2012 Nice Ride flows revisited

For the last two years, I’ve mapped the flows of the Nice Ride bikes.  I’ve always been slightly dissatisfied with the results, since bikes were obviously shown taking routes that any sane Nice Rider would never take (Hennepin Avenue between Lake and the bottleneck, for example).  Try as I might, I could never get ArcGIS to prioritize trails, lanes and bike boulevards sufficiently.

Enter the good people at Cyclopath.  Cyclopath is something like a bike route wiki, in that it is constantly updating it’s database of bike routes using ratings from users.  So every street in their database has a rating from bad to awesome (actually 0 to 4).  And this database includes the whole metro and beyond.  Best of all, they were willing to share it!

The latest version of ArcGIS has a new “restriction preference” setting, meaning there are six levels of preference for a link from “Highly Avoid” to “Highly Prefer”.  So I combined cyclopath’s street ratings with these preference settings and got a new and better route analyzer.  Here are the results:

NiceRide2012_cyclopath_routingAs a reminder, here is what the old version looked like:

2012 Nice Ride FlowsA few changes of note:

  • Hennepin is obviously not so popular anymore, save in downtown where there are more Nice Ride Stations.
  • The Cedar Lake Trail got a little more popular, perhaps 500 trips in some locations, since it was a Highly Preferred route.
  • West River Parkway south of the Washington Avenue bridge got a lot less popular (although crossings at Franklin stayed nearly the same).
  • There is generally just a lot less jigging and jogging on small streets as trips tend to condense onto major routes (see the major difference on Summit Avenue in Saint Paul).

Here is a version with a base street map for orientation:


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.

ACS: Minneapolis Neighborhoods See Big Gains in Bike Mode Share

On-street bike parking at the Birchwood Cafe in Seward

New American Community Survey data is out, which gives us the first look at Census Tract-level data since 2000.  I pulled out some transportation data for the Twin Cities metro, and previously looked at trip-to-work mode share changes for the region.  Cycling and telecommuting showed gains, carpooling and driving alone showed losses.

These small changes don’t seem that interesting, until you start to dive into the data.  Since cycling gained mode share, it’s worth exploring in more detail where these gains are happening.  Are the gains happening uniformly across the metro, or in specific areas?  What places have the highest bicycle mode share?  What do the changes mean for infrastructure and transportation planning?  Attempts at answers are after the break. Continue reading

Bicycle Commuting in Minneapolis is way up (but also down a little?)

Showing Steve The Greenway

According to new Census data from the American Community Survey, commuting to work by bicycle in Minneapolis has more than doubled since 2000.  However, the data also show that between 2008 and 2009, Minneapolis saw a 10% decline in bicycle commuting.  This trend does not mirror national trends in bicycle commuting, but does mirror the trend of our arch rival in all things bicycle, Portland (they were down 2% since ’08).  The actual percent of commuters bicycling to work in Minneapolis in 2009 was 3.8%  (Portland was at 5.8% and the nation as a whole was 0.55%).

The League of American Bicyclists has crunched the numbers on the 70 largest US cities, and has concluded that nationwide bicycle commuting rates have held steady since 2008.  However, large gains have been made since 2000 and since 2005.  Non- “Bicycle-Friendly Communities” (as defined by the LAB) actually saw large gains since 2000, with a 71% increase, while Bicycle-Friendly Communities only saw a 48% increase.

So why the big drop in Minneapolis since 2008?  It’s hard to say exactly.  Perhaps lower gas prices have lured some folks back into their cars.  Another possibility is that it’s not a trend at all, but a fluke of the data.  The League of American Bicyclists page does a good job of explaining all the limitations of the ACS, including a couple big ones like the fact that ACS is an estimate, not a true count and the fact that ACS asks respondents only what the principal mode of travel the worker usually used to get from home to work in the previous week.  From the LAB page:

Workers were asked to list only the means of transportation they used on the largest number of days in that week. This means that if the respondent rode a bicycle to work two days but drove three, they would not be counted as a cyclist. Likewise, workers were asked only for the means of transportation used for the longest distance during the trips. If someone biked one mile to a bus stop and rode the bus for two miles they would not be recorded as a bicyclist.

The League of American Bicyclists is also quick to note that bicycling’s share of all trips is three times larger than it’s share of commuting travel.  Meaning you are more likely to choose a bicycle for a trip to the store or soccer practice than you are for a trip to work.

Census 2010 data, which will give us information down to the neighborhood level, will be available sometime next year and should give a more accurate accounting of commuting habits.  The City of Minneapolis is also in the midst of a new bicycle and pedestrian count, which actually counts bike riders at many locations throughout the city.  While this doesn’t break down commute versus non-commute trips, it will give us another indicator of overall bicycle use in the city.

A proposal to fund Minneapolis bike projects

Parked Bicycle

The Minneapolis Bike Master Plan identifies many critical projects that lack maintenance funding, and the plan says these projects can’t go forward without it. Many potential maintenance funding sources are listed in the plan, such as bicycle registration, a special taxing district, a sales tax on bike products in the city, an endowment, advertising, and a number of others.  Some of these ideas may work and be palatable (like sponsorship), but many suffer from problems with enforcement or unintended consequences (bicycle registration, sales tax).

My humble proposal?  Increase parking meter rates and direct the additional revenue to bicycle capital and maintenance costs.  On-street parking and bicycle facilities often compete for space, and if the city is serious about encouraging more people to use bikes (and other non-auto modes) as transportation (as the Council goals, Greenprint and draft bike plan all state), increasing on-street parking rates would help.

Continue reading

Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan out for public comment

Calhoun Biking by flickr user meetminneapolis

Minneapolis has released the Bicycle Master Plan for public comment.  Get your comments in via phone, email or through the website until October 1st.  There will also be some open houses to collect comments I am told.

While I haven’t had time to read the entire document, the City has laid out some aggressive goals, such as increasing bicycle mode share (to work) to 15% by 2030, and increasing total bike trips by 10% each year.  They also aim to add 45 miles of on-street and 5 miles of off-street facilities by 2015.

The maps in the document are the most confusing to me, and I had a good conversation with Don Pflaum, the City’s contact for the plan, about making things more legible.  If you’ve got comments, submit them on the website, call or email Don or attend an open house.  This plan is the basis for prioritizing bikeway improvements in the city.

NYC DOT Commissioner in Minneapolis March 30th

New York City is becoming well known for it’s emphasis on improving pedestrian and bicycle mobility and accessibility, as well as innovative transit projects.  Just search Streetsblog.org for any transportation-related term, and you’ll find a wealth of projects and forward-looking thinking.

On March 30th, the Twin Cities will get some access to a decision-maker behind some of those improvements.  NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan will be giving a presentation at Open Book at 3:30 pm on March 30th.  From the TLC website:

For Elected Officials, Transportation Professionals, and ULI Members:

Please accept our invitation to a presentation by New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

NYC is increasing mobility and reinventing urban streetscape at express speed. Once car-clogged Times and Harold Squares are now interactive plazas. Innovative cycling designs traverse all boroughs and the goal is to double bicycle commuting by 2015. Bus shelters, bicycle parking, traffic calming, Summer Streets, new parking policies, bicycle wayfinding, bus rapid transit, Safe Streets for Seniors, the landmark Street Design Manual…NYC is on fire to improve the quality of life through sustainable streets.

Come to engage with Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and your local colleagues.

Co-sponsored by Transit for Livable Communities and the Urban Land Institute

Registration is required for the event.

Attend the first Minneapolis Bicycle Advocacy Meeting

From TC Streets For People and Minneapolis Bike Love:

There are several transportation advocacy goups in the metro, but one does not yet exist to represent cyclists of Minneapolis. Given the recent redesign of Downtown’s streets, the vibrant local bicycle culture, the high density of bicycle commuters, and the fact that Minneapolis is touted as the #2 Bicycle city in the US, it seems the time has come to develop an organized advocate for our interests.

An organizational meeting will be held at the TC Streets for People offices to get the ball rolling. Anyone interested in helping develop this organization is welcome.

Saturday, October 31st
Colonial Warehouse
212 3rd Avenue N., Suite 515

Minneapolis is #2 in bike commuting in 2008

Bike Pittsburgh has done some data mining on the American Community Survey data to develop commuting data separated by mode from the 60 most populus cities.  To display the information, they created a nifty dynamic spreadsheet in Google Docs that allows you to sort by mode. Also check out their table on commuting trends by gender. New research says we need to figure out what women want if we want to increase bicycle commuting.

Number one bicycle commuting city?  Portland, of course.  But number two?  Minneapolis.  In 2008, 4.3 percent of workers who lived in Minneapolis commuted by bicycle.  We beat out (by a good margin) warm and sunny places like San Francisco, Sacramento and Oakland. We also rank in the top ten in walking to work and are 12th in public transit. Good work Minneapolis, and look out Portland, we’re gunnin’ for you.

Bike fatalities double in Minnesota – but is it actually safer to ride?

According to MPR, bike fatalities have more than doubled since last year (9 up from 4) and crashes also look to be on the increase.  This story is punctuated by the death of a cyclist over the weekend near Snelling and Summit avenues in Saint Paul. That is the bad news.  The good news is that between 2006 and 2007, biking to work in Minneapolis grew by 50 percent according to the American Community Survey.

This story is a bit sensational, with a sentence near the end stating, “There are countless miles of roadway in Minnesota that pose potentially fatal risks to unwary or inexperienced bicyclists.”  There is likely little doubt that a dramatic increase in trips by bicycle creates additional unsafe interactions between cars and bikers, but I wish they had some data on fatalities or crashes per mile traveled, as that is a true measure of safety.  If bicycle commuting miles have increased 400 percent, and fatalities by 200 percent, then isn’t it actually getting safer to ride?  Without figures on miles traveled, we only have headlines about dramatic increases in crashes and fatalities.  There is also evidence that says that the reverse is actually true, more cyclists means safer roads.  We won’t know what the situation is in Minnesota until we get more data, but I don’t think we should be frightening people off their carbon-free rides just yet.

Nationally, there seems to be very little change in commuting to work by bicycle between 2006 and 2007, according to my own digging in the data tables.  I suspect the difference may be greater between 2007 and 2008 given rising oil prices and general economic instability.