Bikes, Bike Paths, and Home Values

I’d personally like to welcome CurbedBoston, a new local online outpost for the national site for real estate gawkers, Curbed. I have been a fan for the past couple of years, and it is a welcome addition to this area, known for a high degree of real estate action and interest.

The site has a recent post which looks at two of my main interests, real estate and cycling — more specifically, how the expansion of Hubway, from Boston outward into Cambridge and Somerville, may impact real estate values in those cities.

As the post’s author — the seemingly tireless CurbedBoston staffer, Tom Acitelli — notes:

“There has not been research into whether Hubway in particular boosts or deflates property values in Boston (and research into other bike-sharing programs tends to focus on more general economic impacts, like commuting times and area bike sales). But there has been research on the effects on property of bike paths/lanes, a cousin to bike-sharing programs. Basically, the verdict is that they can only help the value of adjacent or nearby property.

In 2002, the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders surveyed 2,000 homebuyers and found that a path for biking, walking or jogging was ‘the second most important neighborhood amenity’ for them, behind only highway access.”

As I’m sure we have all noticed, the use of bikes for both recreation and commuting has only increased around Boston since 2002, seemingly exponentially. I live and work in Lexington, where the Minuteman Bikeway forms a central artery right through the downtown, running through the western border from Bedford, all the way to the east into Arlington, to Alewife MBTA Station and beyond. I have lived here since 1994, and when we moved from our first house, it was a given that we remain within five minutes walking distance to the Bikeway, which then takes us another 15 minutes to the town center. I use it almost every day to bike or walk. I am an expert and huge fan of Lexington’s mid-century modern homes, but too many of the neighborhoods are located too far from the bike path. This is the main reason we remain in a 1940s brick colonial (with a collection of Eames and Platner chairs). Location, lifestyle, location.

I wouldn’t say most buyers looking in Lexington place quite the premium I do on this proximity. Though, I feel that is changing, as more emphasis is put on walkability/walk scores. And more people realize it is a pleasing 30-minute ride (at most) down the path to the Alewife MBTA station. I did have one buyer who was bike commuting every day — all year round — from the Back Bay out to Marlborough out on I-495. Clearly, he wanted to cut that commute down. Once folks are in town, they realize what an asset the path is. It is now plowed in the winter. Indeed, it is so popular that serious cyclists looking for fitness can only really use it effectively in the middle of weekdays, as weekends it is just too filled with unpredictable kids, pedestrians, and dogs.

It is clear that people value these lifestyle issues: walkability, bike-ability, and proximity to centers. It is no accident that towns and cities like Lexington, Arlington, Cambridge, and Brookline have — while not immune — remained largely unscathed through the Great Recession and upheavals to real estate values. These are highly livable areas with proximity to mass transport, employment hubs, and so on. Yet, as Paul McMorrow, of the Boston Globe and CommonWealth Magazine, pointed out this week, it is exactly the sort of focus that gets lost when it comes to investment funding for anti-sprawl and smart-growth zoning efforts.


Side note: I was approached a month or so ago by a bike blogger who wanted me to give him a bike tour of Lexington’s historically significant mid-century modernist neighborhoods. It was postponed until spring. If this is something you would be interested in, write me a comment below or email me at It will amount to about an 18-mile loop, with some hilly and fairly well-trafficked roads, probably best if you’re an intermediate-level cyclist with a road bike.