That pedestrian and bike bridge over I-40 near the Streets at Southpoint Mall has made a world of difference to the users of the American Tobacco Trail. That’s according to a before-and-after study by N.C. State University’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education.
Program manager Sarah O’Brien says from spring 2013 through spring 2014, the number of trips on the trail rose by 133 percent.
“It tells us that people were extremely excited about the bridge going in, and we did see that that connection really changed the way that the trail's being used.”
She adds that, while Triangle municipalities work to make their roadways more bike-friendly, the completed greenway offers more connectivity for people who prefer alternative methods of transportation.
Most people used the bridge on recreational outings, but there was a three-percent increase in trips for other reasons. O'Brien says many South Point mall employees walked to work that way.
“We also interviewed a woman who was using the trail to access a Triangle Transit bus stop that's located at the mall so that she could travel to work in Chapel Hill.”
O’Brien says some are taking longer trips along the 22-mile greenway that connects Durham to Apex, which means they’re getting more exercise. She says travelers are getting an average of 162 minutes a week work of exercise.
She says – based on surveys of people on the trail about their related food, grocery, and fitness gear expenses – trail use contributed to $4.9 million in gross business revenues locally.
“These types of greenway projects are not just a quality of life benefit, but that they could be worth their cost in other ways, and we're able to show that in this study.”
O'Brien says the Institute hopes to continue studying its effects on local health and the economy.