If you build it, they will come — whether it’s on two wheels or two feet.
That’s one lesson that can be drawn from five years of bike and pedestrian counts at 40 locations in Minneapolis and beyond.
After an unprecedented construction boom in Twin Cities biking and walking improvements, the number of users is up by more than 50 percent for bikers and 20 percent for pedestrians.
That’s according to counts conducted in September by Minneapolis public works officials and by Transit for Livable Communities, which is administering $28 million in federal money in the Twin Cities for a pilot program to promote non-motor transportation. That’s in addition to local spending on bike-walk projects ranging from pedestrian islands to bike lanes to biker-activated crossing signals.
The resulting growth will continue through at least 2014, predicted Steve Clark, who manages the biking and walking program at Bike Walk Twin Cities. The infusion of federal money will fund a dozen more projects this year before it expires after funding 42 projects. Over the past two years, Minneapolis has doubled its miles of bike lanes.
“As we improve the overall network, it becomes easier to go wherever you want to go by bike or by foot. People are just catching up to where the network exists,” Clark said.
Meanwhile, the city has set a goal of a 35 percent increase in bikers by 2014 over last September’s count. The annual count in September is intended to document whether the investments to urge more people to walk or bike are paying off. That timing captures biking college students, but estimates are that daily biking volume then is off 20 percent from the summer peak.
The latest numbers document some shifts as cyclists adapt to improvements. For example, the number of bikers using the Loring Bikeway Bridge over Lyndale Avenue shot up by one-third last fall compared to the year before, a likely result of the bike-friendly conversion of Bryant Avenue S., which feeds into the bridge. Meanwhile, the number of bikers was down on Lyndale Avenue, two blocks east of Bryant but lacking bike lanes.
Adding bike lanes can also help pedestrians, according to Simon Blenski, a city bike planner. For example, two of every three bikers rode on the sidewalks of the Franklin Avenue Bridge before that street got bike lanes. Now four of five ride in the street.
Counts by Bike Walk Twin Cities volunteers also occurred in St. Paul, St. Louis Park, Falcon Heights and Richfield. Both counts typically estimate the daily number of bikers and walkers at count locations by extrapolating actual counts during a two-hour afternoon rush hour. Those extrapolations are modeled on general traffic data, some 12-hour counts the city conducts, and automated counters on the Midtown Greenway that give further information about biking patterns.
Not surprisingly, the busiest biking locations are around the University of Minnesota and downtown Minneapolis, plus recreational areas designed around biking such as the Midtown Greenway and Cedar Lake Trail. The Dinkytown area was the highest for bikers and walkers as a share of all traffic, at 74 percent.