University of Minnesota Prof. Greg Lindsey has been named the first “Scholar in Residence” at the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

This may strike some — particularly those who still see MnDOT as the old “Highway Department" — as a bit curious. But the $3 billion agency is increasingly multimodal, and that involves engineering, adapting and building infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Doing so requires solid, “evidence-based” data, and that’s where Lindsey comes in.

“I’m very interested in applying ideas to practice,” said Lindsey. “There’s no information about the volumes of people who bicycle or walk.”

On sabbatical from the U’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the 59-year-old Lindsey had already been working on this kind of research for MnDOT/Local Road Research Board projects. MnDOT is paying him $5,000.

Monitoring bike and pedestrian data helps MnDOT identify trends, improve safety and enables better decisions about building or maintaining infrastructure, he said.

Here’s a small example:

The Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis between Lake Calhoun and the Midtown Exchange actually had more bike and pedestrian traffic than cars on streets that intersect the popular pathway. After gathering and analyzing data, MnDOT switched stop signs from the Greenway to the roadway, ensuring a smoother flow of bike and pedestrian traffic.

“The more we talked about it, being based at MnDOT one or two days a week made sense and helped foster a relationship” between the two, Lindsey said.

That’s where the “Scholar in Residence” title comes in. Yet Lindsey is more likely to don Spandex than a professorial tweed blazer. He typically racks up several thousand miles a year on his bike — although, he notes, “I don’t do ice.”

He hopes that ultimately, his work will encourage more people to use the state’s greenways, trails and streets on bikes or on foot. He’ll stay in the MnDOT position until June 2016.