MN GOP beware: Biking and pedestrian improvements have broad appeal

Courtesy of MnDOT

Minnesota Republicans captured control of the Minnesota House of Representatives in part by fueling urban versus rural resentment:  “Those metro-centric DFLers give everything to Minneapolis and St. Paul.”  The truth is, turnout trends associated with non-presidential year elections were a much bigger reason why the DFL lost control of the Minnesota House. But this “core cities versus the rest of us” theme was definitely a big part of the  Minnesota GOP’s 2014 campaign, and a lot of analysts are convinced that is why Republicans won. For instance, MinnPost’s excellent reporter Briana Bierschbach noted:

…Republicans had a potent message, too, and it was a simple one: Rural Democrats had left their constituents behind by voting with their Minneapolis and St. Paul leadership.

Exhibit A in the Republicans rural victimization case was funding for pedestrian and bike infrastructure, something Republicans often characterize as “metrocentric.”  In other words, they maintain it isn’t of interest to suburban, exurban or rural citizens.  For instance, GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson tried to appeal to non-urban votes with this riff:

We have spent billions of dollars on trains, trollies, bike paths, and sidewalks, but not nearly enough on the basic infrastructure most Minnesotans use every day: our roads and bridges.

Beyond the campaign trail, that theme also has sometimes been a battle cry during Met Council transportation planning discussions. Finance and Commerce reports that:

The suburban counties argue that the Met Council’s transportation investment plan emphasizes urban transit, bike and pedestrian options at the expense of highways, which they say could cause further congestion and safety issues.

However, a survey released today calls the Republicans’ assumption into question. The poll found majority support in every region of the state for additional funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.  The random sample of 1,000 Minnesotans sponsored by the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition found that the strongest support was in St. Paul and Minneapolis (71% support). However, there was roughly the same high level of support in the suburbs, which are key political battlegrounds because that’s where population is growing most rapidly:

  • Western metro suburbs: 69% support.
  • East metro suburbs: 70% support.

Even in rural areas, a strong majority support funding bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements:

  • Central Minnesota: 64% support.
  • Southern Minnesota: 57% support.
  • Northern Minnesota: 56% support.

In other words, if a politician mentions the DFL’s support of bike and pedestrian infrastructure funding in rural Minnesota they’re more likely to help the DFLer than hurt them.

The moral of the story is that the appeal of pedestrian and biking infrastructure improvements is hardly limited to the hipsters and fitness freaks in the core cities. Politicians who campaign or govern based on that false assumption may have a rude awakening.

This post was written by Joe Loveland and originally published on Wry Wing Politics.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by jody rooney on 11/19/2014 - 11:04 am.

    Nice try but the bicyclers are again hitching a ride here

    with the walkers. That’s how they get out of contributing any funds to maintenance or construction. And don’t give me the “we all pay taxes” argument if we did a contingent valuation assessment for public expenditures would end up?

    Walking and biking are not compatible activities they are accomplished at different speeds, that is one of the reasons bike paths are separated from walking paths. Grouping the two activities together is deceptive.

    A closer look at the data shows less support for bicycling and bike use than walking by a significant amount. And while 1000 surveys are enough to reach a reasonable conclusion on a state wide basis once they are broken down by region and with this many regions you are on some pretty shaky statistical ground.

    I sure don’t begrudge sidewalks or walking paths anywhere. And bike lanes for commuters or in urban areas make sense but rural areas maybe not.

    Once bicycling is not a “free” good it would be interesting to see what demand is. It could be a great study to do a “willingness to pay” and “willingness to except” analysis on.

    • Submitted by Bruce Kvam on 11/19/2014 - 04:45 pm.

      In most of Minnesota bikes and pedestrians share the trails. Any argument based on the false premise that biking and walking paths are always separate is flawed. Additionally, there are 10 times more miles of snowmobile trails (see below) than there are of bike trails, yet somehow the argument is walking vs. biking.

      Pretty much the only place where bike paths are separated from walking paths is in Minneapolis. Even when they are separate, they are almost always immediately adjacent, and they frequently merge and diverge to get under bridges, cross roads, pass through industrial areas, etc. And when there are separate pedestrian and bike paths, bikes still have to share the trail with inline skaters (there are a lot of them), Segway riders, dog walkers, and runners who for some reason would rather run on the bike path instead of the walking path.

      Elsewhere in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties bikes almost always share the paths with pedestrians, such as the rail trails (Luce Line, River Bluffs, Cedar Lake, etc.) and city park trails in Eden Prairie and Minnetonka.

      Minnesota has more than 55,000 miles of interstates, and state and county highways, only a few hundred of which are in the Twin Cities. Most rural highways and county roads are empty most of the time. Each mile of bike/walking trail in Twin Cities gets far more travel than each mile of rural highway, even in the winter.

      According to the DNR (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/faq/mnfacts/trails.html) there are 698 miles of paved bike trails and 1,016 miles of natural surface bike trails. There are more miles of cross country ski trails (1,792) than bike trails, even though many more people bicycle than ski.

      There are also 2,600 miles of hiking trails, 1,033 miles of horseback riding trails, 1,314 miles of ATV trails, and 22,253 (!) miles of snowmobile trails. Far more people ride bicycles than snowmobiles, and bikes can be ridden any time of year. Anyone can bike six to eight months a year (depending on snow), and here are thousands of people who cycle all year long, with studded and fat tire bikes.

      The duration of the snowmobiling season is completely unpredictable; not that many years ago there was NO snowmobiling season.

      Detractors of bike paths seem to be on a political witch hunt because some people advocate the positive social benefits of biking: making people healthier, reducing pollution, reducing congestion on the roads and freeways, etc.

      They seem to think bike paths bad because they encourage people to save gas and be healthy, while snowmobile trails and ATV are good because they encourage people to roar madly around at 60 miles an hour wasting gas.

      It is hypocritical to bemoan the costs of a few hundred miles of bike and walking paths used by hundreds of thousands of people, while ignoring the costs of tens of thousands of miles of rural roads and trails devoted to motorized sports that go almost completely unused.

  2. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 11/19/2014 - 05:32 pm.

    Bruce, I appreciate your statistics –

    There is no question that there are too many paved unused roads in MN. Moreover, generally this is a good relationship between walkers/runners in the metro. From the reports that I have seen the greatest cost for trails is with ATVs and snowmobiles. However, I add one caveat: bikers must agree to follow the rules of the road. I’m sure that you can report issues of drivers (esp drunk drivers) who kill bikers and pedestrians. Call me with these details. But I can also tell you that good drivers can inform you of bikers who have survived only because the drivers watched out for them. That is not acceptable. My point-it’s a two street.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/20/2014 - 12:10 pm.

      Rules

      Sorry, but I find it hard to get excited about bicyclists who don’t follow the rules when we have virtually zero drivers who are law abiding. When was the last time you saw a car–any car–actually stop at a stop sign? I’m not talking California stop here or stopping “most of the way.” I’m talking tires not moving, wait three seconds (that’s the rule), look all around you, and then proceed. A guy did an impromptu quickie study a couple of years ago found that a full 87% didn’t stop at all. Of the 13% who did stop, they only did so because they were forced to by pedestrians and other traffic.

      Personally, I keep an eye on bikers on the street because they can be unpredictable. But then I also keep an eye on cars, trucks, pedestrians, and pets for exactly the same reason. You’re not doing your job as a driver is you’re not constantly evaluating all the risk factors while on the road.

      Sorry to single you out, Logan, but your narrative smacks of an agenda. You would have done far better to ask that all members of the community agree to follow the rules of the road, no matter what mode of transportation they employ.

  3. Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/19/2014 - 07:20 pm.

    not statistically valid at geographic level

    With a sample size of 1000 you can safely claim a statewide majority supports bike & walking paths. However, when you start looking at subsets of the samplemail to make claims about different regions of the state, your sample size is much smaller, making it much less accurate.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/20/2014 - 09:30 am.

    It’s funny

    Almost every time there’s a bicycle related story drivers and pedestrians complain about who’s following the rules. As if auto-drivers always follow the rules of the road. Meanwhile, the only rule pedestrians seem to recognize is the notion that there are NO rules for pedestrians.

    The idea that cyclists are piggybacking on pedestrian trails is laughable. Want’ to talk about pedestrian trails? They’re called: “sidewalks” and there are 1,800 miles of them in MPLS alone, most of that off limits to bicycles. Meanwhile cyclist risked their lives for decades trying to ride on city streets designed with automobiles and automobiles ONLY in mind.

    Look, let me explain something- even now our roads and intersections are poorly designed for bike traffic. The “rules” of the road in many cases actually put cyclist in danger, you have to figure out how to ride safe, regardless of the rules on occasion.

    Separated paths? Only a fraction of our trail system is separated. If I had a dollar for every time I had to stop or work around pedestrians walking or running on the bike paths despite the fact that the pedestrian path is literally four feet away… I would be considerably more wealthy.

    Look, most of the actual “trails” were built with cyclists not pedestrians in mind. Pedestrians don’t walk, and very few run 18 miles from Hopkins to Excelsior and back.

    Having said all that, sure we need to recognize that American cyclists can have the same “entitled” attitudes as other drivers and pedestrians. People with a sense of entitlement take it with them wherever they go and whatever they do after all. But let’s just try along out there eh? We have to share the trails and roads.

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