Bike (and pedestrian) friendliness are big factors in home marketability

BIKE06
Bicycle commuters make their way north along 13th St. bike lane at Pine in center city Philadelphia on Thursday morning May 5, 2016. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Nobody is suggesting just yet that America's love affair with the car is over. But the allure of other forms of transportation is undeniable as city living grows more popular in Philadelphia and across the country.

Studies by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Urban Land Institute put walking and bicycling atop the list of auto alternatives.

"While parking is still a valuable amenity, it is not as critical as it has been in the past," said James Maransky, president of E-Built L.L.C., who develops in Philadelphia's hot Fishtown neighborhood. "Walkability is one of the top five selling factors in a home in today's market - may even be in the top three."

Ed McMahon, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute (ULI), said public willingness to spend money on infrastructure is shaping the cities of the future.

McMahon told an audience at ULI's spring conference in Philadelphia in April that "improving the quality of public transit, road and bridges, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure are the highest priorities."

Between 2000 and 2014, the number of Americans traveling to work by bike increased 62 percent, census data show, and more communities are investing in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

The census data also show that in 2014 Philadelphia had the highest bicycle-commuting rate of cities with more than one million people, at 1.9 percent of the population.

Between 1990 and 2014, the city's bike-commuting rate grew nearly 237 percent, the Census Bureau said. There are now bike-sharing stations from Tasker Street north to Strawberry Mansion, and across the Schuylkill in University City.

Kate Mundie commutes from her South Philadelphia home to her job at Urban Engineers at Sixth and Walnut Streets "every day of the year, except if there's ice on the ground."

The two-mile trip to and from work riding a Dutch cargo bike includes a stop to drop off and pick up her two children at school and from after-care.

Urban Engineers has bike racks for employees, and when they are filled, the parking garage next door takes the overflow.

"I've been riding around Philly for 25 years, and it is much safer than it used to be," she said. There are also a lot more cyclists, too, often riding up the streets in groups of five.

Philadelphia's density and narrow streets make bike commuting a natural fit, said Kevin Gillen, chief economist for Meyers Research and senior research fellow at Drexel University's Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation.

"Even in the outer neighborhoods, where commuting by bike to Center City is not feasible, there are still plenty of lanes that allow you to get around the neighborhood by bicycle," said Gillen, who has bike-commuted since he was a graduate student at the Wharton School.

Biking has become rather matter-of-fact in the city, said Mickey Pascarella of Keller Williams Real Estate, in Center City.

"Our buyers are taking Uber, bus, train, and their feet to work, he said, "and our renters are the ones filling the bike lanes."

Public transportation is the top priority among officials and developers, ULI's McMahon said, with 28 cities adding light rail in recent years and 36 new rapid-transit bus systems around the country.

But building infrastructure for bicycles is cheap, McMahon said, noting that Portland, Ore., has constructed 30 miles of bike trails for the same cost as a mile of highway.

Rental and for-sale home communities advertise their locations near trails for good reason, some evidence suggests.

In Radnor, for example, a 2011 study by GreenSpace Alliance and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission found that properties within a quarter-mile of the Radnor Trail were valued an average $69,139 more than those farther away.

However, John Duffy, of Duffy Real Estate on the Main Line, said, "That could certainly be debated. Many of the homes along the trail are larger and have bigger lots then some of the other areas of the township."

With nearly two million more bicycles than cars and trucks purchased in 2014, developers who focus on younger buyers and renters are rethinking how and where they build.

David Waxman, of MM Partners, said his Braverman Building at 2617 W. Girard Ave. was approved for a variance with no parking "because we have bike racks," and he has been working with the city to have racks included as part of streetscape improvements.

Jessica M. Scully said Scully Co.'s urban rental locations have high demand for bike storage and bike-repair stations, "but we value bike-ability as we do walkability in many locations, and we have a few communities off of the Schuylkill River Trail," which runs from Center City through Montgomery County to Phoenixville in Chester County.

"We consider proximity to bike trails an added amenity in suburban locations, therefore adding value to the lifestyle we offer," Scully said.

The Schuylkill Trail is just steps from the front door of One Riverside in Fitler Square, and developer Carl Dranoff said his condo high-rise will be "bicycle heaven," with four-hour loaner options and "generous space" for owners' bikes.

A 24-hour valet will bring the bike to you, "just as we would your car," Dranoff said, and provide service and maintenance.

aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472@alheavens

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