Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

Transit-Oriented Development to Trail-Oriented Development

Now that more and more cities are witnessing the benefits of Transit-Oriented Development, a mixture of housing, office, and retail development integrated into a walkable neighborhood and located close to public transportation, a new trend has emerged: Trail-Oriented Development.

According to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Trail-Oriented Development (TrOD) is an emerging planning tool that seeks to combine the active transportation benefits of a trail with the revitalization potential associated with well-designed and well-managed urban parks to help create more livable communities.  TrOD aims to provide a network of local business and housing choices within a web of safe and enticing trails.

Prairie Line Trail in the City of Tacoma, WA
Prairie Line Trail in the City of Tacoma, WA

As with Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), where demand to live in and around TOD projects has increased, studies are showing a similar trend for Trail-Oriented Development, where there is a rising demand for bike-friendly and walkable places close to trails.

Trails, according to a National Association of Homebuilders study, are the number one amenity potential homeowners cite when they are looking at moving into a new community.  Trails provide communities with a valuable amenity that translates into increased housing values, a positive impact on property values and enhanced tax revenue for municipalities.

Katy Trail, Dallas
Katy Trail, Dallas

A recent ULI report, Active Transportation and Real Estate: The Next Frontier, explores the interconnections among walking, bicycling, and real estate.  The report shows how developers are recognizing the competitive advantage of investing in active transportation amenities such as trails, bike lane networks and bike-sharing systems.

Brooklyn Basin's Bay Trail in Shoreline Park will connect development components.

The ULI report demonstrates both the rise in demand for TrOD and the increased property values of places located near  recreational trails.

  • The value of properties within a block of the eight-mile Indianapolis Cultural Trail have soared nearly 150 percent since the trail’s opening in 2008
  • The value of properties near the Katy Trail in Dallas have increased 80 percent
  • In Minneapolis, every quarter-mile of proximity to an off-street bike facility raises the value of a home by an additional $510.
  • Properties located within a quarter mile of the Radnor Trail, a 2.5-mile pedestrian path in Philadelphia that’s also part of the Circuit Trails network, were valued on average $69,000 higher than other properties.
  • Homes close to Atlanta’s BeltLine have started selling within 24 hours.  Before the trail project began, homes in the same area stayed on the market for two to three months.
The Atlanta BeltLine
The Atlanta BeltLine

Real estate developers are now catching on and building more “trail-oriented” communities and developments near trails to meet this growing demand.

Tadd Miller, chief executive officer of Milhaus, a developer that specializes in creating dynamic urban neighborhoods has built $250 million of developments along trails in Indianapolis over the past five years.  He argues that the trend is here to stay.

Among Milhaus’ projects is Circa, a 264-unit multifamily and commercial development, which opened in 2014. Circa’s six buildings are located immediately adjacent to a trail, which connects shopping, art galleries, restaurants, and neighborhoods in downtown Indianapolis.

Jeremy Stephenson, president of Milhaus Development and Milhaus Construction, credits the city of Indianapolis for having the foresight in the mid-2000s to establish the cultural trail within the downtown core . “With the recent opening of the cultural trail, we knew we wanted to connect immediately to that. It was a huge hit. Property values increased by about 150 percent and continue to grow.”

These new projects usually include amenities such as bicycle storage, extra-wide hallways and elevators, bike cleaning stations, bike “valets,” bike-share systems and shower or locker facilities. The Circa development offer a suite of bike-related amenities, including a “maker’s room” or a bike repair room, bike storage, complimentary bike-sharing services, and a bike-washing station.



The Flats at Bethesda Avenue is a residential building that recently opened on the site of a former parking lot adjacent to the Capital Crescent Trail in downtown Bethesda, Md. One of the building’s developers said the trail location was a key selling point for residents and retail tenants, including a newly opened Paul Bakery and Chop’t restaurant that line the trail. The development’s website touts its “choice location,” saying the 11-mile Capital Crescent Trail leading into Georgetown is “right in your back yard.” The Flats building has bicycle storage and a way for people to drop off their bicycle in the parking garage near the trail before parking their car.

Philadelphia developers are also taking advantage of  local trails. The Station at Manayunk is adjacent to Manayunk Canal and Towpath and Path  and was designed to be a cyclist's dream.  It  includes its own bike repair shop and bikeshare system for residents.

Station at Manayunk
Station at Manayunk

And in Bala Cynwyd, a mixed-use development by O’Neill Properties will sit along the west bank of the Schuylkill River. The Royal Athena describes the development like so: "Landscaped with lush trees and trails that provides access to the Schuylkill River Trail and the Cynwyd Heritage Trail."


The Royal Athena
The Royal Athena

These are only a few Trail-Oriented Development projects.  You can read about more in the ULI Report.

So how many trails does your town or city have?  Maybe it’s time to discuss a Trail-Oriented Development strategy in your community.



Community Outreach Programs

Housing Opportunity Grant
Housing Opportunity Grants support state and local REALTOR® Associations’ affordable housing activities. The goal of the program is to position REALTORS® as leaders in improving their communities by creating affordable housing

Smart Growth Grant
Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement. The Smart Growth Program offers state and local REALTOR® Associations to way to engage with government officials, community partners and the general public in planning and designing community’s future.

Planned diversity initiatives makes good business sense. REALTOR® Associations with well-planned diversity programs create a stronger sense of community, particularly in neighborhoods with high concentrations of foreign-born and minority residents who are moving up the socioeconomic ladder and are buying homes.

NAR Placemaking Resources

Placemaking Guide: A Guide to Transform a Public Space into a Community Place
REALTORS® and state and local association staff can learn the details of Placemaking, the kinds of projects placemaking entails, how to organize them, and where to go for assistance and resources.

Placemaking Webinar Series
Our Placemaking Webinar Series will provide more in depth information on the various types of Placemaking and how REALTORS® were involved in Placemaking activities in their communities.

Placemaking Grant
The Placemaking Grant funds the creation of new public spaces, like pocket parks, trails & gardens, in a community. The grant focuses on “lighter, cheaper, quicker” placemaking projects, which can be built under a year and cost less  than $200,000.

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