2013 BWTC Count Report Released
By Joan Pasiuk, Bicycling & Walking Program Director
If it seems like there are more bicyclists and walkers on the streets of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, even in winter weather that challenges any form of getting around, that observation is confirmed with the release of the Bike Walk Twin Cities 2013 Count Report.
Annual counts at 43 benchmark locations in the Twin Cities metro indicate that bicycling increased 78 percent and walking 16 percent between 2007 and 2013. Overall, active transportation (bicycling and walking together) rose by 45 percent from 2007 to 2013.
These findings are based on manual two-hour counts conducted by specially-trained volunteers at locations encompassing a broad range of street types and facilities and representing all areas of Minneapolis and several adjacent communities. The 2013 counts are the highest ever recorded for bicycle trips, and the second highest ever recorded for pedestrian trips (down slightly from the record high of 2012).
Collecting this data is critical to measuring the outcomes of the $28-million invested in the Minneapolis area by the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program under the auspices of the Federal Highway Administration. Congress authorized these investments in bicycling and walking, but also gave pilot communities a charge:
"In carrying out the program, the Secretary of Transportation shall develop statistical information on changes in motor vehicle, non-motorized transportation, and public transportation usage in communities participating in the program and assess how such changes decrease congestion and energy usage, increase the frequency of bicycling and walking, and promote better health and a cleaner environment."
Transit for Livable Communities, administering the local pilot as Bike Walk Twin Cities, embraced this charge and made investment decisions to help shift trips from driving to bicycling and walking. One key strategic priority was to expand a safe, visible network of bicycling routes that connect daily destinations and link trails to neighborhoods.
In Minneapolis, this strategy has created a dramatic shift to streets that are better serving all users, with a total of 108 miles of on-street bikeways and 194 miles overall in 2013. Compare this with 41 and 124 miles, respectively, when the BWTC counts began in 2007.
These figures include mileage of two bicycle boulevards that will be completed in 2014. Credit: City of Minneapolis Public Works Department.
Beyond the raw numbers and trends, the BWTC count analysis helps to tell the story of how streets really function. Even lower-cost investments such as bike lanes create safety improvements not only for bicyclists but also for folks on foot. Our findings demonstrate that the presence of bike lanes significantly reduces the unsafe practice of bicyclists riding on the sidewalk. Where on-street bicycle facilities exist, the rate of bicycle riding on sidewalks is 8 percent versus a 24 percent rate at locations without facilities.
Bicycling is greatest in the temperate months, of course, but we used our monthly count data to help understand the seasonal variation, particularly related to bicycling. The pattern over the past five years shows growing interest in winter bicycling, which increased at a higher rate than bicycling during the summer.
BWTC knows what all bike/walk advocates know--that the prevalence of women on streets as walkers or bicyclists is a bellwether of nonmotorized transportation. Our 2013 counts indicate that the increase in bicycling among women is roughly the same as the increase among men. Of bicyclists in our count area an average of 29 percent are women; the balance of female walkers is greater, averaging 45 percent of all walkers between 2008 and 2013. Watching the gender ratio will be an important way to continue to monitor the safety and usability of our streets.
See the 2013 report for more insights about mode share and travel patterns. Additionally, watch for a comprehensive report of the four communities in the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program. This all-pilot report will be available in first quarter 2014, with data and analysis on economic benefits, health benefits, air quality effects, and motor vehicle trips averted.
With eight significant BWTC projects to open in 2014, TLC hopes to add one additional year of monthly and annual counts in our pilot area, with the possibility of greater analysis of walking, more tracking of seasonal and gender trends, and perhaps insights into the travel patterns on bicycle boulevards.
This entire effort, of course, relies on the dedication of fabulous volunteers. In 2013 BWTC counters logged 330 hours of training, observing, and recording activity on the streets. Kudos to all! The initial count program has spawned and grown into such numerous data collection projects by jurisdictions and agencies that I was afraid the number of people who normally would be travelling on two wheels or two feet, but instead were holding clipboards, would reduce the total activity measurably. Not to worry. Plenty of folks who count; plenty of folks to count!