Report estimates magnitude of bicycling in Minnesota

Bicyclists riding in a bike lane

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How often do Minnesotans ride bicycles? How far do they ride? A report from University of Minnesota researchers provides some estimates.

The research, funded by MnDOT, is part of a larger study that provides a comprehensive understanding of the economic impact and health effects of bicycling in Minnesota. This part of the project systematically estimated the use of trails, roads, and other bicycling infrastructure.

Led by Professor Greg Lindsey of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, researchers reviewed multiple sources of information, including results of the MnDOT pilot field counts of bicycles undertaken in 2012 as part of the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative.

They then estimated the number of bicycle trips and bicycle-miles traveled annually using two different methods. One method extrapolated results from the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) and the Metropolitan Council’s regional Travel Behavior Inventory (TBI; 2010–2012); the other extrapolated results from the 2013 MnDOT Omnibus Survey.

Using the first method, the researchers estimate that the number of bicycle trips in Minnesota is between 87 and 96 million annually. Using the second method, the total estimated number of trips for the year is 75 million.

“Both of these estimates are conservative because bicycle trips on weekends for recreation are likely to be underestimated,” Lindsey says. The ACS measures only commuting trips; the TBI measures all trips but is not administered on weekends. “The fact that two different methods using different sources of data produce estimates of the same order of magnitude indicates the estimates are reasonable,” he explains.

In terms of bicycle-miles traveled, Minnesotans traveled between 139 and 197 million miles annually by bicycle. “This number, too, is an underestimate, because it did not include all trips, and the mileage estimates used to calculate miles per trip were median rather than mean (i.e., average) values,” Lindsey says.

The analysis also found that the Twin Cities metropolitan area (TCMA) accounts for 69 percent to 72 percent of the total number of trips and miles traveled in the state. At the same time, some counties in Greater Minnesota (e.g., Olmsted County, St. Louis County) have comparable numbers of annual bicycle trips as some of the counties in the TCMA.

“The findings are evidence that Minnesotans in every county in the state take tens of thousands of trips by bicycle each year,” Lindsey says.

The procedures used to develop these estimates are relatively straightforward and could be replicated periodically by MnDOT or other agencies as new results from the ACS or the MnDOT Omnibus survey become available, he adds, helping policymakers identify demand and support for bicycle facilities throughout the state.

Posted in Bicycling, Planning, Traffic data, Transportation research

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