How to sell bikeability: the unexpected benefit for buyers

by James McClister


Urban buyers today would have hated the 1950s.

In the Urban Land Institute’s “America in 2015” report, a survey of U.S. residents found that approximately half considered “walkability” a top or high priority when determining where to live. But in many ways “walkability” is a misnomer, because research increasingly shows that what buyers really want is bikeability.

The U.S. Census reports that bicycling has become the “fastest-growing” form of transportation among commuters, ULI confirmed. From 2000 to 2014, when the shift from sprawl to walkability really took hold, the number of people biking to work increased by more than 60 percent.

In a separate report published by ULI – “Active Transportation and Real Estate” – the institute challenged itself with a question: who is biking and why? As evidenced by the bike-friendly developments that now freckle most American cities, the answer is “all kinds of people…for all kinds of reasons.”

The report reads: “Communities big and small are now investing in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.”

Trends in biking are helping to reshape developments and the cities in which they reside, bringing all sorts of recordable benefits. The American Journal of Prevantative Medicine found that people like in walkable neighborhoods have a 35 percent lower risk of obesity. In a report from the European Cyclists Foundation, researchers determined that if European Union citizens were to adopt the levels of cycling common in Denmark’s population (600 miles per person annually) 26 percent of the 2050 greenhouse gas targets set for the transportation would be achieved by bicycle use alone.

The real selling point

But abstract benefits such as health and climate change are not always the strongest selling points among buyers, which is why when it comes to showing off a property in a bike-friendly neighborhood, agents should focus on property values.

According to ULI, investment in bikeability helps boost real estate values by injection “order and predictability” to areas that are otherwise becoming congested from growing populations and motor vehicle use. And the numbers support the assertion.

In 2009, CEOs for Cities, a think tank for developing ideas to boost economic success in U.S. cities, determined that “homes located in areas with above-average walkability or bikeability are worth up to $34,000 more than similar houses in areas with average walkability levels.”

ULI pointed to several examples to add credence to CEOs for Cities findings:

Dallas, Texas. Since the opening of the 3.5-mile (5.6 km) Katy Trail in the Uptown neighborhood of Dallas in 2006, property values have climbed nearly 80 percent, to $3.4 billion, according to Uptown’s business improvement district.

Radnor, Pennsylvania. A 2011 study by the GreenSpace Alliance and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission found that properties within a quarter-mile (0.4 km) of the Radnor Trail in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, were valued on average $69,139 higher than other area properties further away. Real estate listings in Radnor frequently mention trail access in their advertisements.

Minneapolis, Minnesota. A University of Minnesota study found that, in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, for every 1,312 feet (400 m) closer a median-priced home is to an off-street bicycle facility, its value increases by $510.

Houston’s hidden bike-friendly streets

By most accounts, Houston is not a bike-friendly area. It’s a sprawling city that relies far more on motor vehicles than quick-commuter vehicles, like bikes.

Though the city has yet to widely embrace the growing trend of cyclists, they do have a presence in Houston. And if your buyer is one of them, you might want to suggest a home along one of the six streets where the Houston Press said bikers “feel the most comfortable.”

  1. Heights Boulevard – The street offers a wide bike lane and easy access to downtown through the Heights Biking Trail.
  2. McKinney Street – According to the Press, despite having no drawn bike lanes, Houston cyclists claim to prefer McKinney Street because of its lack of traffic and four-lane layout. The street also provides access to several popular venues, such as BBVA Compass Stadium and Warehouse Live.
  3. Washington Avenue – Cyclists interviewed by the Press claimed Washington Ave. during non-rush hours is great for riding in groups. The street offers a shared bike lane, but with heavier traffic there is no guarantee cyclists will have designated space. Signs along the street reminding drivers to “share the road” to help maintain safety.
  4. Navigation Boulevard – “It’s most flat and with very little potholes,” one cyclist told the Press. There are no designated bike lanes on the street, but it is wide and empty and “safe” enough to allow for groups of bikers – and is also near the Buffalo Bayou trail.
  5. La Branch Street – A direct artery from downtown to Midtown, La Branch is both “less traveled” and safe. It is a particularly good option for Houston Community College students, cyclists told the Press. A secondary benefit of the street is it can be taken all the way through the Museum District, offering access to the Houston Zoo and Hermann Park.
  6. Leeland Street – The petition to outlaw Critical Mass demonstrates a certain animosity some Houston residents harbor towards cyclists, but according to the Press, Leeland street, which cuts through East Downtown, is populated by mostly “pretty nice” drivers. One cyclist described riding through the East Side as being like a “parade,” in which people will wave at cyclists.

A call for all real estate professionals

“These trends are reshaping destinations across the globe, and have the potential to benefit people of all income brackets, since biking provides mobility for those needing or wanting a less expensive alternative to automobile ownership, maintenance, and use,” ULI’s active transportation report read.

The institute hopes to specifically empower real estate professionals in facilitating the development of more bike-friendly communities (while also appealing to their business sides), including in its report:

“Through supporting bike infrastructure, real estate professional who influence the built environment can play a significant role in creating healthier, more sustainable communities. They can also help position their projects and communities in a marketplace that increasingly values active transportation.”

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