This article was originally published in Catalyst, May 2022.
Photos and stories about people biking and walking on packed trails were common during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Transportation researchers also reported surges in bicycling and walking during this time of social restrictions and widespread closures, but little was known about how those surges related to longer-term trends.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
A recent report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau looks at commuting patterns by U.S. workers in 2013 using data from the American Community Survey. It highlights differences in rates of automobile commuting by key population characteristics such as age, race, ethnicity, and the types of communities in which workers live.
One finding of note: young people in big cities were much less likely to drive to work in 2013 than they were several years earlier. For instance, urban workers aged 25 to 29 showed about a 4-percentage-point decline in automobile commuting between 2006 and 2013.
You can also find an extensive analysis of commuting behavior that was produced locally. In a recent multifaceted study sponsored by the Metropolitan Council and MnDOT, U of M researchers analyzed travel behavior over time in the Twin Cities.
The extensive five-part study report is based on the rich set of data produced by the Met Council’s Travel Behavior Inventory household travel survey. David Levinson, RP Braun/CTS Chair in the U’s Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering, was the study’s principal investigator.
The five components of the report examine:
Changes in travel duration, time use, and accessibility
Changes in walking and biking
The effect of transit quality of service on people’s activity choices and time allocation
Changes in travel behavior by age cohort
Telecommuting and its relationship with travel and residential choices
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.