Value of cycling lanes in the eye of the beholder

Monday, July 11, 2022

Cyclist riding a bicycle on bike lane
Despite a growing body of research that shows the addition of cycling lanes in a neighbourhood positively correlates with increases in residential property values, the public perception of this value varies dramatically by neighbourhood type. 

The study was conducted by Emma McDougall and Brian Doucet of the University of Waterloo’s School of Planning. It was part of a larger research project co-led by Doucet, and Dawn Parker and was funded in part by the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo. 

McDougall and Doucet interviewed real estate agents and developers in three adjacent mid-size cities—Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo. By analysing the knowledge, perceptions, and experiences of those on the front lines of the housing market, they gained insight into overarching market trends and buyer preferences and how cycling infrastructure and cycling culture is sold and marketed in different types of neighbourhoods.

Their central finding was the stark difference between urban core, and suburban attitudes towards cycling, influenced by lifestyle, buyer demographics and build form. 

“Realtors and developers in the dense urban cores are able to market cycling as a means of transportation and for its contribution to a hip urban lifestyle,” said McDougall. “This is in opposition to the sprawling suburbs, where incoming buyers prioritize internal amenities — though cycling was seen as a positive for recreation and a healthy lifestyle for some suburbanites.”

The researchers argue this study can help planners and policymakers interested in building cycling infrastructure look beyond cycling statistics and explore both the different attitudes towards cycling and mobility and the spatially uneven networks that exist between car-oriented suburbs and the compact urban cores.

“Our analysis of the way in which cycling is positioned in the home buying and home building process in different parts of the city can help interpret the complex and, in some cases, contradictory ways in which cycling is part of a neighbourhood’s identity,” said McDougall.

The study titled Polarized Paths: ‘Selling’ Cycling in City and Suburb was recently published in Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie.