Road, rail or bicycle trail: which does the most for land value capture?

Which transport infrastructure most clearly increases residential land prices? During the age of cheap oil and car-love the answer would have been roads. How times have changed. Just look at the fine old houses lining arterial roads leading into your city, dilapidated, cut into flats, or held onto by old monied cretins oblivious to the dwindling value of that land they keep behind their sound-proofing hedges.

Rail infrastructure likewise drags land values down, unless the land happens to be right on the spot where the train becomes useful, by stopping. Advocates of transit oriented development (TOD) maintain these localised property price increases repay governments for investing in rail, via the higher land taxes governments are able to levy. That may be true. All I know is public transport is hell. Even in Dutch cities—those exemplars of TOD where derelict behaviour is tempered by the presence of middle class passengers—people say public transport is hell. From page 21 of this report, I bring you a graph:

aversion to transit

But land prices skyrocket near to another kind of transport infrastructure, a kind that is far cheaper than rail, and which provides joy to more commuters than driving or transit. I’m referring, of course, to bike infrastructure. I’ve heard anecdotes from real estate agents of a 10 percent premium for properties flanking a bike trail. Those reports are backed up by studies like this one which found a greenway in Texas increased the price of some properties by as much as 20 percent. But the best proof of all, to my mind, are construction sites along the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis.

I have a friend on the ground in Minneapolis now, Prescott Morrill, a landscape architect and urban planner (here’s a sampling of work). He’s currently employed on a federally funded project researching bike data in the twin cities (here he is, explaining). He promised to stop on his ride to work and get me some photographs of the world’s hottest new development trend. As Prescott points out, this is developer architecture, driven by conservative bottom-line investment decisions. Bicycle oriented development is happening, because eager buyers exist, and because developers are making profit, despite the recession. But the biggest killing of all is being made by the city. For the cost of some asphalt over some train tracks they have won an ongoing land tax revenue stream. There was a time when politicians thought they had to spend billions on tracks, trains and stations. What an absolute racket!

1 Comment

  1. Belinda Epstein says:

    Steven,
    It looks from your graph like there might be a reason why the dutch are known for their bike infrastructure and not their public transport system?

    I am a firm believer that lots of cars and roads full of them kill the charm and amenity of any real estate. Efficient public transport, cycling and walking in my book all play their part for decent urban space, and the car is the common enemy.

    I am quite confident that the commuting distances in for example Sydney combined with the more than just balmy summers in these parts mean long distance commuting by bike by the masses is a long time off, so you can either battle cars or trains as the alternative. I as a cyclist would choose to partner with rail/trains having the choice.

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