If you build it they will come. If you build it and lead people to it, more will come.If you build it they will come. If you build it and lead people to it, more will come.

By Joan Pasiuk, Bicycling and Walking Program Director

They have come and are still coming. Across the life of the pilot BWTC has invested in promotional and educational work to emphasize walkable destinations and lead people to existing--and especially new--routes for bicycling. This outreach continues, with over a dozen projects yet to open and many people still discovering the expanded network. Nearing the end of a bustling summer of activity, we reflect on lessons learned. What do we know so far about why people in the Twin Cities bicycle or walk for transportation, and why they don't? Much more assessment to come, but enjoy a few snapshots of insights to date.

Points of Light

BWTC formed early guiding principles of outreach with inspiration from key resources:

1. "Recommendations to Increase Physical Activity in Communities" by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services strongly recommended the "creation of or enhanced access to places for physical activity combined with informational outreach activities." Much corresponding research exists showing the influence of the built environment on level of physical activity and especially active transportation. Bingo! BWTC has many new infrastructure improvements as the basis for informational outreach. The task force also strongly recommended community-wide campaigns as very effective. Advisers steered us in this case to a comprehensive campaign at a neighborhood level rather than a massive effort across the whole pilot area and the Bike Walk Move (BWM) campaign was born. New projects (bicycle boulevards, bike lanes, intersection improvements, Nice Ride stations, bicycle parking) and all the resulting connectivity to destinations have been the basis for significant outreach in North Minneapolis, Northeast Minneapolis, and Southwest Minneapolis over the past two years.

2. "The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior" by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (authored by Christie Manning, Ph.D., honored friend of TLC) is a gold mine of evidence-based advice. For example, "Research shows that people respond more positively to a behavior, and will imitate that behavior, when there is social proof for it." BWTC provides social proof of bicycling and walking transportation through counts that demonstrate growing numbers of us on the streets here, through many campaign stories and visuals of neighbors on foot and bike, and in traditional and social media work that takes the message of bicycling and walking social norms far and wide.


These real Twin Cities residents represent a growing trend, inspiring others to try biking and walking like they have.


3. Various publications and work from Policy Link as well as local partners help us hold equity firmly in our mission. Effective networks of bicycling, walking, and connections to transit are critical to a shared prosperity. BWTC investments in the Community Partners Bike Library Program of Cycles for Change (check the website for absolutely inspiring stories of program patrons at their recent annual celebration) and SPOKES community bike walk center, for example, empower populations with access to more and healthy transportation options.


SPOKES community bike walk center in Minneapolis. (Photo credit: Bridget Nelson Monroe)


4. And we made early investments based on successful programs elsewhere. BWTC funded the Bike Walk Ambassadors based on Chicago Bicycling Ambassadors, and several outreach projects of St. Paul Smart Trips based on a similar program in Portland OR.


The Translation

This work of building knowledge, shifting attitudes, and fostering a change to healthier behavior is tough. Though we are still learning and still hard at work, our campaign and investments are distilled to a number of key frames such as short trips, health benefits, neighborhood destinations, fun, and a growing and safer network. To help convey the message to new and less traditional active transportation audiences we work with partner organizations.

Sharing information about routes and encouraging short trips at the Northeast Farmers Market.


Breaking Down Barriers: A Few Insights and Tidbits We're Chewing On

  • In all our BWM surveyed groups to date (3 neighborhood areas) the most important barrier to walking is "too busy, not enough time." This is confirmed in one of the Smart Trips neighborhoods (the question in that case combines bicycling and walking); in the other neighborhood weather considerations slightly edged out the time factor as a barrier. Our emphasis on short trips is aimed at addressing this barrier. The effectiveness of this strategy is of course greatest where there is high concentration of destinations. The time factor is a barrier for bicycling also. With that in mind, check out the new coasters we are using with our outreach in Northeast Minneapolis.

Did you know how quickly a bike can get you where you need to go?


  • In all the BWM survey groups (3 neighborhood areas) the biggest barrier to bicycling for those who had not ridden in the past year was access to a working bicycle. In some cases, we know anecdotally, this can mean that a bicycle is languishing in a garage or basement for need only of a patch on an inner tube. Access to community bike walk centers that teach or provide basic maintenance can be an important investment for this population. But access to a good working bicycle no longer needs to be defined by ownership. Curiously, even when survey results showed that respondents knew of Nice Ride bike sharing and considered stations convenient, access to a working bicycle was deemed the largest barrier.


  • What do you think is by far the #1 self-reported bicycling and walking motivator among respondents in the Twin Cities? Saving money on gas? Fun? Environmental benefits? No: these benefits weren't mentioned nearly as often as health and exercise. This was true for both bicycling and walking across all the survey groups in BWM and Smart Trips neighborhoods, except in North Minneapolis where "going somewhere close by" for walkers edged out health by a few points. This indicates that our health messaging is important to continue in order to get more people biking and walking for transportation.


Stay tuned. Many more results to share!