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