3M Local Miles

3M Campus

3M’s Maplewood campus is a place that I have long thought has one of the best opportunities in Minnesota for employee bicycling. The 12,000 employees at the 28 building campus account for a significant number of extremely short trips by car each and every day. Trips that just about anywhere outside of the U.S. would be by walking or bicycle.

Three major opportunities:

Campus—The 3M campus encompasses 28 buildings. Most employees utilize an on-campus van transport service or their personal cars to get from building to building.

Local Area—Hundreds or Thousands of 3M employees drive from a half a mile to maybe two miles to local eateries and places like Target every day.

Local Commuting—About 4,000 3M employees, one-third of those who work on the campus, live within five miles of the campus. How many would ride to work if they had really safe comfortable paths and crossings?

Significant benefits:

Physical Health—We spend about twice as much on healthcare as other developed nations and yet we have lower life expectancy and higher rates of preventable diseases. Much of this is attributed to our obesity and lack of daily activity.

Healthcare costs alone related to obesity are estimated to be about $221 billion annually in the U.S.[1] Or put another way, an obese person costs $1,832 more per year in healthcare than a non-obese person. Each U.S. worker pays over $2,500 per year to cover costs of obesity, whether or not they themselves are obese[2].

Lack of activity and obesity combined are estimated to cost over $3,600 in higher healthcare costs per worker. And, this is only the cost side, there are also significant quality of life issues related to both.

While healthcare costs have been increasing for 3M along with most companies and our nation as a whole, Quality Bicycle Products in Bloomington has seen decreased costs. A study by Health Partners shows that over the 3 year period of 2009 – 2011, QBP saw a 4% decrease while most saw a 25% increase. This was largely attributed to lower obesity and increased physical activity among their employees. The real standout in this study though was that while average employees spend $261 per month on healthcare, those who commute by bicycle spend $96. Can 3M employees achieve these kinds of savings?

Mental Health—Driving for short trips isn’t good for our physical health, but can be quite bad for our mental health compliments of frustration and road rage and even the tedium of sitting in a car. On the other hand, bits of moderate exercise, like riding to lunch, improve our mental health as well as our job performance.

Money—On average each short trip costs the driver about $2.10 directly in fuel, tire wear, and other vehicle costs[3]. Then there are the hidden costs of extra wear on our roads, parking, and crashes which add about another $2.35 to each trip. $4.45 per trip times 100 trips per year is $445.

Combined with healthcare costs that’s about $2000 per year in very real direct savings and another $2000 in indirect savings. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Productivity—The Society of Actuaries estimates that the U.S. loses $164 billion annually due to loss of productivity attributed to obesity. This includes higher absenteeism, higher disability, lower daily productivity, and higher mortality. This follows us home too.

Death—Driving is dangerous and we are better at killing people with our cars than folks in any other developed country. The less we drive the fewer people we’ll kill.

Crashes—Even if we don’t kill someone, the cost of a simple crash, like hitting another car on our way to Target over our lunch hour, is about $12,000. Not to mention the pains and costs of any injuries we incur, missed work, etc.

Parking—3M has a parking problem. They can’t find enough space for everyone to store their cars during the day. A car requires over 30 times as much space as a bicycle.

Then there are issues of increased pollution, fuel consumption, traffic, and noise.


1 – Partner with Nice Ride MN for a bikeshare system on 3M’s Maplewood campus. This should allow for use on campus as well as be integrated with the larger Nice Ride network for those who want to ride between the 3M campus and downtown St Paul (Lunch? Catch a train at Union Depot?). As well it should allow for 3M’ers to use bikes for longer periods of perhaps 90 minutes for round-trips to local eateries and other errands.

2 – Make 3M’s campus bicycle friendly. Ideally this would include Dutch style segregated paths and crossings throughout the campus. However, this may not be critical. 3M’s road system can be labeled a bicycle system that allows cars and other motor traffic (and slowed to maybe 15 mph). 3M employees tend to be a quite responsible group so this is one place where a shared space may work quite well[4].

3 – Assist and drive the implementation of safe high quality Dutch style segregated bicycle infrastructure in the local area that is popular with 3M’ers for food and errands. This is a quite compact area so it should provide a very favorable cost/benefit. This will provide safe bicycle access to local eateries that, combined with a local bikeshare, will allow all 3M’ers to ride bicycles to lunch and for local errands instead of driving cars. For most trips riding a bicycle will likely be faster than driving.

4 – Partner with local communities to assist with and drive the implementation of safe Dutch style segregated bicycle infrastructure that will allow 3M employees who live close to the campus to safely and comfortably ride from home to work. This should spread out like a web from the campus with each piece building on the next and should be targeted at nearby communities with the highest density of employees, possibly North St Paul and Woodbury.

The effective reach will be greater than the physical facilities as many employees who live close to this web will consider the short distance between their home and the 3M Bicycle Web to be relatively acceptable.

5 – Provide showers and bicycle storage for employees commuting from longer distances. Up to about seven miles is reasonable for most people to commute in normal street clothes and many can easily do so for ten or more miles. Some longer distance commuters may want to ride less durable and more expensive road bikes and then shower at work. The healthcare savings alone from encouraging this should more than compensate for the expense of providing showers and some type of bicycle storage.

Important Macho Vanity

A final note. The toughest part may be in overcoming employees own vanity. I can hear the conversations now when someone suggests riding bicycles to lunch—“I don’t have time for that.”.

BikeExecReading between the lines: “I think that I’m too important to waste time doing something like that.” or “I really don’t want to be seen riding a bicycle, I drive an expensive car after all.”

3M leaders are already setting the tone on this one. Several, including CEO Inge Thulin (who’s logged 282 miles in 35 days of riding) have already shown their bicycling chops in the National Bike Challenge.


[1] Costs related to being overweight (BMI of 25-30) are estimated at $27 billion.

[2] Most of this is in higher insurance premiums (employee contribution as well as the employer portion that could otherwise result in higher pay or lower cost of products). Additional costs of obesity include greater fuel consumption for our cars, restaurants needing more space per person (nearly every restaurant owner can tell you their cost per square foot of space),

[3] Or up to four times this depending on the vehicle.

[4] Some traffic calming such as squeezes or tightening some turn radiuses may be necessary.

Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at localmile.org, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

16 thoughts on “3M Local Miles

  1. at40man

    I work at the 3M Campus, and live about 5 miles north. The biggest problem with biking to work IMHO is the fact that the roads getting here are not very bicycle friendly! If I were to bike, my only real option is down 120/Century (straight shot with 12 stoplights) or Hadley (which meanders a bit too far east before I would eventually need to get back over Century to get to work)

    If there were more bike paths and lanes, I would definitely bike to work. But as of now, it is just too much of a hassle. The 3M campus is not the problem itself, it is the lack of pedestrian and bike-friendly infrastructure near the campus that is the problem.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Thanks for the info. That is similar to what I’ve heard from others.

      There is a fairly strong effort to get lockers and showers for the ‘Brave 2%’ lycra clad vehicular cyclists (which I support) but nothing that I know of for the ‘Sane 98%’ who’d like to ride but don’t enjoy playing pinball with 4000 cars driven by motorists more interested in texting than watching where they’re going.

      1. at40man

        That wouldn’t be a bad idea, either — especially if said facilities were right on the Quad near the bike racks. Perhaps reconfiguring the 1st floor restrooms near the game room of 225 into changing rooms.

        The ironic part is I bike almost every day after work and live near both Bruce Vento and Gateway Trails!

      2. at40man

        I should also add that driving and parking isn’t a picnic either. I regularly see even the overflow lots, ermmm… overflowing. With all the people living in Woodbury and Lowertown and commuting to 3M, the Gateway BRT will be quite helpful!

      3. rk

        I am part of the brave 2% with a 16 mile commute from a city just across the state line. I got a chuckle about the pinball analogy as in my ten years doing this, I certainly feel more at risk with the proliferation of mobile devices. We must stigmatize this irresponsible behavior just like drunk driving to control it.

        I started the current Bike User Group at 3M St Paul and can happily report that we are changing our culture with cycling. As you state in this blog, there are many ways in which our employee based efforts to promote a bike freindly campus and culture are consistent with 3M commitments to 3M’s vision and strategies. The trend today is that there are a growing number of 3M’ers who can tell a story about one or more of their business related execs doing something with bikes.

        I predict that your article will stimulate even more urgent discussions to accelerate the change on the 3M campus and surrounding commuinities.

    2. Cameron ConwayCameron Conway

      I think there’s probably two kinds of cycling going on here: commuting to work as well as commuting between buildings at work. Doing a good job with the former is far more difficult if only because the area surrounding 3M isn’t terribly dense. You’d have to accomplish a lot of bike infrastructure in order to allow even a fraction of folks to bicycle comfortably to 3M. The campus itself, however, is quite a bit denser. If you get decent paths between those buildings, you get access to a much larger customer base for far fewer dollars. Once folks start having a ball biking between meetings, the cognitive leap to “hey Mr. Councilmember, why don’t I have trails to my house” becomes much simpler.

      1. rk

        True on the density but if you cast a bigger diameter circle around the 3M St Paul campus as Walker suggests (between 4 and 8 miles) there are thousands of individual 3Mrs using a car to get to work five days a week. One express purpose of the employee based Bike User Group is to raise awareness for this target group about alternatives to personal transport.and literally take them by the hand to show the way to safely and sustainably bike commute.

        1. Cameron ConwayCameron Conway

          That’s definitely important too, but I still don’t think you get a ton of committed usership without dedicated infrastructure. As far as I can tell, most 4-8 mile 3M cyclists would just be using sidewalks and the like. That’s fine… but it’s not going to attract a majority. I think it’s really important that a bicycle-oriented small area plan get adopted by Maplewood towards achieving that goal. If you had real protected bikeways, you could probably get the kind of ridership you see on the Cedar Lake Trail.

          Doing that would be expensive per user, both in terms of financial and political capital. Starting it all on-campus with NiceRide and a few protected bikeways that would serve nearly everyone on campus? Very simple in comparison. I honestly think that expanding to the immediate area would be far easier if you already had existing critical mass on the campus itself.

  2. Kassie

    I took a class at 3M last winter. It was held every Tuesday evening. Since I live very close by, I decided I’d take the bus to the class. Arriving at the 3M campus after dark, I couldn’t find any sidewalks from where the bus left me to where I needed to go. I had to walk through parking lots, run across roads trying to avoid cars (I did find out of the way crosswalks later) and walk on the side of one way roads with people driving quickly as they left for the day. I felt much more unsafe than almost anywhere I’ve walked. I’m pro-bike infrastructure, but having safe places to walk will always be higher priority for me than having safe places to bike.

    Also, as I live close to 3M, on the best bike route between downtown and 3M, I see the bicyclists. In the winter, there was one guy who biked every day. Now that the weather is nice, there are a few people who bike. It is steady uphill for miles from downtown to 3M. I can’t imagine a recreational bicyclist would successfully attempt that ride. Without being in good shape, it is a tough route. I work downtown and usually take the long way home to avoid the very steep hill to my house and take a more gradual route. To continue that climb for another 3 miles would be horrible, especially considering the road needs to be rebuilt and the traffic doesn’t respect bikes.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Kassie, excellent points and I completely agree.

      For me that hill is all in how you take it. I drop down to a lower gear and ride quite slow. It takes time. 🙂 I agree though that it isn’t for many people. I think it would be possible to create a better route between downtown St Paul and 3M though I’m not sure how much better from a climbing standpoint given the difference in elevations (and actually I think just about everything is uphill from St Paul).

      If you were designing this would you prefer a longer less steep grade or a short steep grade that gets it over with? Or, maybe shallow stairs with a bike rail that you can push your bike up?

      1. Kassie

        I think the best would be to take the bus from downtown with your bike, then bike downhill all the way home.

        I prefer longer less steep grades, but that’s just me. It would be a lot easier if when I was biking I could concentrate on climbing the hill and not have to avoid potholes and bad drivers. I know they are making Margaret a bike boulevard, but I’m not sure if those who are using 3rd will move to it. Personally, when I come up from downtown, I use Hudson and move over to 3rd at Johnson because it easily connects to downtown and has less traffic and doesn’t do that stupid dip at the baseball field.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          Agree on all points. Great idea on using the bus one way and bicycling the other.

          Climbing IS much more pleasant when on a segregated path. Actually, flat and downhills and everything else is much more pleasant when playing dodgecar isn’t an element.

          I too prefer a longer shallower grade to a sharp steep one. Particularly if it’s safely segregated. In a few places in The Netherlands they’ll offer both to accommodate both types of riders. In one town there is a long shallow grade that the majority of people use but there are also some stairs with a bicycle rail to push your bike up. Not many use it, but I’d guess that someone in a hurry might.

    2. rk

      Also agree on your comments Kassie. The 3M campus is not without traffic enforcement challenges BUT we are making rapid progress in changing things to make walking easier and safer. Frequently we consider solutions that both good for pedestrian traffic and also conducive to bike use. For anyone driving on campus you can see major infrastructure changes being done. Fortunately we have increasing numbers of mid to upper level management who are enthusiastic supporters of this transformation.

  3. Andy SingerAndy Singer

    If you haven’t already, you should connect with the 3M list serve group (includes employees Steve Yetter, Pete Grasse and many others). Three projects they and the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition are trying to get done are creating a good Margaret Street Bikeway (going west), getting Ramsey County to connect the east side bicycle path on McKnight Road under I-94, and getting MnDOT to put bike paths/lanes on Century Boulevard under I-94 (where there is currently not even a sidewalk).

    The one with the most promise is Margaret Street which got a little funding in the last city Capital Improvement Budget to paint and sign it. The problems are getting crossing aids at White Bear Avenue and McKnight. We have ideas but Public Works, 3M and Maplewood need to be pushed into putting in something good (rather than a half-assed solution). With McKnight under I-94, rumor has it (after many meetings and letters) that Ramsey is not going to do anything but direct cyclists across McKnight to the little sidewalk on the west side and then back again– two unnecessary crossings of a 4-lane boulevard with over 20,000 vehicles per day. It’s incredibly lame and dangerous and no one in their right mind will do this. MnDOT has also done nothing but put in a couple signs on Century Blvd (despite repeated meetings and requests). Both agencies have money they are spending on countless road projects for cars, but they can’t seem to find money to fix these very basic, long-standing impediments to bicycling and walking to and from 3M. The only thing that will make them act is pressure from 3M, employees and Saint Paul and Maplewood residents and politicians.

    You can see photos of some walk-thrus we did of McKnight and Century with MnDOT and county reps at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.612193428793074.1073741827.133657969979958&type=3 (clicking on the first photo will give you the slide show with commentary). You can read more about Margaret Bike Blvd at https://www.ci.stpaul.mn.us/DocumentCenter/View/74030 (a city PDF file). I urge you to get involved.

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