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Biking, Architecture, and the Economic Benefits of Wasson Way.

As a mode of transportation and recreation, biking has grown exponentially in popularity over the past decade, according to a recent CNN report. Slow to initially embrace this trend, Cincinnati has begun to implement more trails, bike lanes and even bike sharing, all with successful results.

One of these potential trails which offers the possibility of connecting numerous eastern Cincinnati corridor neighborhoods is the Wasson Way.  The proposed route of six and a half miles would stretch from Xavier University to the existing Little Miami trail near Mariemont. It would re-purpose an existing right of way which is not longer used by the Norfolk Southern Railroad company and remove their railroad tracks to be replaced by a paved, lit and well marked trail. If completed, the trail would connect Evanston, Norwood, Hyde Park, Oakley, Mt Lookout, Fairfax, and Mariemont.

While this development may appear to have little connection to Architecture, upon closer inspection they actually are quite linked.  One of the more obvious implications of this trail’s construction would be increased property values for the surrounding neighborhoods. Despite some residents complaints about lighting or noise from the trail,  the reality is that their homes will become desired locations with direct access to the trail and thus more valuable.  In fact, a study done by UC Professors found that along the aforementioned Little Miami Trail, homeowners were willing to pay a $9,000 premium to be located one thousand feet closer to the trail.  Not only that, but surrounding businesses should see increased activity with the possibility for new development occurring nearby.

Perhaps a more surprising effect from the Wasson Way’s implementation would be how users of the trail access retail and restaurants.  While it runs through areas that could be termed ‘pedestrian friendly’, automobiles still rule the road (and parking lot) in places like Hyde Park Plaza and Rookwood Commons.  What will be interesting to see unfold is the flow of walkers, runners, skaters and bikers who exit the trail to shop, dine or just peruse.  Will there be a enough pedestrian and bike activity to alter the current traffic patterns and sidewalk layouts?  Many opponents are worried about safety for bikers and cars at street crossings.  The reality is that multi-mode transportation intersections actually tend to be safer for everyone involved. This sounds counter intuitive but in reality it slows all drivers, riders and walkers down.

Lastly there is the long term possibility to use the right of way for light rail.  While this may be in the distant future and sound far fetched for inner ring suburbs such as Hyde Park and Mariemont, the possibility is indeed real and  promising.  Imagine being able to take a light rail train from any of these Wasson Way neighborhoods into downtown Cincinnati.  Then think about how valuable the land directly surrounding stations would become and the lucrative possibilities for developers. The types of developments we would begin to see around these stations would change and thus the Architecture demanded would change as well to high-density, mixed use.

The health benefits of biking are fairly obvious and well documented.  However the impact which a well designed system of bike trails and lanes can have on a city is powerful and just beginning to be recognized.  Local officials and planners are beginning to see the transformative potential that biking can provide to its citizens.  It is critical that Architects recognize this possibilities as well.