Annual count finds more biking and walking

The number of bicyclists pedaling Twin Cities streets was up 52 percent this fall from 2007, and up 22 percent from 2010.

Those numbers come from Bike Walk Twin Cities’ fifth-annual count of bicyclists and pedestrians, held every September since 2007. The 2011 results, released Dec. 16, also showed an increase in walking of 18 percent from 2007 and 9 percent from 2010.

“We’re very excited just to see the number that high, to see that big of a jump in a community that already had, if you look back to 2007, a pretty strong biking community,” said Hilary Reeves, communications director for Bike Walk Twin Cities. “It just shows there is some momentum to this.”

The Twin Cities was one of four communities awarded $22 million in the 2005 federal transportation bill as part of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program. The program seeks to demonstrate how infrastructure projects can boost bicycling and walking rates.

Grant funds, administered by the St. Paul nonprofit Transit for Livable Communities through the Bike Walk Twin Cities initiative, contributed to the creation of the Nice Ride bicycle-sharing program and have helped to expand the existing network of bikeways by about 75 miles since 2007. A significant jump in bicycling and walking on Bryant Avenue South highlights the impact of those projects.

The new Bryant Avenue Bicycle Boulevard added traffic-calming elements, signage and striping to that low-motor vehicle-traffic street. The bicycle boulevard didn’t officially open until the fall, but improvements were added over the course of the summer, and the survey showed the numbers of bicyclists and pedestrians recorded at one point on the boulevard more than doubled between 2007 and 2011, from 71 people to 157.

The lesson, Reeves said, is that well-designed bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure really does encourage people to ditch their cars and try alternate modes of transportation. The improvements also discourage bad habits, like bicycling on sidewalks.

An estimated 335,000 bicyclists and 18,000 pedestrians crossed Loring Bikeway Bridge in 2011, based on this year’s count. The bridge over Lyndale Avenue is at the north end of the Bryant Avenue Bicycle Boulevard.

Volunteers counted bicyclists and pedestrians at 42 locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul on a weekday afternoon in September. As in past years, the count measured non-motorized traffic between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., capturing bikers and walkers during the afternoon rush hour.

The sample sizes are small at some locations and, combined with variables like the weather on the day of the count, can lead to significant swings in the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists from year to year. But the accumulation of data over five years reliably shows an increase in biking and walking across the Twin Cities, Reeves said.

Of the four communities to receive Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program funds, Minneapolis was the most northerly, coldest and most urban, and it had the most existing bicycling infrastructure.

“The challenge for the Twin Cities was: Given a good base, how far can you push it?” Reeves said.

Bike Walk Twin Cities plans to continue pushing it in the years to come, even as the pilot program funds run out. They are expected to fund a survey in 2012 and possibly another in 2013, adding to the understanding of how growing numbers of bicyclists and pedestrians are co-existing with vehicle traffic.

“Transportation is just going that direction, that we’re looking at it multi-modally,” Reeves said.

Bike Walk Twin Cities also funded a dozen different planning studies so that, even when the pilot program ends, “there will be shovel-ready bike and pedestrian projects for the next round of funding, wherever that comes from,” she added.