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Bikexchange.com logo, link to Home        Washington Bicycling Hub - Winter '06      Bikexchange.com logo, link to Home 
On-Street Bike Lanes On Mark With Cyclists     
Study Says Paint the Stripes and They Will Ride--Even in Challenging Climates   

By Charles Pekow

Mr. Pekow, a seasoned Washington, DC journalist, provides Bikexchange.com with continuing coverage of national legislative news on bicycling issues. 

Stripes have come back to fashion, if not in bike outfits we wear, then on the pavement beneath our pedals. Striped bicycle lanes on the sides of streets are preferred by bicycles over any other amenity. So determines research done in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and reported in Tools for Predicting Usage & Benefits of Urban Bicycle Network Improvements. The research also showed if you build any type of bicycle facility, riders will come.

The findings came from an on-going research effort at the University of Minnesota of bicycling in Minneapolis and St. Paul, with funding from a variety of sources, including the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.

Despite the long, cold and snowy winters, the Twin Cities are quite bicycle friendly. The Twin Cities Bicycling Club states that “Minnesota leads the nation in miles of paved trail, with nearly 400 miles state and county trails and 200 miles of paved urban trails.” Its website also states that “In the Twin Cities, there is a significant collaborative strategic planning effort underway by (state and local governments) and the bicycle industry to improve ‘connectivity’ for bicyclists. The result of this will be a fully connected, mapped, and signed bicycle network unlike anything else in the country.”

The university’s report considers facilities created in the 1990s in Minneapolis and St. Paul, many designed to enhance commuting to downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota. The researchers said that it doesn’t really matter how far people live from bike routes. If they want to ride on a trail, they’ll find a way to get there. But people who live near on-street bike lanes will ride more. Those who lived within 400 meters of a bike lane (about the length of four football fields) rode the most.

The study surveyed 168 bicyclists in summer and winter and asked them to value different bicycle facilities by enquiring how much longer would they be willing to ride on them vs. riding on a road without any. On average, they saw a bike lane as adding 16.3 minutes of value and a street with no parking 8.9 minutes. Riding on a separate bike path only merited an extra 5.2 minutes. But the results show that any type of bike improvement encourages people to ride.
But even the authors caution that this survey, like all others, need be taken with the proverbial grain of sale. “It is easier to say you will ride ten extra minutes than it is to actually do it,” they acknowledge. And they only considered bike commuters.

While acknowledging their “results are not entirely unambiguous” and that the routes studied don’t necessarily reflect the entire Twin Cities bike network, the researchers say that “the preponderance of evidence seems to support the hypothesis that the major bicycle facilities constructed in the Twin Cities during the 1990s did in fact significantly impact the level of bicycle commuting.”

Suburbs that didn’t share in the new facilities saw a drop in bicycle commuting and the areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul closest to the bike routes saw more increase than areas further ways. “Trips that crossed the Mississippi River showed a much larger increase than trips that did not, seemingly demonstrating the impact of several major bridge improvements.” And sure enough, downtown Minneapolis, which saw a major increase in facilities, saw a major increase in bike tips, whereas downtown St. Paul, which didn’t get as many infrastructure improvements, didn’t see such an increase.
“The results also provide considerable support for the alternate hypothesis that facilities are the effect, rather than the cause, of high bicycle use,” the report also states. The areas that got the bicycle improvements already had the highest bicycle usage. And depending on what point you want to prove you can use the statistics to show the new facilities made a major or insignificant difference. They increased the share of bicycling as a mode of transportation in the affected areas a relatively significant 17.5 percent – or a relatively insignificant increase of .3 percent of the total number of trips (from 1.7 percent to 2 percent).

And bicycling's contribution to health and transportation remains modest by societal standards. “Somewhat to the chagrin of many officials excited about the prospects of using community design to induce physical activity, this analysis suggests an uphill battle lies ahead” as only five percent of the urban population bicycles regularly, the report concludes. “And, the criteria for satisfying this measure were generous,” including a trip any time of day.

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