Twin Cities residents choose to bike

by Sarah Thamer

A recent University of Minnesota study found more Twin Cities residents are choosing to commute on two instead of four wheels than what a U.S. census report shows.
Road congestion, recreation and goals to improve health have led more people to bike and walk instead of drive, according to the study that’s set to be released this month.
The findings showed 9.2 percent of metro residents bike to work on an average workday, though the U.S. census estimates that number is about 4.1 percent.
The study found that on a typical day 414,000 people in the 19-county metropolitan region made about 1.3 million trips by walking and biking.
The study’s data was gathered from Metropolitan Council travel diaries, which include information about travel patterns that residents self-report. Greg Lindsey, one of the study’s co-authors and a professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said the data collected from the travel diaries are more precise than the census data.
“We’re picking up a lot more trips from the diaries in comparison to the census,” he said.
The census undercounts part-time bicyclists because it only takes into account what commuters do most days of the week, Lindsey said.
“When you ask people what they generally do, that doesn’t give a full tally. When you ask people who give a full tally, then you get actual results,” he said.
The data from the travel diaries has strengthened arguments for creating more city bike lanes and paths, Lindsey said.
Starting in 2005, the federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program provided Minneapolis with $25 million for bicycling infrastructure.
“One of the critical questions is: Does the demand and number of people who will bike if we build those facilities justify the investment?” Lindsey said.
The investments sponsored by the program may have played a role in the increased rates of biking and walking, he said.  The travel diaries collected between 2001 and 2011 show that biking increased by 58 percent while walking increased by 44 percent.
Goals to avoid congestion, engage in physical activity and reduce the carbon footprint may contribute to the rising numbers, Nice Ride Marketing Director Anthony Ongaro said. 
But he said feeling safe while biking is a relevant concern.
“Anytime that we can create better infrastructure around the bike lanes and the ways people get around will help reduce these concerns,” Ongaro said.
The University study also considered gender in its findings.
“It’s not that women are biking less than they used to, but most of the increases in biking that we’ve seen over the last decade have been among men, specifically men [bicycling] in Minneapolis,” said Jessica Schoner, lead author of the study and PhD candidate in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-
Schoner said the number of bike trips did not differ across genders.
“It’s a gap in participation, not in frequency,” she said.
The rates of biking and walking are much higher in Minneapolis than St. Paul, though St. Paul’s are higher than the suburbs, Lindsey said.
He said urban areas often have higher rates of biking and walking, and the numbers are higher in the summer, increase over time, and people are using the forms of nonmotorized transportation for various reasons.