Nice Ride data is public. Who wants to map it?

Nice Ride has released all their 2011 data.  And by all, I mean ALL.  One file in the bunch has every “rental” for the entire year with origin and destination stations, trip duration, and time.  Another has every subscriber and his/her rental counts.  The greatest number of rentals by one person in 2011? 1,028 by a male born in 1946 (?!)

Anyway, I’d like to make a map like this, but I don’t quite have the mapping/programming chops.  Its something like combining a spider diagram combined with Network Analyst’s best route analysis but doing it thousands of times.

Anyone else doing anything with this data?

Mapping the Twin Cities bike counts

View Larger Map

Much has already been written about the 2011 bike counts: the great news that counts continue to climb, how we might use them to prioritize infrastructure improvements, and even what grains of salt we should consume along with the data.  But I haven’t seen anyone map them yet.

So here’s my contribution.  Circle size represents 2011 count totals.  These are also the true counts, not extrapolated to annual numbers (I don’t think those numbers have even been released yet).

Cross-posted at

Using bikes for serious emissions reduction

Bicycles in a square

According to the European Cycling Federation, if the whole of the EU cycled like the Danes, they could achieve significant emissions cuts.

If the EU cycling rate was the same as it is in Denmark, where the average person cycles almost 600 miles (965km) each year, then the bloc would attain anything from 12% to 26% of its targeted transport emissions reduction, depending on what forms of transport the cycling replaced, according to the report by the Brussels-based European Cycling Federation (ECF).

This figure is likely to be a significant underestimate as it deliberately excludes the environmental impact of building road infrastructure and parking, or maintaining and disposing of cars.

These figures are for the EU’s 2050 emissions reduction target.  The figures are even greater for 2020 targets.

Bikes are not a new technology that would require long adoption periods and high initial capital costs.  Almost everyone knows how to use them, and they are cheap.  They also have myriad co-benefits, not least of which is increased physical activity.  To get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we should take a close look at the bike as a potential solution.

Using ECF’s study as a model and making some estimates, the Twin Cities metro could see some significant emissions reductions if we biked like the Danes, but getting there would be tough.  I’ll get to that, but first some initial thoughts on the Europeans. Continue reading

Not really Streetless in Seattle

A better movie

City Journal, a creation of the Manhattan Institute, has a profile of Mike McGinn, Seattle’s newest Mayor.  What really grabbed my attention was the reference to Seattle’s Bike Master Plan and what City Journal claims is it’s call for converting 3 percent of Seattle’s car lanes into bike lanes.  This little tidbit is getting this article a lot of play, at least in my planner-nerd circles.  However, I can’t find any evidence to back up this 3 percent figure.

City Journal is anti-McGinn, calling him “anti-car” and painting his transportation initiatives as misguided.

Sure enough, when McGinn became mayor, he began pursuing anti-car policies. He’d like to levy an $80 fee for registering a car in Seattle, and he has raised taxes on parking in privately owned garages. He now plans to raise parking-meter rates downtown to $4 an hour from $2.50, which would make it costlier to park in Seattle than in any other American city except Chicago. He also supports maintaining the so-called head tax, which docks businesses $25 annually for every employee who drives alone to work.

But McGinn’s road diet, which went into effect in July, is probably his most audacious idea. As the centerpiece of the city’s $240 million “Bicycle Master Plan,” which mandates the construction of 118 miles of bike lanes and 19 miles of trails by 2017, the diet will convert 3 percent of Seattle’s car lanes into bike lanes. Even major freight routes, including one that leads to Boeing Field, will see car and truck lanes converted to bike-only use.

Then there is this:

Factors both meteorological and topographical make Seattleites unlikely to forgo cars as their primary means of transportation. Rain falls more than 150 days a year in this famously gloomy city, rendering cycling both unpleasant and unsafe. And Seattle’s ubiquitous steep hills make San Francisco look like Des Moines. It’s hardly surprising that, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation, a mere 2,600 people—out of a total downtown workforce of 230,000—commuted downtown by bicycle in 2009.

They forget to mention that citywide, Seattle is now tied for second among the 70 largest cities in the US in terms of bicycle commuter mode share and that cycling to work has grown 93% since 2000 and 22% since 2009.  They also forget to mention that (auto) vehicle miles traveled has been basically flat in King County since 2005, and VMT per capita has been on the decline in the region since 1999.

What about that 3 percent figure?  That seems substantial if true.  It wouldn’t totally surprise me given the other press I’ve seen about McGinn and his opposition to new auto lanes or facilities (see Deep Bore Tunnel and 520 Bridge), but this is taking away lanes, not just not creating new ones.  However, on my  brief scan of the bike plan, I can’t find any explicit reference to converting car lanes.  Is City Journal taking liberties, or did I miss something?

Appendix F, “Guidance for Retrofitting Seattle Streets to Create Dedicated Bicycle Facilities“, which includes guidance for arterial (high-volume) roads, does say “Implementing some of these facilities will require a change to the existing roadway configuration.”  However, it goes on to lay out a process for analyzing existing roads to see how a bicycle facility could be accommodated.  The process includes considering how the changes in the street cross section will effect traffic volume, speed, heavy vehicle traffic and on-street parking demand, among other things.  This seems like pretty typical engineering stuff.  The plan says where generally the city would like a bike lane, and then the engineers look at the details to see what might be possible.  Sometimes, it might not be possible at all, and the plan admits this.

If analysis finds that the target bicycle facility type is feasible, the project can move forward to implementation. If there are constraints that would prevent the target facility from being achieved, alternatives should be developed with the goal of improving bicycle safety and access to the highest degree possible, given the constraints of the particular corridor.

The process of developing alternative designs should always be informed by the recommendations of the Bicycle Master Plan, which identifies a facility type for all segments of the proposed bicycle network. Other alternatives should be explored as well, again with the goal of improving bicycle safety and access, and providing the most suitable bicycle facility given operational and environmental constraints within the corridor. If the city decides not to proceed with implementing the Bicycle Master Plan recommendation on a particular roadway, it will document the reason for its decision to choose a different alternative. The burden is on the city to explain why it is not implementing a recommendation in the plan.

Later, the appendix actually says if the desired cross section can’t fit because of “operational or environmental” factors, roadway widening should be considered.  That part didn’t make it into the City Journal article.

Here’s my guess about the 3 percent figure.  City Journal writer Epstein looked at the total miles of planned on-street bike lanes yet to be built (118).  Then he found the total number of lane miles of Seattle surface streets (3,745).  Then he assumed that each mile of new bike lane equals one less lane mile for cars (there are a lot of things wrong here, the biggest being that the plan prefers reducing lane widths in order to add facilities, which wouldn’t reduce car lane miles at all).  Then he did some long division, and presto: 3.15%!  Remember, City Journal is “the nation’s premier urban-policy magazine“.  If anyone, including the editors of City Journal or writer Ethan Epstein would like to explain an alternative calculation, let me know and I’d be happy to post it.

Finding space for bike infrastructure

1st Ave buffered lane - parking is allowed on weekends

Finding space for new bike infrastructure is always tough.  Usually existing streets aren’t getting any wider, and parking and drive lanes often take precedence in the minds of residents and policy makers.  Solutions that allow cars and bike to share space are becoming more common, like the wonderful Bryant Avenue bike boulevard.  So when you find a street with extra space, it’s kind of a miracle.

When I ride to work, I frequently use the 1st Ave S/Blaisdell one-way pair for going north-south.  Both of these streets recently received bike lane improvements, including a bit of protected bike lane on 1st Avenue, south of 33rd Street.  When I asked the project coordinator why 1st Avenue got the protected lane instead of Blaisdell, which has higher traffic volumes, his answer was “space”.  Here are some of my observations (as a cyclist and autoist) from using these streets:

  • It seems like overkill to keep Blaisdell a two-lane one-way street when both 35W and the Park/Portland one-way pair are so close.  Especially south of Lake Street.  Traffic engineers, weigh in here.  Is there any appropriate traffic volume that warrants this type of street design in an urban setting?
  • Speeding is frequently an issue on these streets, especially Blaisdell.  I do it myself, and the liberal use of “this is your speed” radar signs reinforces this.
  • Much of the bike lane on Blaisdell is filled with potholes, manhole covers, street detritus and sometimes parked cars.  In other words, it’s not very nice.
  • Riding next to traffic that is traveling 35-40 mph is uncomfortable.  I certainly wouldn’t take my daughter in a trailer or on her own bike on these streets.
  • In almost all places where it has been measured, auto traffic volumes on 1st and Blaisdell south of I-94 have dropped since 2006, in some places as much as 30%.
I think there is extra space on this pair of streets which could be used to make cyclists a lot more comfortable without impacting auto traffic significantly.  I’ll go out on a limb and say these might even have potential to increase property values by getting rid of the mini-freeway that is Blaisdell.  Here are some options I think might work, in preferential order.
  1. Turn 1st Ave into a two-way protected bikeway from 40th to 16th Street or maybe even Grant.  This could be with a raised curb, or just some paint and plastic bollards.  There would still be space for one auto lane in most places I think.  Turn LaSalle/Blaisdell into a two-way with one travel lane in each direction starting at Grant, with parking on both sides.
  2. Move the bike lane on Blaisdell behind a row of parked cars and adequate buffer space.  I say adequate to distinguish this from the 1st Avenue North design.  See these examples from Chicago.  Reduce car travel lanes to one south of 31st Street.
  3. Turn both 1st and Blaisdell back to two-ways where possible with one travel lane in each direction and parallel parking.  Give them the bicycle boulevard treatment a la Bryant.  Set speed limit at 25.
What do you think?  Doable?  What am I missing traffic people?

Census: Minneapolis bike commuting remains steady, transit grows

New American Community Survey 1-year estimates are out for large places, which means we can check in on commuting information for our #1 bike city, Minneapolis.

  • Bike commuting seems to be remaining steady (within the margin of error)
  • Transit is up beyond the margin of error
  • Carpooling continues it’s descent
  • Working at home continues to increase slowly
The above chart is courtesy of the City of Minneapolis.

A mileage tax for bikes


Funding for cycling infrastructure in Minneapolis is under fire.  I don’t want to get into the politics, except maybe one note¹: if this position were called “traffic coordinator”, would this even be an issue?  Ok, I’m done.  So funding for traffic that happens to occur in the form of bicycles is under fire.  How about we get creative?

It’s always bugged me that cyclists couldn’t really point to a specific source of funds for their projects.  If you read Chapter 8 of the Minneapolis bike plan, you see sources for capital projects include a laundry list of federal money, one-time programs, and state sources, none of which are really specific to cycling.  Where is the connection between local demand and funding levels, you might ask?  Well, funding levels appear to be determined mostly by how good your community is at lobbying for state and federal dollars.  Most cyclists pay income taxes, property taxes and gas taxes, so these revenues should supposedly go in some way towards bike projects, but the transportationists would say this isn’t an efficient way to allocate resources.

I’m a proponent of mileage fees for auto transportation, as most of the wonks and urbanists seem to be, so why not apply this concept to bikes?

My proposal is simple: cyclists who wish to participate download an app for their smartphone that tracks the miles they ride in a certain jurisdiction.  At the end of the month or year, the app displays total mileage and a suggested contribution amount based on a per-mile rate.  Users pay the amount they wish.

The app itself could work something like the fitness apps that are out there, like Map My Ride.  Open the app, push start when you’re leaving and stop when you’re done.  Total mileage is tracked.  The app could be specialized to just track within a certain city or county, and maybe even determine the jurisdiction of the street/trail on which you rode.

The plan depends on voluntary participants, which is a challenge.  The federal government has a website where you can donate money to pay down the debt, but it’s not wildly successful.  However, my approach will allow people to connect directly with what their paying for (bike lanes or trails), and not imagine its going to some lazy bureaucrat’s pension fund.

How much money would this raise?  There are roughly 8,000 Minneapolis residents riding their bike to work (which is close to a 4% mode share for workers over 16).  Let’s assume their round-trip commute is 8 miles and there are 230 workdays per year.  If you set the mileage rate at 10 cents, the bike fund gets $1,472,000 per year.  Of course, that assumes full adoption (unlikely) and that all the miles ridden are in Minneapolis (also unlikely).  What if 500 people track their mileage?  That’s 6% of regular commuters.  I’m not sure if that’s realistic, but that equals $92,000 per year in voluntary fees, more than enough for a bike coordinator.  That 8-mile commute would cost each biker 80 cents per day.  That’s cheaper than driving or taking the bus.

Another proposal from Straight Outta Suburbia that’s been making the blogosphere rounds lately is to tax sales of bicycles, accessories and repair to pay for infrastructure.  While I think a voluntarily mileage tax would be more politically feasible and have fewer unintended consequences, I think both ideas deserve some consideration.  Make sure to check out the comments section at Straight Outta Suburbia as it has some good discussion of the issue, including the excellent phrase “pigovian tax”.

What do you think about a mileage or accessory tax for bikes?  Would you voluntarily pay it?  Finally, do you know any smartphone app developers who want to help me build it for very low pay?


¹ Ok, maybe not just one.  Did you know that there are many locations in Minneapolis that see thousands of bike trips per day?  And that there are locations where one out of every eight travelers is on a bike?  It’s true!  Sounds like the kind of traffic that might need some coordination.

Transportation efficiency, safety and fluff programs


Ken Greenberg and Trent Lethco discuss the potential benefits for drivers of providing more bike (and transit) capacity on local systems.  Given the minor controversy that has erupted over the decision by Minneapolis Department of Public Works to hire a Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, I thought this article was especially timely.

One of the key transportation issues we’ve only begun to tackle is system efficiency versus system capacity. When we think about moving the highest number of people in the smallest available footprint, creating more space for walking, cycling and transit makes perfect sense. By focusing on making our existing systems more efficient, we can allow more people to travel on the roads, highways and transportation systems we’ve already built.

Every additional trip we take on foot, on a bicycle or by public transit frees up significant space for drivers, since the “footprints” of these other modes are so much smaller. The cyclist beside you is not the car in front of you; the bicycle locked to a ring at curbside means one less parking space is taken. Driver, cyclist and pedestrian are complementary rather than mutually exclusive categories. Most of us are all of these at different times. What’s crucial is the proportion of time we use each mode, and creating communities where the car is needed for only certain types of trips. For other trips, we can make more efficient choices.

Recognizing this reality, cities around the world are finding innovative ways to share their rights of way. Cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Paris, New York, Montreal and Vancouver are rapidly making the shift to safe and efficient multimodal networks. More than a hundred cities now have bicycle-sharing programs such as Bixi. If we decide we want our system to be more efficient, we must also ensure it has the attributes that make the more efficient choices the attractive ones – and that comes through land use, system design, pricing and skillful urban design.

Greenberg and Lethco’s article is all about efficiency, but the bike coordinator position is also about public safety.  Ward 2 Council member Cam Gordon provides an eloquent rebuttal to the Strib article:

I am concerned that the article presents a false choice between this coordinator position and public safety.  In fact, the bike/walk coordinator position is a public safety position.  According to the records from our Public Works department, there were 46 bike/ped fatalities in Minneapolis between 2000 and 2009, and 5,509 bicyclists and pedestrians (that we know of) have been hit in that same timeframe.

These are big numbers, and it’s easy to lose sight of the human suffering behind each one.  So I ask you to remember Audrey Hull, the young woman who was hit and killed in Ward 2 earlier this year, and the pain that unnecessary tragedy caused to her family and friends.

Safer, better designed infrastructure can save lives.  That’s not an assertion, it’s a fact, borne out by the studies that have looked into road treatments like bike lanes.  By helping us build more and better bike and pedestrian infrastructure, this coordinator will help prevent deaths like Audrey’s.

Montreal bike infrastructure

A few weeks ago we went to Montreal for a week.  I learned not to rent places without air conditioning and that Montreal has some great bicycle infrastructure.  The off-street stuff is pretty standard for Minneapolis, but their on-street facilities are impressive.  A large cycle-track network, lots of on-street bike parking and a bike sharing system that has over 5,000 bikes.  Here is a map (in French) of the city’s bike network (pdf).  Cycletracks, which are two-way cycling routes that are on the street, but divided from cars, usually with a curb, are in blue.

According to the 2006 census, Montreal (the city) had an 11% bicycle mode share.  Take that, number one cycling city.

Below are some pictures we took, mostly of bike stuff and streets, while in Montreal and Quebec City.

Continue reading

First Open Streets in Minneapolis

Yesterday, June 6th, was the first Open Streets event in Minneapolis.  It was organized by the Minneapolis Bike Coalition, with lots of hard work.  From everyone I’ve talked to and all the tweets I’ve read, it seemed to be a rollicking success.  But how can people not like cruising up and down Lyndale and saying hi to their neighbors and friends?

Below are a few photos the wife and I snapped.  Check out the Open Streets page for more.