Benefits of Shared Use Paths

Massachusetts has an extensive network of shared use paths. We know that paths can allow people to more easily bike or walk to where they want to go, provide an opportunity for people to get fresh air and exercise, and in some cases even attract tourists from out of town. But how are these paths comprehensively affecting our communities? Conducted by MassTrails, the Shared Use Path Impacts Study takes a detailed look at the economic, health, transportation, environmental, safety, accessibility and equity impacts that paths have on our communities across the Commonwealth.

Table of Contents

Overview of Shared Use Path Impacts Study

MassTrails presents the Shared Use Path Benefits Primer and Shared Use Path Impacts Study which examine and summarize a study on the impacts of shared use paths across the Commonwealth. The study focused on four trails across the Commonwealth selected to represent a variety of geographies - from the Connecticut River Valley to Cape Cod -  and contexts - from urban to rural. They were the Northern Strand, the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway, the Norwottuck section of the Mass Central Rail Trail (MCRT), and the Cape Cod Rail Trail. Data was collected between July and October 2019 in order to analyze health, accessibility and equity, transportation, economic, environmental, and safety impacts.  

Key findings from the study include:

  • Economic: Paths improved the local economy by generating between $378,000 and $9.2 million per path for businesses near the trails during the four month study period alone. 
  • Health: Paths increased the level of physical activity for those who live nearby, saving a combined $2.8 million on healthcare expenditures across the four paths in 2019.
  • Transportation: During the study period, the shared use paths encouraged over 90,000 active commute trips and reduced motor vehicle travel by over 700,000 miles.
  • Environmental: The reduction in motor vehicle trips led to $2.2 million in savings from reductions in the social costs of  greenhouse gas and other emissions during the four month study period.
  • Accessibility and Equity: Paths connect people with destinations, providing access to schools and universities, health care, government buildings, and other necessities. Trails located in areas with higher concentrations of those of a racial or ethnic minority, experiencing poverty, with limited English proficiency, with a disability, with no vehicle access, or of youth or elderly age groups can benefit these historically transportation disadvantaged or vulnerable populations. For example, the Northern Strand provides access to 31 essential destinations and has low stress walking connections to over 8,000 people in elderly or youth age groups, over 3,000 people with a disability, over 9,700 people of a racial or ethnic minority, 5,800 people experiencing poverty, 3,700 limited English speaking households, and 2,200 households with no vehicle access.



Shared Use Paths Benefits Primer

Learn about the benefits that shared use paths provide for communities across the Commonwealth in this simplified shared us path benefits primer. This document takes key findings from the study and makes them accessible for community members and agencies alike.

MassTrails Shared Use Path Benefits Primer

Shared Use Path Impacts Study

What are the impacts that paths have on our communities across the Commonwealth?  This comprehensive report provides the detailed methodology and findings from the impacts study to answer that question.  

MassTrails Shared Use Path Impacts Study

Image credits:  Jeff Dietrich

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