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Want to get more cars off the road? Improve bicycling infrastructure around transit hubs

Metro Transit
Cyclists and other passengers on board a Green Line train on June 15, 2014.

For both individuals and communities, getting people out of their automobiles and onto bicycles can be very beneficial. Research has shown that even when you factor in the risks of accidents and the extra exposure to air pollution, bicycling to work is associated with a significant overall reduction in disease, including a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. 

And healthier residents mean lower healthcare-related costs for their communities. 

But to encourage more people to give up their car for a bike, communities need to become more “bike-friendly” — and that includes making it easier for people to combine cycling with mass transit.

So I was intrigued to come across a study this week that examined how far cyclists in three large U.S. metropolitan areas are willing to ride to catch a bus or train that will take them the rest of the way to work.

One of those metro areas was Minneapolis-St. Paul. The other two were Los Angeles and Atlanta.

The study, which used data collected through mass-transit ridership surveys, found that while only a small percentage of people in the three metro areas ride their bike to a bus or train to commute to work, those who do tend to cycle an average of three miles or less — one to two miles in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Atlanta and a slightly longer three miles in Los Angeles (probably because that city’s weather is more conducive to biking).

The study suggests, therefore, that if the Twin Cities wants to get more cars off the road, it needs to focus on making the two-mile “catchment” zones around transit hubs as bike-friendly as possible.

Needed: safer, more direct routes

“Improve the cycling infrastructure in those zones,” said Henry Hochmair, the study’s author and an associate professor of geomatics at the University of Florida, in a phone interview Thursday with MinnPost.

Dr. Henry Hochmair
Dr. Henry Hochmair

That can be done in many ways, he explained, such as by installing bike-only lanes that separate bikes from vehicular traffic, by making traffic intersections safer for cyclists and by creating direct routes through neighborhoods to transit hubs that enable cyclists to avoid time-delaying obstacles like cul-de-sacs and strip malls.

Hochmair, who grew up in Austria, said he was surprised by the low percentages of people in the three transit surveys who said they rode their bicycles to a transit hub — 2.3 percent of those in Los Angeles, 0.3 percent of those in Atlanta and 4.2 of those in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Those percentages are much different in Europe, he said. In the Netherlands, for example, more than a third of the people who commute to work by train or bus take their bikes to transit hubs. In fact, one study found that more people in the Netherlands bike (35 percent) than walk (27 percent) to mass transit. 

Income matters

One final interesting piece of data from Hochmair’s study: He found that two groups of Twin Cities cyclists are willing to bike further than one or two miles to get to a transit hub: those who earn less $20,000 and those who earn more $100,000 a year.

The lower-income group “may be forced to take a bus to work, so they may have to go a little bit further to get to that bus,” said Hochmair. The higher-income group, on the other hand, “could probably afford to drive but are cycling for environmental or health reasons,” he added.

Hochmair also found that people are willing to bike a bit further to catch a train than to catch a bus because the longer bike ride is compensated by a shorter overall commute.

A small sample

This study, like all studies, has its limitations — most notably, the small number of bike-transit commuters who participated in each of three surveys. The Twin Cities survey captured only 99 people who combined cycling with either a bus or the light rail. Furthermore, the survey was conducted in 2010 — before the Metro Green Line was up and running.

Still, it offers some interesting and useful information for the Twin Cities metropolitan region as we expand mass transit options and encourage more people to get to those options on two wheels rather than four.

The study was published in the January 2015 issue of the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Angie Berger on 01/23/2015 - 10:52 am.

    More biking infrastructure?

    I’m not sure why anyone would advocate for more biking infrastructure in Minneapolis. From what I see everyday commuting downtown, bikes use bike lanes, traffic lanes, sidewalks and even bus only lanes as they please. They want to be treated like a biker in a bike lane and then switch to a pedestrian in a crosswalk or sidewalk and don’t hesitate to run red lights or drive in between traffic lanes. Anything to not have to get off their bike and stop.

    Until Minneapolis public safety starts clamping down on these violations, I will not support any more money being wasted on encouraging biking. There is no moral high ground to being on your bike versus being in a car. I hope you do have a God if you are one of those that run red lights at rush hour downtown or expect me to see you on my left in between me and another car.

    • Submitted by Richard Callahan on 01/23/2015 - 11:04 am.

      As someone who bikes to work daily all summer I agree with you. Other bikers who flagrantly break all the rules just piss off people in cars who take it out on the rest of us bikers.

      • Submitted by Pat Berg on 01/23/2015 - 12:11 pm.

        Cue moral outrage . . . .

        Cue moral outrage by one or more bikers who will feel duty-bound to jump in here and point out all the *cars* they also see breaking traffic laws. As if that false equivalence somehow proves something.

        It’s wrong no matter WHO does it. So can we just try to keep the discussion from going there?

        • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/26/2015 - 12:19 pm.

          Outrageous!

          You are correct about the moral outrage, but you applied it backwardsly. Here’s why.

          A 175 biker traveling at 15 MPH exerts 3546 Newtons of force when he hits someone. By contrast a 2000 pound car traveling at 35 MPH (pretty typical for a city street) exerts 221,860 Newtons of force. Basically the latter is 62 times more deadly than the former.

          So where should you concentrate your law enforcement efforts? Do you go after the vehicle that may scratch the paint on your car if it hits you or give you a broken leg if it runs you over? Or do you go for the vehicle that will wreck your vehicle if it hits you or kill you if you’re a pedestrian?

          Sure, it would be nice if all bike riders followed all rules all the time, just as it would be nice if drivers did the same. But in our society with a diverse population that just ain’t reasonable. The real question to address is why people feel the need to get morally outraged about bikers in the first place? Do you see this kind of vitriol whenever there’s an automobile article in the paper? I can see the comments section now…

          Headline: “The New 2015 Models Are Out!”
          Comments: What is it with these car drivers? Why can’t they follow the rules of the road? There’s not a DAY that goes by where I don’t see someone running a red light, driving without their lights on or a burned out headlight, or just about running someone over in the crosswalk! When are the police going to start ticketing these scofflaws? They’re so arrogant! They think they OWN the roads!!!”

          There’s your false equivalency.

    • Submitted by Matt Becker on 01/23/2015 - 11:42 am.

      Those in glass houses

      I will not support any more car infrastructure until drivers of automobiles stop running red lights, speeding and driving drunk.

      And I hope you have a god when you are fiddling with your iPhone while traveling down the interstate at 90mph.

      ALL drivers bend the laws of the road every single day – I bet you sped on the way to work today, right? – but drivers only notice (and complain) about cyclists. I am not saying two wrongs make a right, but it is something to think about before you strap on your keyboard warrior hat and start up on that old favorite jam “Bikers are the only ones who break the rules.”

      I bike through downtown every single day – and I see far more drivers bending the rules than bikers. And despite what you think, the vast majority of cyclists will use bike infrastructure when it is made available to them. Better and more protected bike lanes would make the roads safer for all of us. And as the article mentions, the more people on their bikes, the better.

    • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 01/24/2015 - 10:35 am.

      I won’t excuse scofflaws, but…

      I won’t excuse scofflaws, but I will point out that there are reasons why law enforcement treats traffic violations by bicyclists so lightly.

      When you violate traffic laws as a bicyclist, you are discourteous and you put your own life at risk, but you don’t seriously threaten anybody else’s life.

      When you violate traffic laws as a motorist, you are discourteous, you put your own life at risk, and you put others’ lives at risk as well. You are a public menace, not just a public nuisance.

      Not many people are killed every year because they’re hit by bicycles. A great many, indeed thousands in the USA alone, are killed every year because they’re hit by cars.

      For these reasons, better street design for bicycle commuting promises to make our roads safer, firstly, by reducing the number of cars and increasing the number of bicycles on our streets, and secondly, by making it easier for bicyclists to obey the law.

  2. Submitted by Pat Thompson on 01/23/2015 - 11:39 am.

    It amazes me

    It continually amazes me that the first comment to come up on any article about biking is a driver complaining about bikers who break the rules. I second Matt’s comment about selective focus.

    And direct your attention to this Washington Post article, Let’s talk seriously about why cyclists break traffic laws. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/01/09/lets-talk-seriously-about-why-cyclists-break-traffic-laws

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/23/2015 - 01:37 pm.

    Ya’ think? No, I don’t.

    “one to two miles in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Atlanta and a slightly longer three miles in Los Angeles (probably because that city’s weather is more conducive to biking).”

    It’s not the length of the bicycle leg of a journey that’s the problem here, folks. Nor is it simply climate, as we can see when comparing Atlanta and LA.

    There simply aren’t that many who want to bike. Instead of “if we build it, they will come”, perhaps we should focus on why they (we) don’t want to ride. Climate is one factor, yes. Most of us will never hop on a bike from November to March. Many of us won’t do so when it’s 85 degrees or more. Many of us simply won’t whatever the weather. How much will we spend per rider to increase bike usage?

    By the way, those who think the health benefit will motivate ridership appear to be overlooking decades of failed efforts to increase all forms of exercise among the American public, as demonstrated by our rising levels of obesity and its consequences.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/23/2015 - 02:14 pm.

    I don’t ride a bike

    First, I’m retired, and don’t have to get to work.

    Second, there’s the climate – a legitimate argument here in the Twin Cities, it seems to me.

    Third, cycling requires precisely the kind of flexing and movement that my 70-year-old knees painfully and consistently remind me they don’t like.

    Fourth, as a daily pedestrian (my knees don’t mind walking), I’ve learned not to trust drivers. Not just Minnesota drivers, ANY drivers. My daily constitutional is dangerous enough on foot. I see no reason to put myself at greater risk by riding a bike.

    My 2¢ is that reasonable – and genuine – accommodations ought to be made for those whose knees and inclinations lead them to want to ride a bike frequently, including to and from work. While a bike is not without its own carbon footprint, it’s almost automatically far more environmentally-friendly than even the most economical of automobiles.That said, James Hamilton, it seems to me, is pointing out at least one inconvenient truth. There really aren’t that many – as a percentage of the population – who want to ride frequently and regularly. Until we reach a point where that’s no longer the case, the cost per cycling mile traveled for expanding cycling infrastructure, especially paved trails, is not anyone’s idea of “inexpensive,” and financial considerations can’t be ignored.

    Let me add that Peter and Angie both have valid points. I know people who are avid cyclists, and they’re careful about it, but I’ve encountered many more who aren’t careful at all. I walk 2 or 3 or 4 miles a day, depending upon weather and mood, and my experiences with Minneapolis cyclists have been much like my experiences with cyclists in metro Denver when I lived there. In both areas, I thought most cyclists – not all, but the vast majority – were rude, arrogant, and largely uninformed when it came to both rules of the road and traffic regulations. As Peter suggests, this just makes cycling that much tougher for those who DO understand traffic regulations and the basic courtesy necessary to ride a bike in a society not especially geared toward cycling.

  5. Submitted by Steve Go on 01/24/2015 - 08:24 am.

    Why do the Bikers get a free ride…and still complain?

    Let’s see…

    Driver’s pay a gasoline tax that builds and maintains roads.
    Driver’s pay a license fee which is used to support infrastructure.
    Driver’s can get pulled over if they and issued a ticket if they fail to obey the traffic laws.
    Driver’s have to take a driving test to be allowed on the road.

    And Bikers do _________(fill in the blank because I can’t figure out why they get a free pass on all of the above)

    • Submitted by jason myron on 01/26/2015 - 08:11 am.

      Go ahead, Steve…

      please make the argument on how bicycle traffic compares with automobiles in regards to its impact on infrastructure and maintenance costs.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/26/2015 - 12:00 pm.

      Drivers

      “Driver’s [sic] pay a gasoline tax…”

      I’m sure you’re not aware that most bikers also own cars, so they’re paying gasoline tax, license fees, and road maintenance even though they use the roads less. According the the article below, those fees only account for about 14% of the cost of a road in Minneapolis. Guess who pays the rest?

      http://www.minnpost.com/minnesota-blog-cabin/2015/01/counterpoint-we-don-t-need-no-stinking-bike-tax

      As for a driving test for bikers, are you really going to hit up some ten year old kid to take a test and get a license? I can only assume then that you want adults to get a license. And to what end? So they know the rules of the road? They already do, so running them through another class isn’t going to do jack. Instead all you’ll do is create another bloated bureaucracy for conservatives to scream about. I can see the headlines now…

      “Big Government Wants To License Children’s Tricycles!”

      You’ve got a heck of a winner there, Brownie!

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