As the winter winds die down and the summer sun returns, many of us are dusting off our bikes, skates, and walking shoes and dreaming once again of the day when the Shining Sea Bikeway extends along Bourne’s Buzzards Bay shoreline between North Falmouth and the canal service road. The Bourne segment would certainly be the most scenic and probably the most heavily used portion of the entire Cape Cod rail trail system.
This project would benefit Bourne in more ways than any other single action the town might take. It would provide safe bicycle and pedestrian connections among all of Bourne’s villages and off the streets. It would increase public safety by giving cyclists an alternative to pedaling on Shore and County roads. And it would open some of the most scenic portions of the town’s coastline to view without need for expanded parking areas or roads.
Building this trail would also provide a significant boost to Bourne’s economy. The national nonprofit organization Rails to Trails Conservancy has documented substantial financial benefits to local businesses and to public health where trails have been built. One in-depth survey cited by the conservancy found average direct spending by trail users of $31 per person. Most of that money goes to locally owned small businesses, such as lunch stops, bike shops, restaurants, and lodgings.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation estimates that Cape Cod rail trails are used by an average of 1,000 people per day during the summer season from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The Falmouth Bikeways Committee has counted an average of twice that many riders each Saturday, Sunday, and holiday during the summer on the Shining Sea Bikway. The Army Corps of Engineers says 300,000 people use the canal service roads each year.
If only 100,000 people use the trail extension through Bourne each year, that would pump more than $3 million into the town’s economy. It is not unreasonable to expect actual usage of the trail to double that number. It is also not unreasonable to expect that average spending per trail user would be higher than the conservancy estimate because the Shining Sea Bikeway is a destination, drawing people from a wider area who are likely to stay for more than a day.
The conservancy has also shown that property abutting a recreational trail increases in value compared to similar properties elsewhere, which could add a considerable amount to Bourne’s property tax base. Its researchers are studying this trail benefit to better document actual numbers, but currently estimate that properties directly abutting a trail sell for 5 to 15 percent more than comparable properties that do not abut trails.
That means that current abutters would reap a windfall benefit when selling their properties, and the town would reap a windfall benefit when the higher selling prices prompt increases in the tax assessment. Over a period of time, this would add millions to Bourne’s tax base.
In summary, extension of the Shining Sea Bikeway would be a wonderful recreational amenity that would tie Bourne’s many villages together while improving public safety and public health and boosting our economy. What more could we ever want?