Advancing Innovation through EvaluationAdvancing Innovation through Evaluation

By Steve Clark, Bicycling and Walking Program Manager

The bright green paint on Bryant Ave is a regional "first." But does this make bike travel safer?  Are cyclists riding in safer space farther from parked cars? Are motorists giving cyclists more room when passing? Does it make a difference where the paint is placed? BWTC and the City of Minneapolis, with help from the University of Minnesota, will soon be able to answer these questions.

As a pilot program, Bike Walk Twin Cities has had the unique opportunity to support some exciting bike/ped projects that have never been tried in this area before. While we can feel proud of all the "firsts" implemented in Minneapolis and surrounding communities through this program, the real value-and one of the lasting legacies of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program-will come when we can actually measure the impact of these innovative design solutions, both in terms of bicycle and pedestrian safety and more users. Our research into how well various treatments are working is already underway. Whatever we learn, of course, we'll make sure the findings are published to help advance livable streets throughout the United States and beyond. See below for some of the key questions people have been asking about the evaluation process, along with our responses:

Is the evaluation a requirement of the program? Do the other pilots also have FHWA experiments underway?

Yes, the purpose of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program was to investigate "to what extent bicycling and walking could become part of the transportation solution." Implicit in the federal legislation was an understanding that Bike Walk Twin Cities would need to evaluate the different types of projects funded in the Twin Cities metro area to determine which were most effective in increasing rates of walking and bicycling. Also, according to standard FHWA policy, any federally funded project with experimental treatment ( as defined by MnDOT or FHWA) must  be evaluated to ensure that the design is not leading to a less safe travel environment. Columbia, Missouri is also undertaking this design evaluation for their innovative designs per FHWA requirement

So, there's a tie in between the innovation of BWTC projects and the evaluation requirement?

Certainly this is the case. If all BWTC-funded projects were conventional improvements like bike lanes and new sidewalks using existing standards, there would not be much need for evaluation because these kinds of facilities have been implemented everywhere and we already know they result in greater use and safety. But in the Twin Cities, there were numerous bicycle network gaps that persisted in part because the street width would not allow addition of conventional bike lanes and still meet state aid standards for motor vehicle travel lanes. BWTC realized the challenge was to address these critical connective routes and worked with municipalities to find alternative treatments that could meet the needs of all road users.

How are you doing it? What process is used to measure and evaluate the success of various treatments?

Since 2006 BWTC has been conducting counts of pedestrians and bicyclists in the Twin Cities. We accomplish this chiefly by training volunteers and working with the City of Minneapolis and other cities to manually count at over 100 locations during our annual count (September 11-13, 2012). We also conduct monthly counts at five locations and use automatic counters at another six locations. Some of the locations are where the innovative treatments have been implemented, some are where more conventional treatments have been done, and the remaining counts are conducted at locations where there are no special facilities. These counts tell us what the trends are both in terms of overall use and in relation to specific types of facilities. Congress considered these results in particular as indicative of the overall impact of our program.

But our other evaluation process is even more extensive, requiring a serious investigation of the "experimental treatments" that received design exceptions. This involves collecting hundreds of hours of video both before the treatment was installed, and after implementation. The video is collected and then independent researchers at the University of Minnesota review the footage on special computers, looking for key elements to determine the effectiveness of these treatments.

Can you give some examples of what the researchers are looking for?

Take the example of the enhanced sharrows on Bryant Avenue south of Lake Street in Minneapolis. These bike symbols with the chevron arrows have been made much more conspicuous with the use of bright green paint. The idea of course is to encourage cyclists to stay out of the door zone of parked cars, but on this particular street, the only way to do that is to ride near the middle of the travel lane (known as 'taking the lane'). We collected video both before and after the paint was put down. Researchers are now reviewing video from Bryant Avenue to determine how well the vivid paint is working. Are cyclists riding farther from parked cars or not? Are motorists giving cyclists more room when passing? Or are there more close calls, not fewer? Does it make a difference where the paint is placed? We'll soon have reliable data with which to answer these questions.


Video of the Bryant Avenue bike boulevard in Minneapolis will help determine the impact of this experimental green paint


We are also currently evaluating advisory bike lanes in Minneapolis along similar lines. Here again we have less than the "standard" space for travel lanes and bike lanes and we need to find out if it's 1) encouraging more walking and bicycling and 2) causing any unintended consequences that would constitute a safety hazard. In this case, though similar treatments have been studied in other countries, this advisory bike lane research and resulting data will be the first of their kind in the U.S.


How are these innovative advisory bike lanes on 14th Street in Minneapolis impacting safety and ridership? Evaluations are already underway.


Are there any results yet that you can make public?

While the project videos are still being collected and reviewed, we're also analyzing crash history at these locations. And we have some great news: On E. 14th Street in downtown Minneapolis where advisory bike lanes have been put in place, crashes seem to have dropped to zero (at least in 2012)! Typically this stretch of street has about 10 crashes a year (of all types: car/car, car/bike, car/pedestrian), but so far in 2012 there have been none. What is different? There is no longer a center stripe (but there are dashed bike lanes) and the area between the bike lanes for two way traffic is in places as narrow as 14 feet! It appears that motorists are driving more cautiously through this area, precisely because they perceive it to have less space. We can't draw this conclusion with absolute certainty, but the results are what we might have predicted because they have been replicated in many European countries where this is a common design. (Read our advisory bike lanes blog for more details).

When will you have the complete results?

Evaluation is ongoing in part because some projects funded by Bike Walk Twin Cities through the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program are still being implemented. More advisory bike lanes, for example, will be installed this fall in Edina and also in Richfield-and both of these project locations will be evaluated too. We're hopeful, though, that by early next summer we can produce a full report on all of the "experimental treatments" of BWTC investments. We look forward to making the report available to the public. We anticipate that these insights into certain innovative treatments and their impact on bicycle and pedestrian safety, as well as rates of bicycling and walking, will help to guide future projects here in the Twin Cities and in many other communities. Already, we are getting calls from many traffic engineers and planners interested in implementing similar kinds of projects. We're eager to have more documentation soon to show how well they're working.