A Lake Minnetonka Nice Ride Idea

crowdsource-logoNote: This post is part of the streets.mn/Nice Ride crowdsource conversation, a series of crowdsourced looks at how to expand or improve Nice Ride planning.Check out the rest here.

Back in earliest September, NiceRideMN and Streets MN put forth a call to interested parties to provide “analysis and recommendations for the evolution of the Twin Cities bike share system”. The original announcement talked about data analysis, which caused my wannabe data geek ears to perk up. So I downloaded the NiceRideMN data, harassed some people on Twitter to get weather data (thank you again, @MorningWXGuy!), and plunged into the first steps of what I wanted to be fruitful analysis. Then I went to the project kickoff meeting.

At the kickoff meeting, the first thing I noticed was that almost everyone seemed to prefer the Fulton Ringer. The second thing was that Nice Ride’s operating model was different than I had always assumed. Nice Ride recognizes three general types of station – member/transportation, walk-up/recreation, and equity (which is really a whole other domain that exists across membership and walk-up, but more on that later, maybe). And some of the recreation stations have an outsized (positive) impact on revenue with a very low balancing requirement (presumably due to the fact that most riders from those stations rode in a loop and returned the bike to the same station it had been checked out from). The third thing was the realization that Nice Ride had already been over its own data with several different fine-toothed combs, and that any further attempts on my part to suss needles from the data haystack would likely be of little benefit.

So I rode home and pondered ways to answer some part of the project’s Seven Questions without getting all geeked-out on data. As I neared the end of my second week of pondering, Bill Lindeke posted an article on Streets MN in which he mashed-up disparate data sources and raised interesting questions. He overlayed a map of Nice Ride station locations on a map of Federal bike counts from 2010 to show places with higher bike counts that did not have NiceRideMN stations. He made a couple good points in the post (he always does, though?), but he did not rely on fine-grained data (for example, how many bikes left the Nokomis station on July 17th, 2014). He used higher-level data to arrive at reasonable conclusions. And that was the main thing I took away from the post: What about using maps instead of fine-grained data?

Enter the Strava Global Heatmap.

Strava Global Heatmap

From the looks of it, the Strava Heatmap is not crude. It shows exactly where people are riding, and helpfully color codes segments based on frequency and total number of rides.

Now, the first thing many bike data people will say is that Strava is skewed toward riders with smartphones or other disposable-income gadgets, and as such it doesn’t reflect the full truth on the ground. In other words, people are riding in lots of other places, Strava just doesn’t see it.

For the most part, I concede that they are right. But for the purposes of this post, I argue that it doesn’t matter. All we need to see is general info on where people ride, and this map does that quite well.

See the bright red circles around the lakes in Minneapolis? The bright red squiggles at mountain bike favorites like Murphy-Hanrahan, Elm Creek, Lebanon Hills, and along the Minnesota River Bottoms? The bright red lines along the Cedar Lake / Midtown Greenway / Grand Rounds trails? People are riding in all those places, and at higher rates than in most other locations…

Here’s where the mashup got going. I recalled from the kickoff meeting (and from the 2015 5 Year Assessment Report) that one of the most revenue-positive stations (that also has an impressively low balancing requirement) was located on the north-east corner of Lake Calhoun (sorry – Bde Maka Ska). That’s right where Strava data shows a lot of people riding.

And looking at the Strava heatmap a little more, with my westerly-suburb-tinted glasses, I could see another lake where it seems a lot of people ride: Lake Minnetonka (aka. “great water” in Dakota; no new name needed). Hmmm, I wondered, could it be possible to drop a station or two somewhere near there?

Certainly not. The loop around Lake Minnetonka is roughly 21 miles, considerably longer than the 3+ mile loop around Calhoun or even the 7 mile Calhoun – Harriet loop. And even though well more than half of it is on beautiful trails, the remainder is on suburban roads with speeding cars. And it is completely separated from the main body of Nice Ride stations. So, it’s not going to happen.

But what if there was a new bike trail slated to open at the end of 2016 that would allow loops of between 5 & 7.5 miles on the eastern end of the lake? (Spoiler: there is.)

And what if those loops touched areas with relatively abundant parking? And, what if those loops also had destinations (restaurants, shopping, and of course the lake itself)? What might that mean?

The image below shows three potential station locations (light blue dots near the intersection of Highway 101 and Minnetonka Blvd, at a park & ride along Minnetonka Blvd east of 494, and in downtown Wayzata) as well as the new bike path (a light blue line paralleling Highway 101 as it crosses the Gray’s Bay causeway).


New Picture

With stations so located and using the new trail and existing trails and streets, it could mean another high(er) revenue station or two that might not need to be balanced too much. It could mean that we had potentially identified a “destination outside the “dense grid zone” where isolated bike share stations can work with high utilization” (Question 3). It could even mean that 5-10 new stations could be placed around the entirety of Lake Minnetonka, starting with 2-3 stations in 2017 (Question 6) and be successful. And (this will be another post), it could be leveraged to help identify “new tools and approaches that Nice Ride should explore to make it easy for more people in Minnesota to choose active transportation” (Question 7).

Just an idea.

11 thoughts on “A Lake Minnetonka Nice Ride Idea

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I don’t think Strava is representative of true transportation-oriented bicycle trips. It seems like people use it to track recreational trips. I don’t see people tracking their grocery store runs, biking to dinner, biking to work, etc with their smartphones.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I do, although those things are often stops at the end of a recreational ride or part of my commute.

      Unfortunately, the free version of Strava does not seem to allow me to differentiate biking for transportation vs biking for recreation.

      1. Luke Van SantenLuke Van Santen Post author

        My National Bike challenge was primarily (79/21) transportation… Just an anecdote!

    2. Stuart

      You’re probably right, but it doesn’t matter. This article and recommendation already pointed out that Strava isn’t properly representative, and states that these stations would be part of the recreational network that Strava is better suited for.

    3. Luke Van SantenLuke Van Santen Post author

      Agreed. Although I do just that (with Endomondo, not Strava)…

      But the article isn’t really trying to push the transportation aspect of Nice Ride, it is more focused on the (new to me) recreational side…

  2. Stacy

    Cool idea! We are so lucky in Minnesota to have beautiful natural areas, like our lakes in urban settings. Nice Ride has done a good job taking advantage of this in Mpls and St. Paul. For increasing recreational use, I think reaching the network out to Minnetonka would be a good step.

  3. Monte Castleman

    I kind of wonder if downtown Stillwater would be a good place. The Brown’s Creek Trail already has an amazing number of users (which probably isn’t reflected in the data since it’s been open this summer, in a couple of years the Loop Trail will open, for the people that are willing to bicycle on streets pretty soon most of the cars in downtown will be gone, people driving to Stillwater for a day trips that can’t haul their bicycle up there could use a Nice Ride.

    1. Luke Van SantenLuke Van Santen Post author

      As long as there are enough people and some recreational destinations, and a comfortable loop, I think the “logic” of the post would work in Stillwater as well!

  4. Thomas Mercier

    I think for that loop to be successful for casual riders (folks who don’t own a bike) County Road 19 would have to be way more accommodating. It’s been eyed by planners as a good regional trail route but faces several challenges including ROW if I remember correctly.
    Maybe Medicine Lake with its ~8 mile, traffic separated loop and greater proximity to population/employment centers would make a more viable experiment?

    1. Luke Van SantenLuke Van Santen Post author

      Agreed – County Road 19 / Manitou / Shadywood is the semi-weak link in the loop. As an “enthused and confident” rider, it doesn’t unduly concern me, but it could certainly be intimidating for more casual riders as it stands now. But that’s why I limited the original station deployment to “safer” areas.

      I don’t know all the areas around Medicine Lake (mostly just the south and east shores), but it seems like the concept could work there, too. Are there “destinations” (restaurants, breweries, etc) in the vicinity? It connects with the Luce Line too, another benefit…

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