Bangor has added trails and sidewalks and improved crosswalks in recent years to make the city more accessible to walkers and bikers. But there remains much more the city can do to move its focus from vehicular traffic to self-powered transportation.
A review by several University of Maine students, presented to the Bangor City Council’s infrastructure committee recently, highlighted the benefits of such a shift. Encouraging bicycle and foot traffic saves residents and visitors money they would otherwise spend on fuel, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and makes the city more attractive to would-be young residents, among other benefits.
Making communities more walkable and bike friendly doesn’t just benefit those who walk and bike. Homes located in walkable neighborhoods — those with shopping, schools, parks and social destination within walking distance — command a premium, a report for CEOs for Cities found. That premium can range from $3,000 to $34,000 in increased home value.
“A key asset of cities is the relative ease with which people can access a wide range of jobs, goods, services and opportunities for social interaction,” the report said. “People and businesses value city locations for the accessibility they provide. Places that are walkable — that have a variety of services and destinations in close proximity to one another — are more convenient and more lively.”
A study in Iowa concluded that bicycle commuting generated nearly $52 million in economic activity while saving the state more than $13 million in health care costs. The benefits were even larger for recreational cyclists because there are many more of them than commuter cyclists.
Because automobiles are the dominant mode of transportation in most places, businesses tend to focus on these customers. But researchers in Oregon found that customers who use public transportation, bicycles or their own feet to get to stores, restaurants and bars make more trips to these places per month and, as a result, spend more per month than customers who arrive by car. Supermarkets were the only businesses in the study where this was not true.
This all points to the fact that communities and neighborhoods that can be traversed on foot or by bike have many benefits. For these reasons, Bangor — and other communities in Maine — have numerous efforts underway aimed at walkability.
Bangor is one of two dozen age-friendly communities in Maine. The communities participate in efforts led by the AARP to encourage civic leaders to consider the needs of America’s rapidly aging population. One emphasis is on ensuring neighborhoods have easy access to public transit, which benefits residents of all ages.
Another volunteer group, Walk-n-Roll Bangor, put up signs directing people to the city’s highlights, such as the library and West Market Square, using the River City Trail, which runs from the Cross Insurance Center to downtown. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine helped pay for the signs, which are temporary, but could be replaced with permanent versions if the city receives positive feedback.
The group has hosted public forums and continues to be a leader in the conversation about making Bangor better for walkers, bikers and rollers — those who use wheelchairs.
City leaders are also reconsidering decades-old policies that may inadvertently discourage more walkable planning and development. For example, city rules currently require all commercial enterprises, even those in neighborhoods, to have parking spaces. By changing this requirement, the city could encourage small stores in neighborhoods so residents could walk there, said City Manager Cathy Conlow.
City officials are right to want to make Bangor more walkable. Starting with low-cost projects is a good way to test out what works and what doesn’t before moving on to larger, more costly endeavors such as building bike lanes.