Annual survey finds more are biking and walking

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December 13, 2013 // UPDATED 4:16 pm - December 13, 2013
By: Dylan Thomas
An annual survey of bicyclists and pedestrians recorded the highest-ever numbers for cyclists last fall.
File photo
Dylan Thomas
Bike Walk Twin Cities reports highest-ever numbers for biking

An annual count of bicyclists and pedestrians conducted last fall recorded its highest-ever number of bicyclists on Twin Cities streets.

The 2013 Bike Walk Twin Cities Pedestrian and Bicycle Count Report released today showed a 13-percent increase in bicycling from the year before. Walking was down 6 percent from a record set in 2012, but still at its second-highest level since the counts were first conducted in 2007.

“It’s matching what we’re seeing out on the streets and trails,” said Simon Blenski, a city bike planner. “… A lot of the trails are seeing some of their highest counts to date.”

Both forms of what the report terms “active transportation” were up a combined 45 percent over that seven-year period. The number of bicycle trips has increased 78 percent since the first report in 2007, while walking increased 16 percent.

Those figures are based on the on-street observations of trained volunteers. Each September, they record the bike and pedestrian traffic at 43 benchmark locations around Minneapolis and St. Paul. Counts are conducted 4 p.m.–6 p.m., during the evening commute.

The city’s bicycle program coordinates with Bike Walk Twin Cities to collect the Minneapolis data. Its own report, due early next year, will include bicycle and pedestrian numbers from over 100 locations in Minneapolis, including many of the benchmark locations monitored by Bike Walk Twin Cities, Blenski said.

Bike Walk Twin Cities’ report found that infrastructure improvements like new bike lanes are associated with increases in biking. By comparison, increases in pedestrian traffic seem more closely tied to major destinations, like Target Field.

Counts conducted on six bridges over the Mississippi River found bikers and walkers on average made up 16 percent of all traffic, a measure known as “mode share.” Bike Walk Twin Cities spokesperson Hilary Reeves said the report has attempted to measure mode share in several different ways over the years, so it’s not clear if bicyclists and pedestrians are making gains on automobiles.

While both men and women are biking more, male cyclists still outnumber female cyclists on Twin Cities streets, according to the report. Women make up just less than one-third of all cyclists, a percentage that is largely unchanged from 2008, when the survey first began to record gender.

While fewer people bike during the winter months, winter cycling is increasing at an even higher rate than cycling overall. That’s the conclusion drawn from monthly counts made at six of the 43 benchmark locations.

The report also draws some conclusions regarding about bicycle riding on sidewalks, a practice that puts both cyclists and pedestrians at risk.

In every instance, volunteer observers posted on streets with new bicycle facilities recorded an increase in biking overall and a decrease in the number of cyclists riding on sidewalks. The rate of sidewalk riding was lowest on Bryant Avenue north of Lake Street (1.5 percent), a bicycle boulevard with relatively low motor vehicle traffic and prominent “sharrows” alerting motorists to bike traffic on the street.

The report notes, however, that sharrows don’t seem as effective at discouraging sidewalk riding as bike lanes that give cyclists a dedicated space on the roadway. That result did not surprise Minneapolis Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Shaun Murphy.

“If we put a bike symbol down in a travel lane versus if we actually have … some sort of pavement line separating the bike from the car, I just think the majority of people are going to feel safer where they have more space,” Murphy said.

He noted traffic levels also influence bicyclists feelings of comfort or safety when riding in roadways, but said city planners are “not as big a fan of sharrows as we were a few years ago.”

The steady increase in bicycling rates in Minneapolis in recent years coincided with a significant expansion of the city’s on-street bicycle network fueled, in large part, by the federal Non-motorized Transit Pilot Program. The Twin Cities were one of four regions in the country to receive $22 million for bike projects. That program, which also funded Bike Walk Twin Cities, is coming to an end.

Reeves noted it would wrap up after another dozen regional bike projects are completed next year. There currently is no funding identified for a bicycle and pedestrian count in 2014, although Minneapolis and other cities may continue the work on their own.