A Glimpse of Biking Network Effects

Recently I’ve become the steward of an amazing and rich set of non-motorized transportation data through work with Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC), a local non-profit administering the federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP), since 2007 (part of the SAFETEA_LU legislation).

This $28M pilot program, awarded to 4 communities around the country and luckily our fair city of Minneapolis was chosen (Sheboygan, WI, Marin County, and Columbia, MO are the others). Among other things, this funding is intended to do two main things: provide funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects, and measure the effect of any infrastructure projects on biking and walking traffic.

Suffice to say, I love my job.

To measure bike and pedestrian traffic patterns, each September the NTPP communities deploy volunteers to dozens of locations, counting observed bicyclists and pedestrians between 4pm and 6pm per the established National Bike and Pedestrian Documentation Project methodology.  Since 2007, Minneapolis has seen great increases in both bike and pedestrian traffic. To be specific, across 40 measurement locations in the Metro Area, bicycle traffic is up 51%, pedestrians are up 24%, with a combined non-motorized transportation change of 37%.

Whatever is happening, it seems to be working.

However, there are some locations that are decreasing in absolute traffic numbers. In fact, one of these declining locations is on Lyndale Ave, just north of Franklin. Isn’t that pretty close to hipster-central? Why would such an important urban arterial see a 24% decrease in bike traffic since 2007? The answer is network effect. That is, traffic patterns are shifting.

A quick look at the context in this location gives it away. Just two blocks to the east, the Bryant Ave Bike Boulevard exists, connecting the Loring Bikeway and downtown, south as far as 50th, through South Minneapolis.

Luckily, we have a measure of that as well. One of the BWTC count locations is on the Loring Bikeway Bridge, just above the Lyndale location. Not surprisingly, we have seen a similar increase in observed cyclists; 23% since 2007.

Now, those numbers are a little misleading.  That -24% change on Lyndale Ave constitutes 34 observed riders from 2007 to 2012, whereas the +23% change on the Loring Bikeway Bridge constitutes 114 bicyclists.  That is, the bike facility is changing traffic patterns, and it is attracting more and more riders!

Here is a neat graphic to demonstrate the point:

There you have it, one line goes up, while another line goes down: network effects.

There you have it, one line goes up, while another line goes down: network effects.

If you look closely, you can see the light and dark green boxes which represent the locations of screenlines where each count is located.

A similar effect was observed before and after the Cedar Lake Trail was connected to the West River Parkway.  Before 2009, the trail and connecting facilities extended from St. Louis Park and beyond to the west, up to about 12th St on the edge of downtown Minneapolis.  The trail saw good ridership before the extension project, but once that missing link was mended, there were massive observed increases in ridership.

Now, this isn’t to say that we want cyclists to essentially get out of the way of motorists.  Indeed, there should be many more and much better bike and pedestrian facilities on many more of our streets.  Additionally, we should be looking to increase the non-motorized network beyond the Twin Cities into the suburbs and beyond.

This, however, is just one interesting location which hints at much larger and many more implications for non-motorized transportation.  The whole 2012 Count Report from BWTC can be found at their website, and keep your eyes peeled for more interesting analysis, including monthly count information, and an address of the impacts of weather.

Keep on riding-

Prescott Morrill

About Prescott Morrill

I am an aspiring urban designer recently graduated with master's degrees in both landscape architecture and urban and regional planning. An avid cyclist, my goal is to work in the realms of pedestrian and bicycle-oriented transportation, public open space, and community development. To this end, I'm currently working on The Starling Project along Central Corridor LRT construction (starlingproject.com), and The Bike Pasture, a sustainable bike parking solution at the U of M's College of Design.