charlotte elected officials face very important decisions related to making our state and city places where people can walk and bike safely. Charlotte City Council members will decide whether to include the 26-mile cross-county trail in the CIP, and state representatives will decide whether to follow the lead of the N.C. Senate by eliminating state funding for bike/ped projects, a critical source for matching funds to attract federal transportation dollars.

Roads are often thought of as necessities and bike/ped facilities as “nice to haves.” In a competitive world where businesses go where they can attract talented workers, and a mobile work force values quality of life heavily, pedestrian and bicycle options are a critical part of a transportation network. In a recent Furman University study, eight out of nine businesses along the Swamp Rabbit trail reported higher revenues after the trail was opened. Numerous studies confirm that properties in close proximity to trails and greenways command premium values ranging from 4 percent to 20 percent.

In addition to being a smart investment, sidewalks, bike lanes and off-road trails and greenways are critical to the safety of our citizens. As the Observer reported last week, pedestrian fatalities have more than doubled in our city in the last five years. Access to safe walking and biking is not only a draw for the economically privileged. It is vital to those for whom owning and maintaining a car is cost prohibitive.

Interest in being pedestrian and bicycle friendly is not just a big city phenomenon. The breadth of interest across our region is evidenced by the fact that, through a collaborative effort, 76 local governments have adopted master plans for the Carolina Thread Trail, a 15-county initiative to connect our region with a network of walking and biking trails. To realize this vision, it takes investment from all levels of government, as well as from the private sector and philanthropic community. That is happening and momentum is strong, but failure to continue to participate at all levels will jeopardize this opportunity.

Our city and state elected officials face challenging fiscal decisions. From a business person’s perspective, few investments provide the breadth of benefits – economic, health, environmental, and social, and few touch such a cross section of our population. I hope our city and state elected officials will recognize the value of non-vehicular transportation alternatives.

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