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The bike boom by the numbers

People here biked and walked 16 percent more in 2011 than in 2010, when Minneapolis was crowned “#1 Bike City” by Bicycling magazine.

Biking rose 22 percent across the Twin Cities in 2011 compared to 2010.

After being acclaimed as America’s best city for biking in 2010, what can you possibly do for an encore?

Well, in the case of Minneapolis, you do even more bicycling — and more walking too.

People here biked and walked 16 percent more in 2011 than in 2010, when Minneapolis was crowned “#1 Bike City” by Bicycling magazine. The same is true for St. Paul and some inner ring suburbs.

Biking rose 22 percent across the Twin Cities in 2011 compared to 2010, according to data released by Bike Walk Twin Cities. And it’s up a whopping 53 percent since 2007, when the organization began counting bicyclists and pedestrians at 42 locations from Beltline Blvd. in St. Louis Park to Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights.

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Walking is also on the rise in the Twin Cities. Pedestrian traffic rose 9 percent compared to 2010, and 18 percent since 2007.

Furthermore, Minneapolis gained further national recognition this year as one of America’s best walking cities. It ranked number #9 (2nd in the Midwest after Chicago) on a list of America’s 50 largest cities, compiled by WalkScore — a prominent website that measures the walkability of neighborhoods around the country. That put it ahead of Portland (12) and Denver (16). Saint Paul would have ranked 15th (3rd in the Midwest) if it were among the 50 largest cities.

Bike Walk Twin Cities has conducted bike and pedestrian counts over the past five years as part of the federally funded Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program, which is focused on finding proven strategies to allow many Americans to switch from driving to biking and walking for many short trips. Bike Walk Twin Cities is a program of Transit for Livable Communities, a nonprofit focused on increasing transportation options for Minnesotans.

‘Shifting Trips’

The pronounced rise of two-wheel and two-feet travel between 2010 and 2011 is attributable in part to new bike lanes and special bicycle-and-pedestrian boulevards installed around town in the past year as part of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Project. The Twin Cities was one of four communities around the country designated as transportation laboratories in the legislation, which was passed by a Republican Congress in 2005 and signed by President George W. Bush.

“The goal of this project from Congress was to shift some trips, and this data shows it is happening,” says Joan Pasiuk, director of Bike Walk Twin Cities. “The implications for overall health and transportation access are outcomes the community will realize from the numbers we’re reporting.”

Pavement marking designating Bryant Ave in Minneapolis as a bicycle boulevard.
Photo by Bill Kelley
Pavement marking
designating Bryant Ave
in Minneapolis as
a bicycle boulevard.

Bike and pedestrian counts on the Lake Street Bridge, for example, show that the increase in biking translates to 96,000 fewer auto trips at that location during 2011 compared to 2007, explains Tony Hull, Bike Walk Twin Cities’ Nonmotorized Evaluation Analyst. Overall, people made 1.1 million bike and pedestrian trips across the bridge in 2011.

“This is a massive number of people that need to be factored in our transportation policies,” Hull notes. “It’s not just nice that people are biking and walking more today. It’s a significant form of transportation” which he says offers positive results for public health, the environment and our sense of community.

Accurate bike and pedestrian counts are critical to the growth of biking and walking in America, Pasiuk explains. “Policymakers act on hard evidence — they want to be able to know if their investment is paying off and that more people are relying on biking and walking as a regular transportation pattern. These counts show what’s happening on the streets in a way everyone can understand.”

Bike Hot Spots

The busiest spot for bicyclists in this year’s count was 15th Avenue and University Avenue, near the University of Minnesota campus, with 787 riders and 1840 pedestrians between 4 and 6 p.m. on the days of counting in mid-September.

I was on hand at the second busiest spot, the Sabo Bridge on the Midtown Greenway where 767 riders and 60 pedestrians crossed over Hiawatha Avenue. It was a chilly afternoon with howling winds that felt more like March than September, yet waves of bicycles rode by, ranging from executives in business suits to Native American kids from the nearby Little Earth housing project.

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Rolf Scholtz tallied each one as they passed. He’s the president of Dero Bike Rack Company, located nearby in the Seward neighborhood and one of 54 volunteers who took part in the project. “We let our employees out to do the counts every year,” he said. “Bike riding is going crazy around here.”

Counting and Accounting

All the people counting bike and pedestrian traffic are trained by Bike Walk Twin Cities, and checked in on at least once by staff during their two-hour shift. Some cities use paid counters from temp agencies, Hull notes, but BWTC believes volunteers are more diligent and accurate.

The counts have been carried out the second Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday of September for the past five years to ensure an accurate measure. “This data is rock solid,” Pasiuk says. “BWTC is using state-of-the-art methodology for tracking and interpreting data.”

Bike Walk Twin Cities also conducts counts on the second Tuesday of every month at 6 locations around town, which have turned surprising results — more than 20 percent of bicyclists and 75 percent of pedestrians continue to bike and walk throughout the winter despite Minnesota’s frigid, snowy weather.