Minneapolis recorded a slight increase in bike use this year, but officials saw a dramatic surge of usage on the city's first protected bike lanes.
The new information comes as Minneapolis is on the cusp of designating 30 miles of streets for protected bikeways, a significant addition to what is already one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation.
"It's quite an increase," said Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.
The September count found bike traffic up sharply on the Plymouth Avenue Bridge after the city installed bike lanes separated by plastic tubes from traffic lanes.
Bike traffic on the bridge is up 81 percent since the city installed the protected lanes during a bridge repair project in 2013. During five years when the bridge offered only shoulders or sidewalks for bikes, the city recorded an average of 350 bikes a day in its annual count. Bike traffic jumped to 720 estimated bikers in its Sept. 11, 2014, count.
The count recorded almost no bikers using the adjacent Broadway Avenue Bridge, which lacks defined bike lanes.
Simon Blenski, a city bike planner, said that bikers also mostly shifted off the Plymouth Avenue Bridge's sidewalk, which means they are less of an obstacle to the estimated 800-plus daily pedestrians. More than half the bikers crossing the bridge rode on the sidewalk before the span shut down for two years for emergency repairs.
The annual bike count has taken on added significance as the city participated in a Twin Cities-wide federally funded pilot project to boost pedestrian and bike travel. That pilot project is now completed, after raising bike traffic by 73 percent, and foot traffic by 25 percent over a five-year period from 2007 to 2013.
The 2014 numbers show foot travel up by 6 percent at 30 benchmark spots, but bike traffic rose just 1 percent since the 2013 count.
However, Blenski attributes that to unfavorable weather, with rain on the first and most important counting day, and cool weather on the second. Counts are generally made during a two-hour afternoon period and extrapolated to come up with a 24-hour estimate.
Another notable jump in bicycle commuting was found on bike-and-pedestrian-only Bridge 9 over the Mississippi River. The daily estimate jumped by 300 riders after the university-area bridge was linked to the Dinkytown Greenway a month before the 2013 count. It then jumped another 430 riders to 1,270 after the west end of the bridge was linked last summer by the new Bluff Street Trail under Interstate 35W.
"That was an expensive and challenging connection but it shows the importance of having those direct connections," Fawley said.
He expects greater ridership after the neighborhood promotes it next year. "You have to know it's there and how to get there," Fawley said.
Some riders may have changed their routes to ride the new link. Bike traffic was down on the Tenth and Third avenue bridges, plus the Washington Avenue S. crossing of 35W.
The Plymouth bikeway data stands out in part because Minneapolis lacks other protected bikeways for comparison, which has prompted bike advocates to complain the city is falling behind on bike infrastructure.
A protected bikeway — in which bikers get some physical barrier from cars — was just added last fall on W. 36th Street. Another is planned next year on NE. Broadway Street just west of the Ramsey County line. E. 26th and 28th streets may also get protected lanes next year. A short section of Washington Avenue will get protected lanes known as cycle tracks in 2015, while by the end of 2016 the Franklin Avenue Bridge will have a 32-inch barrier separating bikers and pedestrians from traffic.
But spending the $790,000 that the city budgeted to build more such lanes in 2015 largely will await an amendment to the city's bike plan. A draft analysis of potential routes found that some, such as the one-way pairs of Portland and Park avenues, could be converted relatively easily from painted lanes to those with plastic poles to provide better separation for bikers. But some other routes considered are too narrow or have too many competing uses to look feasible, planner Anna Flintoft told an advisory committee. That proposed plan is expected to be released for public discussion early in 2015.