Category Archives: Bicycling

Clearly Marked Bicycle Lanes Enhance Safety and Traffic Flow

Researchers evaluated bicycle and motor vehicle interactions at nine locations in Duluth, Mankato, Minneapolis and St. Paul,in a study sponsored by the Minnesota Local Road Research Board to better understand how bicycle facilities affect traffic. Results show that on shared roadways without clearly marked bicycle facilities, drivers are more inclined to pass bicyclists, encroach on other traffic lanes or line up behind bicyclists than on roadways with clearly striped or buffered facilities.

“This project gave us qualitative information and some quantitative information. The observations made provide something we can build on,” said James Rosenow, Design Flexibility Engineer, MnDOT Office of Project Management & Technical Support.

“The solid line makes the absolute difference in bicycle facilities— something that we haven’t seen in any other study. We found that the presence of a clearly marked or buffered bicycle lane makes a large difference in the way drivers behave around bicyclists,” said John Hourdos, Director, Minnesota Traffic Observatory, University of Minnesota.

What Was the Need?

The availability of multimodal traffic facilities encourages travelers to use a range of transportation methods, from driving to riding on public transit and bicycling. Although bicycle use is low compared to motor vehicle and public transit use, MnDOT’s Complete Streets program encourages cities and counties to dedicate roadway space to bicycle facilities to expand transportation options and “maximize the health of our people, economy and environment.”

Planners and engineers typically consider bicycle facilities from the bicyclist’s perspective. It is less common to design and plan for bicycle use from the driver’s perspective. However, effective multimodal planning requires an understanding of how bicycles affect traffic if congestion-causing interactions are to be avoided, particularly on high-volume roads. Bicycle facilities must invite use, ensure safety for all road users and at the same time not slow traffic.

What Was Our Goal?

This project aimed to investigate interactions between drivers and bicyclists on urban roadways that employ various bicycle facility designs, and to determine how different bicycle facilities affect traffic. Researchers sought to look at bicycle facilities from the driver’s point of view.

What Did We Do?

Pavement markings with directional arrows and a bicycle icon, called sharrows.
Sharrows can be marked with or without stripes. By themselves, sharrows seem to have no more impact on traffic than do no bicycle facilities at all.

The investigation team reviewed 44 bicycle facility design manuals and guidance documents, 31 research papers on implementation or assessment of facility designs, and design manuals used by seven other Complete Streets programs from around the United States to identify facility designs that warranted further study.

With help from the MnDOT Technical Advisory Panel and local planners, the team selected nine sites in Duluth, Mankato, Minneapolis and St. Paul that offered a range of facilities—buffered bicycle lanes, striped bicycle lanes, sharrows (shared-use arrows), signed shared lanes and shoulders of various widths.

At each site, they set up one to three cameras and videotaped during daylight hours for five to 51 days. Researchers then trimmed the video data into relevant car-and-bicycle-interaction time frames. This yielded from 16 to 307 hours of video from each site for detailed analysis.

The research team then reviewed the video and analyzed how drivers behaved when encountering bicyclists on roads with and without bicycling facilities. Researchers grouped driver behavior into five categories: no change in trajectory, deviation within lane, encroachment on adjacent lane, completion of full passing maneuver and queuing behind bicyclists. Researchers confirmed their observations with statistical modeling. After analyzing the results of behavior as it correlated with facility type, researchers presented the traffic flow implications of different bicycle facility designs.

What Did We Learn?

  • Literature Review. Almost all design guidance drew heavily on directives from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials or the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Of the 62 bicycle facility design elements identified in bicycle guidance documents, fewer than half have been studied in any way for efficacy, safety or traffic impact.
  • Video Analysis. On roadways with sharrows, signs for shared lanes or no bicycle facilities, drivers were more likely to encroach on adjacent lanes than were drivers on road-ways with buffered or striped bicycle lanes. Queuing, or lining up behind bicyclists, showed the greatest potential to impact traffic flows. The highest rates of lining up occurred on roads without bicycle facilities and roads with shared facilities but no marked lanes.
  • Implications. Sharrows may alert drivers to the presence of bicyclists, but in the impact they make on traffic, sharrows differ little from no bicycle facilities. Roadways with signs indicating shared lanes also show little difference in driver behavior from roadways with no facilities. Therefore, where space allows, buffered or striped bicycle lanes should be used instead of sharrows or signs to increase the predictability of driver behavior and reduce queuing impacts on traffic.

What’s Next?

This study provides enough data to support the recommendation of dedicated, striped or buffered bicycle facilities where demand or interest exists. However, the detailed video analysis conducted for this project provides only part of a three-dimensional study of the efficacy and value of various bicycle facility designs. Further study will be needed to quantify facility and vehicle-bicycle interaction in terms of other traffic impacts like speed and traffic flow coefficients, and to quantify crash rates and other safety impacts. Research is also needed to investigate bicycle facility demand and bicycle use on road-ways that do not currently have bicycle facilities.


This post pertains to the LRRB-produced Report 2017-23, “Traffic Impacts of Bicycle Facilities,” published June 2017.

New manual helps agencies count bike, pedestrian traffic

As part of an ongoing effort to institutionalize bicycle and pedestrian counting in Minnesota, MnDOT has published a new manual designed to help city, county, state, and other transportation practitioners in their counting efforts.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Data Collection Manual, developed by University of Minnesota researchers and SRF Consulting Group, provides guidance and methods for collecting bicycle and pedestrian traffic data in Minnesota. The manual is an introductory guide to nonmotorized traffic monitoring designed to help local jurisdictions, nonprofit organizations, and consultants design their own programs.Bicycle and Pedestrian Data Collection Manual

Topics covered in the manual include general traffic-monitoring principles, bicycle and pedestrian data collection sensors, how to perform counts using several types of technologies, data management and analysis, and next steps for nonmotorized traffic monitoring in Minnesota. Several case studies illustrate how bicycle and pedestrian traffic data can be used to support transportation planning and engineering.

The manual was completed as part of the third in a series of MnDOT-funded projects related to the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative, a collaborative effort launched by MnDOT in 2011 to encourage nonmotorized traffic monitoring across the state. U of M researchers, led by professor Greg Lindsey at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, have been key partners in the initiative since its inception.

In addition to the manual, U of M researchers have published a final report outlining their work with MnDOT on this project. Key accomplishments include:

  • A new statewide bicycle and pedestrian traffic-monitoring network with 25 permanent monitoring locations
  • A district-based portable counting equipment loan program to support MnDOT districts and local jurisdictions interested in nonmotorized traffic monitoring
  • Minnesota’s first Bicycle and Pedestrian Annual Traffic Monitoring Report
  • A MnDOT website for reporting annual and short-duration counts that allows local planners and engineers to download data for analysis
  • Provisions added to MnDOT equipment vendor agreements that enable local governments to purchase bicycle and monitoring equipment
  • Annual training programs for bicycle and pedestrian monitoring
  • Provisions in the Statewide Bicycle System Plan and Minnesota Walks that call for bicycle and pedestrian traffic monitoring and creation of performance measures based on counts

“This is an excellent resource that steps through all aspects of managing a count program, and I think it will be very helpful to other states and organizations that want to implement their own programs,” says Lisa Austin, MnDOT bicycle and pedestrian planning coordinator. “Since Minnesota is a leader in counting bicycle and pedestrian traffic, it also fulfills what I think is an obligation to share our story with others.”

Bicycling industry, events have economic impact in Minnesota

The bicycling industry in Minnesota—including manufacturing, wholesaling, retail sales, and non-profits and advocacy groups—produced an estimated total of $780 million of economic activity in 2014. This includes 5,519 jobs and $209 million in annual labor income (wages, salaries, and benefits) paid to Minnesota workers.

These findings are an important component of a multifaceted report from U of M researchers. Their research, funded by MnDOT, provides a comprehensive understanding of the economic impact and health effects of bicycling in Minnesota.

“This kind of bicycling study is definitely new for Minnesota but also new nationally,” says Sara Dunlap, principal planner in MnDOT’s Office of Transit. “This is the first time a state has attempted to assess, in a single study, the multiple impacts that bicycling activities have on the state’s economy and health.”

Xinyi Qian, an Assistant Extension Professor in the U’s Tourism Center, was the project’s principal investigator. For the bicycling industry portion of the work, the co-investigators were Neil Linscheid, Extension Educator, and Brigid Tuck, senior economic impact analyst, both with U of M Extension.

“Information about the bicycling industry is scattered, so we filled the information gaps by creating a list of bicycle-related businesses in Minnesota, interviewing bicycle-related business leaders, surveying bicycle-related businesses, and gathering additional information from relevant sources,” Linscheid says. “Numerous industries and a diverse supply chain are involved.”  The research team then used this information to enhance an economic model that shows the economic contribution of the bicycling industry in Minnesota.

“Minnesota has a strong bicycle-related manufacturing industry that drives the bicycle-related economy,” Tuck says. “Specialty bicycle retail stores, especially independent ones, are a critical component of the bicycle retail industry in Minnesota.” Additionally, she says, when asked about local suppliers, bicycling businesses often provided names of other Minnesota companies, many of which are also bicycle-related businesses.

Researchers also looked at the economic impact of bicycling events—races, non-race rides, fundraising events, mountain bicycling events, high school races, and bicycle tours. Qian led this portion of the study, working with Tuck.

Through surveys and analysis, they found that an average bicycle event visitor in 2015 spent a total of $121 per day. This spending translates into an estimated total of $14 million of annual economic activity, which includes $5 million in annual labor income and 150 jobs. Event participants also brought additional people with them— more than 19,000 visitors who were travel companions but did not ride in any event.

The findings can help bring together event organizers and officials of various organizations—economic development, transportation, public health, and tourism—to promote the event facilities, the host communities, and bicycle tourism as a whole.

“Bicycling event attendees and their travel companions are a valuable audience for shopping, recreation, and amusement activities,” Qian says. “Communities hosting events could explore opportunities to capture additional spending from these important visitors.”

Qian notes that the analysis focused on event visitors and was not a broad measure of bicycle tourism.

A previous post discussed the health impacts component of the study; in April, we’ll report on the magnitude of biking in the state.

More information:

Bicycle commuting improves public health, reduces medical costs

According to the results of a new study, bicycle commuting in the Twin Cities metropolitan area reduces chronic illness and preventable deaths, saving millions of dollars annually in medical costs.

The findings are one component of a multifaceted project funded by MnDOT. In the final report, researchers in several U of M departments provide a comprehensive understanding of the economic impact and health effects of bicycling in Minnesota.

“MnDOT has long identified bicycling as an important part of the state’s multimodal transportation system,” says Tim Henkel, modal planning and program management assistant commissioner. “This first-ever study generated new information that will inform policy and program strategies on bicycling as we determine levels of future investment.”

Xinyi Qian, an Assistant Extension Professor in the U’s Tourism Center, was the project’s principal investigator. Dr. Mark Pereira of the School of Public Health, one of the co-investigators, led the health component of the project.

Pereira’s team began by measuring the amount of bicycle commuting among Twin Cities adults using data from the 2014 Minnesota State Survey. (The counties included were Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington.) The team found that 13.4 percent of working-age metro-area residents (244,000 adults) bicycle to work at least occasionally, and the average bicycle commuter rides 366 miles per year.

The researchers next estimated the number of deaths prevented from that amount of bicycling using the Health Economic Assessment Tool developed by the World Health Organization (WHO). Their analysis found that bicycle commuting in the metro area prevents 12 to 61 deaths per year, saving $100 million to $500 million annually. “At current levels, roughly 1 death per year is prevented for every 10,000 cyclists,” he says.

The WHO tool estimates savings from prevented deaths but not from prevented disease. To estimate the effect of bicycling commuting on illness, researchers conducted an online survey of Twin Cities cyclists; participants also included three commuter groups and a bicycle parts manufacturer.

“We learned that bicycling is linked to lower risk of metabolic syndrome, obesity, and hypertension,” Pereira says. “For example, taking three additional bicycle trips per week is associated with 46 percent lower odds of metabolic syndrome, 32 percent lower odds of obesity, and 28 percent lower odds of hypertension.”

The illness assessment provides relative risk estimates that planners can use in cost-benefit analyses. “Current methods only consider risk reductions related to death rates, so the benefit of infrastructure projects is underestimated,” Pereira says. “By providing an estimate of the risk reductions for diabetes and heart disease related to cycling, we provide an input that will help project planners more accurately represent the benefits of these projects.”

While the research was conducted in the Twin Cities, the methods can be used in other locations and to compare changes over time. “The findings also provide a foundation for transportation and health care officials to take action,” Pereira says, citing several options:

  • Promote active transportation through policies and intervention programs, e.g., employer incentives.
  • Develop consistent safety education and encouragement messages statewide to increase bicycle commuting.
  • Continue to encourage and implement safe bicycling to school and access to bicycles for youth across the state.

Bike, pedestrian counting efforts engage local agencies statewide

Across Minnesota, local agencies need better information about where and how many people are biking and walking to make decisions about infrastructure investments, understand safety risks, and even plan active living initiatives.

To help provide agencies with bicycle and pedestrian traffic data, U of M researchers have been working with MnDOT on the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative since 2010. The initiative is a collaborative, statewide effort to support bike and pedestrian traffic monitoring by local, regional, and state organizations.

Recently, the project team completed an implementation study—the second of three MnDOT-funded projects related to the initiative—specifically designed to engage local agencies. The goal was to demonstrate the feasibility of using both permanent and portable sensors to collect bicycle and pedestrian traffic data in several Minnesota cities, suburbs, and small towns.

“If we want to institutionalize counting and monitoring across the state, local agencies need to know it’s not something that’s only important for large cities like Minneapolis,” says principal investigator Greg Lindsey, professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and current MnDOT scholar-in-residence. “We have to be on the ground in these places, illustrating that it’s relevant to the decisions they’re making.”

To that end, the team installed commercially available sensors—including inductive loops, passive infrared, pneumatic tubes, and radio beams—to collect traffic counts in several Minnesota cities. Overall findings indicate that all of the sensors produced reasonably accurate measurements—and that participating agencies found value in the collected data.

Findings and case studies from the study have already been incorporated into the draft Bicycle and Pedestrian Data Collection Manual, a new MnDOT guidance document being used in statewide training workshops. Also as a result of the study, MnDOT plans to include commitments to bike and pedestrian traffic monitoring in its forthcoming statewide bicycle and pedestrian plans. In addition, MnDOT is investing in a network of permanent traffic monitoring sites around the state as well as in portable equipment that will be available to local agencies.

Read the full article in the September issue of Catalyst.

Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative highlighted in FHWA case study

Work on bike and pedestrian counting by University of Minnesota researchers and MnDOT has been highlighted as part of the FHWA’s Livable Communities Case Study Series.

The case study features the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative, led by the U of M’s Greg Lindsey and MnDOT’s Lisa Austin and Jasna Hadzic. Under the initiative, the team has developed general guidance and consistent methods for counting bikes and pedestrians. Team members have also worked with other state and local agencies to implement counting strategies across Minnesota.

The case study showcases the initiative as an example of how agencies can leverage partnerships to implement a successful counting program for nonmotorized traffic. These traffic counts can help agencies identify safety concerns, understand and communicate benefits of active transportation, prioritize investments, and analyze trends. According to the FHWA, the results can help inform decisions that make biking and walking viable transportation options in livable communities.

Read the case study on the FHWA Livability website.

PedalMN Bicycle Conference Seeks Presenters

The 2015 PedalMN Bicycle Conference will be held in Minneapolis May 4-5, 2015.  The conference theme is “Building a Bike Friendly State.”

The conference sponsors invite individuals, communities and partnerships to share stories of how they are building better places to bike through planning, policies, infrastructure, events and strategic funding.

For more details or to submit a presentation idea, visit  https://survey.vovici.com/se.ashx?s=56206EE369B6F330.

Proposals are due Monday, Dec. 1, 2014

Related Research

Five Ways to Make Biking Safer

 Minnesota Bike Lanes Video

Minnesota Statewide Bicycle Plan Video

Nice Ride Job Accessibility and Station Choice

Five Innovative Ways to Make Bicyclists and Pedestrians Safer

Last year, 41 people were killed while walking or biking on Minnesota roads and nearly 1,700 were injured.

Dozens of measures are available, however, for making roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Minnesota Department of Transportation Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Engineer Melissa Barnes reviewed some of these design techniques in a recent presentation to city and state transportation engineers. (Watch the full webinar.)

We asked Barnes to highlight her favorite bike and pedestrian safety countermeasures used in Minnesota.

Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon RRFB

An unusually effective new pedestrian warning device, called the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon, has become quite popular.

User-activated, the device alerts drivers to a pedestrian’s presence with a bright flashing beacon that “looks kind of like an ambulance or fire truck light,” Barnes said. (RRFBs can also be activated passively by a pedestrian’s presence.)

Studies have shown that the number of motorists stopping for pedestrians increases from 18 to 81 percent with the RRFB. Another plus: the device doesn’t appear to lose its effectiveness over time. After two years, compliance has been shown to still be more than 80 percent.

Advanced Stop Lines

It’s not uncommon for a motorist to stop for someone in a crosswalk, only for the vehicle following them to not see the pedestrian and veer around, driving through the crosswalk.

But an advanced stop line, placed 20 to 50 feet prior to a crosswalk, is effective at making both vehicles stop and see the person in the crosswalk.

“They are a really good option at an unsignalized, mid-block crossing,” said Barnes, although the stop line may not be a good option for a two-way stop.

Advanced stop lines have been shown to reduce pedestrian-vehicle conflict up to 90 percent; however, stop lines shouldn’t be placed too far in advance of the crossing, because motorists might then ignore them.

Leading Protected Interval

An innovative treatment called the Leading Protected Interval minimizes conflict by allowing pedestrians to enter a signalized intersection before vehicles do.

The walk signal begins three to seven seconds before the parallel street turns green by extending the time all lights are red.

A right turn on red can be prohibited with this device; however, even without the prohibition, the Leading Protected Interval has been shown to reduce crashes by 5 percent.

Protected Bike Lanes

Protected Bike Lanes

Bike lanes buffered from  traffic with some sort of physical barrier, even parked cars, will reduce all types of crashes. They also increase comfort levels for cyclists, helping keep bikes off the sidewalk.

“A lot of people are much more comfortable biking in these than a regular bike lane,” Barnes said. “It can be a very effective solution for places with lots of cyclists.”

Protected bike lanes, also called cycle tracks, also have a traffic-calming effect.

In New York City, the cycle track reduced all types of crashes an average of 40 percent and up to 80 percent on some roads.

“The challenge is how to design these at intersections,” Barns said. “It’s hard to get the turns right and get everybody visible. It’s pretty important to design these carefully at intersections.”

For those reasons, two-way cycle tracks work best on one-way streets, she said.

Flexible Bollards
Flexiblebollard
Photo courtesy of Reliance Foundry

Flexible bollards create temporary curb lines that encourage vehicles to slow down. They can be installed easily and inexpensively.

Flexible bollards bend up to 90 degrees when struck by an errant vehicle. They do not physically stop a car, but encourage vehicles to stay within their lane. Although they can create additional maintenance, they are a good interim solution at locations that need an immediate fix, but have no funding to do so.