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Economic impacts of trails and greenways
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Documenting economic and community benefits of trails

Some dramatic results in public policy for rail-trails have been achieved through strategic planning and the use of the economic data.

By Russell Irvine

There are six elements that make up my presentation. 1. In this agenda please note the emphasis on case studies. It begins with of why it is essential to effectively communicate relevant information to influence a public policy decision in your favor. Roger and Ewen have demonstrated that the appropriate information is available from our field to underscore the value of trails.

"The bottom line is to structure a project rationale that includes sound economic fundamentals and demonstrates significant community benefits."

For many attending this session you are here because you already know an important fact. That is, for a trail project to proceed there is a need to recognize to participate in what is often a complex process. As such, in the title to my remarks I refer to "positioning" economics and communities benefits in order to substantiate the merits of implementing our various trail proposals.

With my personal background being in the management consulting field I believe it is important to be aware of various approaches to achieving key results. I see this accomplished most successfully through following strategic planning principles.

-- Within the Policy Framework - Targeting Outcomes

-- Utilize Economic Factors and Community Benefits As Key Strategic Elements

Through this session on trail economics, some of the latest techniques, resources and experiences in our field will be reviewed. To certain extent as I make my presentation my references I be oriented to current Canadian situations.

As a launching point on the case studies some of the results of recent Canadian trail development projects can best be illustrated through newspaper headlines. The headlines are intended to give an indication of several major successes that the "trails movement" has achieved at both the national and community levels in Canada. For example, the Canadian Pacific Railway's gift of 38 rail subdivisions earlier this year was given coverage in both national daily newspapers and on national television.

Tthe critical question to pose surrounding these success stories is how did the trail organizations move to achieve these favorable outcomes? Following a look at the decision-making process I will move outline some of the factors that were utilized in making the cases.

Usually as trail planning decisions are under study there are four major groups of players involved. They include:

  • Proponents and Advocates
  • Government and Regulatory Authorities
  • Land Owners including Rail Companies
  • Local Communities and Supporting Associations

The groups that are party to the decision-making process for a trail or trail system are usually well known. However, their roles should be studied so that relationship to particular project is understood and that their possible support can be maximized.

Among the four groups various actions by the players can emerge. For example, the regulatory authority may support a rail trail being established as this will mean the sub-surface land rights of the trail will provide a corridor for public utilities. Having to deal with one property owner rather than 400 is preferable alternative for a public utility.

Examining Public Policy Outcomes

As I make presentations on trail systems development to local governments I am asked about how much trails cost and do they represent good value as a public investment. My response is obviously to be positive on the benefits. In the case of costs I try to outline the big picture in the public decision-making and what needs to be analyzed by a community if a trail system is to be developed.

As illustrated in the attached list, the range of outcomes that as trail advocates we are seeking is not necessarily, a financial commitment for trail building. There is often the need for empowerment or a policy change.

In many situations in Canada the impediment to proceeding with a project is not necessarily financial. Instead the problem to be overcome often relates to gaining assurances surrounding. liability coverage. In rural areas the required outcomes are legal provisions to continue access for agricultural purposes across or along a trail corridor. As an illustration the Trans Canada Trail Foundation has developed a Rail-Trail Protocol to emphasize our policy of being a good neighbor.

My article on the "Canadian version of the Rail-Trail Story" is intended to encapsulate circumstances that familiar are to most trail planners. The point I am making is that as Canadian trail proponents have taken their trail plans forward into the decision-making situation our "political and corporate" environment in Canada has been very comparable to other jurisdictions.

By the "headlines" I have indicated by several examples that the accomplishments achieved on rail-trail development in Canada that been quite substantial. In the proposal for the CPR acquisitions through gifting the factors on which the Trans Canada Trail Foundation built its case to the railway and the Federal Government were primarily economic.

However they were based upon the economic factors of a corporate tax position by the CPR and the ability of the Trans Canada Trail Foundation to exercise its national charitable tax status to accept gifts of land. Also within this process it is important to have the concurrence of governments (provincial and regional) to establish land use agreements that would recognize the change in land use status.

In summary on targeting results within the decision-making process for a trail system it is critical to know the players and outcome they seek to achieve. The bottom line is to structure a project rationale that includes sound economic fundamentals and demonstrates significant community benefits.

The next step in making a case to influence public decision-making is to bring forward the critical information to substantiate the public benefit of trails. In this area I am going to touch on the following:

  • Demonstration of public awareness of the trail or geenway
  • Benefits and economic impact of trail establishment
  • Profiling user participation rates
  • Corporate interest to support trail establishment

Demonstration of public awareness of the trail project

As noted m the Trans Canada Trail Foundation national sample of 1000 adults in 1997 this was market research undertaken to gain an understanding of the profile the Trans Canada Trail had (at that time) with the public. This status of this factor was seen to be critical in several ways:

  • Whether corporate sponsors might wish to be associated with a nationally recognized project and one that was perceived as being a positive force in communities.
  • A gauge of the public support for the initiative and whether this support might provide financial and volunteer resources.
  • Some understanding of the response within different demographic groups in the market place.
  • Significantly higher awareness by males of the TCT. On the other hand there is higher interest by the younger age cohort in the concept of how the Trans Canada Trail will actually be developed.

Benefits from a Trail Development

On this topic we could go down two channels. One route using Canadian material would be to examine the results gathered by Alicia Schutt in her study on the economic impact of the Bruce Trail in 1994 and 1996. Ken Buck of the Ontario Trails Council also summarized a number of findings of this nature. Some of this data is covered in your handout and parallels to some degree the information provided by Roger Moore.

I wish to take a different path and to move to outline some new data that was just gathered in March of this year. It relates to perceived benefits of establishing the Trans Canada Trail through eight BC communities. 8. The chart outlines the economic values and community benefits the 450 respondents believe may be achieved in through the establishment of the trail in each region.

It is interesting to note that the highest perceived benefit is in local recreation and in access to other recreational opportunities. This is ranked ahead of the economic return from the trail even though this was seen to be a very positive factor for each of the communities.

A special factor in this case study is the matter of trail alignment. The study data is significant because it was designed to probe the alignment of the trail and ask for feedback on whether there was any interest of having the trail pass through a community or retaining a rural (out-of-town) route. In the response from for the eight communities studied there was a high desire to bring the long distance trail directly into the communities and make local connections.

User data, participation rates and household survey information

When a strategy to seek support for a trail is developed the data in this area the data in this area often receive a great deal of scrutiny. As a result it is important to have good information positioned to provide substantiation of trail user trends and participation rates.

An example not provided on the charts relates to the parks and recreation masterplan for the BC City of Surrey. In this study the most requested facilities were hiking paths and cycle paths.

A second set of statistics that bears out this level of interest trail activities comes from the 1996, Alberta Household Study and the recent BC communities data. 9. Activity rates of 69% for Alberta Households and 66% for the eight BC communities surveyed have been gathered for trail related activities.

As illustrated by the Alberta data he growth to the top two recreational activities is quite spectacular. Achieving this ranking may also be related to another factor - barriers to participation. Both hiking and cycling are rather inexpensive activities and they tend to overcome many of barriers referenced in the Alberta Recreation Study. 10.

Corporate interest and support

For a major trail development to proceed having support outside the public sector is an important consideration. As project proposals are developed being able to demonstrate the interest or better still the commitment of an outside sponsor adds substantial leverage.

The examples that are quite remarkable for the Trans Canada Trail are the corporate involvement of Chrysler - the Jeep Brand and Canada Trust as major supporters is worth noting. The contributions of major corporations is substantial both from a financial standpoint. However the leverage with government and in generating overall public interest is remarkable.

The late Yves Laundry, the president of Chrysler Canada personally supported his company's involvement with the Trans Canada Trail. Current advertising by Chrysler uses the slogan "OF ALL THE THINGS WE BUILD IN CANADA, THIS IS ONE WE'RE MOST PROUD OF."' This corporate position certainly demonstrates that you can move your trail project to a place where it is "positione4f to use economic data to the fullest possible extent in national and local decision-making.


In this presentation I have tried to illustrate how economic factors and community benefit information can be utilized strategically to influence major decisions influencing trail establishment. It is an area that warrants further study by planners and researchers so that a critical mass of data is developed and is available to our field.

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