Tag Archives: Planning

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.

Roadway deaths and what Minnesota is doing about it

Joint article produced with MnDOT Research Services

Minnesota developed the Strategic Highway Safety Plan a decade ago, as the nation set a goal of reducing roadway deaths to less than one person per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Last year, the nation still hadn’t reached this milestone (1.1 deaths occurred per 100 million miles), but Minnesota had lowered its fatality rate to 0.63 deaths (down from 1.48 deaths from 20 years ago).

“When I look at what Minnesota has done over the last 15 years compared to other states, we’re one of the few states that has a pretty consistent downward trend [in fatal crashes],” said Brad Estochen, MnDOT state traffic engineer, who gave an update on the highway safety plan during a recent presentation at the Roadway Safety Institute. “I think we’re doing some unique things here that have given us these results.”

These steps, Estochen says, have included passing a primary offense seatbelt law (seatbelt usage is now above 90 percent), investing in strategic safety infrastructure like high-tension cable median barriers and focused enforcement of DWI, speed and seatbelt laws.

Developing a plan

To best understand the risk factors for fatal and serious injury crashes, the state combined real-life crash data with input from professionals in engineering, law enforcement, emergency medical services, as well as everyday road users. The results showed that most crashes in the state involve multiple factors—such as road conditions, driver impairment and driver age.

Estochen said this approach of analyzing data and gaining stakeholder perspectives provided new insights into the dynamic causes of fatal and serious injury crashes.

In conjunction with the Departments of Health and Public Safety, MnDOT created a highway safety plan aimed at both professional stakeholders and the community that identified critical strategies for reducing serious traffic incidents. It has been updated in 2007 and 2014, most recently.

MnDOT also created a complimentary document for every county and MnDOT district (respectively called the county safety plan and district safety plan) to help local agencies identify locations and potential projects for reducing fatalities.

“We were the first state to take the SHSP concept to the local level. It was identified as a noteworthy practice by FHWA and other states are now starting to engage locals in developing specific plans for their use and implementation,” Estochen said.

The highway safety plan is an integral part of Toward Zero Deaths, the state’s cornerstone traffic safety program that has a goal of reducing fatalities to less than 300 per year by 2020.

Overall, Estochen said one of the best ways to reduce crashes in the state is to promote a culture of traffic safety — something he hopes the highway safety plan contributes to.

“Creating a traffic safety culture has nothing to do with building bigger and better roads,” he said. “It really has to do with making us as a state, as a community and as individuals responsible for our actions.”

Changing demographics and travel choices may shape a very different future

Though no one can predict the future, thinking about how today’s changes may shape the future of transportation in our country is more important now than ever before.

“It’s critical that we understand the significance of things that are taking place and prepare for what may come,” said former Utah Department of Transportation CEO John Njord in the opening session of the 25th Annual CTS Transportation Research Conference. “For us to be relevant in the transportation business, at a minimum we have to be adaptable to change, and ideally we want to be leading change in the transportation industry.”

In his current position at Tom Warne and Associates, Njord has gained an in-depth understanding of the trends affecting the future of transportation in the United States while spearheading the Transportation Research Board’s “Foresight” project—part of the organization’s forward-looking NCHRP Report 750 Series. The project addresses a wide range of topics, including: What if the oil-fueled auto era ends and revenue from gas taxes dries up? What if engineering practices must be upgraded to ensure resiliency to natural disasters as global warming continues? What if technology such as self-driving cars eliminates or reduces the need for human drivers? What if tomorrow’s economy requires radically different freight patterns?

Perhaps most significantly, the project explores the possibility that Americans are losing their appetite for driving. Vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) per capita been dropping since 2004, without any signs of recovery. “It’s impossible to know whether that number will start growing again, stay flat, or continue to drop,” Njord said.

Other trends make the future outlook equally complex. In 50 years the United States will likely be home to 100 million more people, so even if VMT per person stays flat or declines, it’s likely total VMT will be larger than it is today. The population is also aging: by 2030, 20 percent of the population will be over 65 and will likely drive less. In addition, Millenials are staying home longer and waiting until later in life to get married and have children—all of which affects their travel behavior.

To help transportation planners consider all possible futures, the Foresight project encourages the use of multiple-scenario planning. “We need to begin considering all the possible scenarios and generating plans that are independent and distinct from one another,” Njord advised. “The act of thinking about these things is fundamentally important, because the shift that is now taking place means we’re going to have to do things much differently in the next 50 years than what we’ve done in the past 50 years.”

Following Njord’s presentation, a panel of experts discussed how the the Foresight project could relate to what’s happening in the Twin Cities region. An article summarizing their comments is available in the July issue of Catalyst.

Bike to Work Day: progress in Minnesota, but miles to go

By Greg Lindsey

This blog post by University of Minnesota Professor Greg Lindsey was originally posted on the CTS Conversations blog.

April 9 is national Bike to Work Day, a day to celebrate those who choose bicycling as their principal mode of transportation for commuting, and a time to encourage more people to consider this healthy, efficient transportation option. Minnesota has much to celebrate in terms of bicycle commuting. Bike-Walk Twin Cities and Transit for Livable Communities are wrapping up the National Non-Motorized Pilot Program, a federally funded program to demonstrate the potential to increase biking and walking through focused investment in infrastructure and other interventions. Bicycle commuting rates in Minneapolis have climbed to 4.5%, and Minneapolis now ranks 20th in the nation in bicycle commute share. This is a noteworthy achievement, especially considering our notorious winter weather. These achievements, along with others such as the success of Nice Ride, our pioneering bike share program, have contributed to Minneapolis being named America’s most bike-friendly city by Bicycling Magazine. Celebration of these achievements – which represent hard work by hundreds of individuals and thousands of commuters – certainly is warranted.

But we only need look across municipal boundaries to know we had better put more energy into encouraging bicycling than into celebration. Bicycle commute rates in St. Paul remain below 2% less than half the Minneapolis rate, and rates in most suburban, exurban, and rural communities remain even lower. And the story remains essentially the same for all types of bicycle trips. Jessi Schoner, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Civil Engineering, is analyzing non-motorized mode shares for all trips recorded the Metropolitan Council’s recent Travel Behavior Inventory. Her analyses show that bicycling remains an urban phenomenon, with the share of all trips taken by bicycling highest in Minneapolis, followed by St. Paul, and then suburban and outlying communities. Why is this so? Better infrastructure no doubt is part of the reason, but there likely are other reasons, including housing patterns, access to employment, socio-demographic factors, and culture. Additional research is needed.

But this leads to additional reasons to be optimistic this Bike to Work Day: the commitments made by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to foster multi-modal transportation systems and the agency’s investments in research to increase understanding of bicycle traffic patterns. In 2013, as part of the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative, MnDOT funded the installation of the state’s first two automated, continuous in-street bicycle counters. These counters, which monitor bicycle traffic around the clock, 365 days per year, will provide new insights into the bicycle traffic volumes and their daily and seasonal patterns. While bicycle traffic monitoring in Minnesota is only in its infancy, it represents progress towards establishing the evidence base we need to determine how to make bicycling safer and to invest in bicycle infrastructure.

And so celebrate this Bike to Work Day and thank your fellow Minnesotans for all they have accomplished. But also take time to reflect on the work that needs to be done to improve opportunities for cycling throughout the state, for we have miles to go.

Greg Lindsey is a professor at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. His areas of specialty include environmental planning, policy, and management. His current research involves studies of the relationship between the built environment and physical activity, specifically factors that affect the use of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Lindsey presented some of his bicycle and pedestrian data collection research at the 2014 Minnesota Transportation Conference held March 4-6.

Complete Streets guide showcases best practices, success stories

A new guidebook offers Minnesota cities practical advice for making their streets more accessible to all users.

Complete Streets guidebookComplete Streets from Policy to Project shares insights and examples from 11 communities across the country, including Albert Lea, Fargo-Moorhead, Hennepin County and Rochester, that have successfully implemented the strategies of Complete Streets — a holistic approach to transportation planning that considers all modes of traffic (rail, transit, pedestrian, motor vehicle, bicycle, etc.).

While many sources offer guidance for implementing Complete Streets, they typically only provide general information or come from an advocacy group stressing one transportation mode or another.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation wanted to collect case studies from practitioners and develop recommendations for best practices that are applicable to the unique circumstances, challenges and opportunities of Minnesota communities.

The book highlights six best practices areas: framing and positioning, institutionalizing, analysis and evaluation, project delivery and construction, promotion and education, and funding.

The research makes it clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to Complete Streets that will work for all communities, so any approach must be tailored to a community’s unique challenges and opportunities.

MnDOT requires the principles of “Complete Streets” to be considered in all phases of transportation planning, and more and more cities across the state are adopting similar policies.

This practitioner-oriented guidebook was co-funded by MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board.

“This was a very important step in building knowledge for MnDOT and other Minnesota entities,” said Scott Bradley, director of MnDOT Context Sensitive Solutions. “It takes us beyond general  information that doesn’t  necessarily translate to the  challenges and opportunities we face in the state.”

The intersection of 9th Street and Jackson Street is an example of how the city of Dubuque, Iowa accommodated bike, pedestrian and vehicular traffic, while providing room for large trucks to load and unload at docks.

Related resources

Complete Streets from Policy to Project  – New (PDF, 19 MB, 156 pages)

Complete Streets Implementation Resource Guide for Minnesota Local Agencies – Released February 2013 (PDF, 17 MB, 54 pages)

Webinar recording of project overview/research findings

Webinar recording of panel discussion

Helpful websites

Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition

MnDOT’s Complete Streets website

Bicycle and pedestrian research roundup

Judging by the response we get whenever we post anything bicycle- or pedestrian-related on MnDOT’s social media channels, people seem to be hungry for research into this area. We recently had several new reports arrive on the topic, and I thought I’d share them here for those who missed them, along with links to any related webinars or news articles.

The Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative: Methodologies for Non-motorized Traffic Monitoring

This study examined ways of counting non-motorized traffic (bicycles and pedestrians), with the goal of helping planners and engineers better incorporate these modes into our transportation systems. The report discusses the pros and cons of various counting methodologies (i.e. manual field observation, active and passive infrared systems, magnetic loop detectors, etc.) and looks at how Minnesota agencies are using them. The project also included a webinar, workshops and a coordinated statewide pilot count in dozens of communities around the state.

Best Practices Synthesis and Guidance in At-Grade Trail-Crossing Treatments

At-grade trail crossings have frequently been the sites of bicycle, pedestrian and snowmobile crashes in Minnesota and throughout the nation. The goal of this document is to synthesize best practices observed statewide and nationally in order to provide engineers and other transportation professionals with guidance on safety treatment applications at trail crossings.

Minnesota’s Best Practices for Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety

This Local Road Research Board-funded guide is designed to be used as a resource to assist local agencies in their efforts to more safely accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists on their systems of roads and highways. It discusses the relative merits of a wide range of strategies to reduce crashes involving bicycles and pedestrians.

Complete Streets Implementation Resource Guide for Minnesota Local Agencies

In this project, investigators developed a guide to help local agencies implement Complete Streets programs, including sample policy language from agencies in Minnesota, systems for classifying roadways that are appropriate for use in context-sensitive planning and a worksheet to help develop specific project plans.

Bike, Bus, and Beyond: Extending Cyclopath to Enable Multi-Modal Routing

Researchers incorporated multimodal routing into the Cyclopath bicycle route-finding tool to allow users to find routes that combine biking and transit for journeys where biking alone is impractical. Increasing the percentage of trips made by methods other than cars is a MnDOT priority, and providing route information can help to make alternative transportation options more viable.

Bicycle and pedestrian counting initiative monitors nonmotorized traffic in Minnesota

In a continuing effort to better understand nonmotorized traffic patterns in Minnesota, researchers from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs have partnered with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to develop guidelines and analyze information collected in bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts throughout the state.Image

The research team, led by Professor Greg Lindsey, aims to develop consistent methods for monitoring and assessing bicycle and pedestrian traffic that can be used in both permanent, automated traffic counts and short-term manual counts. The goal is to provide evidence for decision making that Minnesota cities have historically lacked, Lindsey says. “We’ll have practical, useful information about bike and pedestrian traffic that can help local jurisdictions as they plan and invest in infrastructure,” he says.

As part of the 18-month project, the research team created a set of tools and methods for short-duration manual counts of nonmotorized traffic, held training workshops, and organized a statewide counting effort involving 43 Minnesota municipalities last fall. The overall response was positive, Lindsey says, and some communities are already using their collected data to submit grant proposals for projects related to nonmotorized traffic.

In addition, Lindsey and his team have examined traffic information from six permanent counters on Minneapolis trails. The continuous counts collected at these locations help the researchers understand traffic patterns and the factors that affect them, Lindsey says. For example, the team found that bike and pedestrian traffic vary by trail type, time of day, day of week, and season.

“Once we know the patterns at permanent sites, we can develop factors that help us expand short-term counts from other locations with similar conditions,” Lindsey says. The factors could be used to estimate anything from total daily traffic to annual traffic, as long as the short-term count location is similar to an existing model.

Based on the overall results of the study, the research team developed recommendations for MnDOT. These include continuing to coordinate statewide short-term field counts, demonstrating the feasibility of automated counting technologies, and beginning to integrate nonmotorized and vehicular traffic databases.

Based on these recommendations, MnDOT is moving forward with a new project that will collect more short- and long-duration counts throughout Minnesota, says Lisa Austin, ABC Ramps coordinator at MnDOT. The next phase of work aims to collect counts for pedestrians on sidewalks, bicyclists on shoulders and in bike lanes, and pedestrians and bicyclists on multiuse trails. MnDOT plans to install more permanent, automated counters in suburban and midsize cities and to conduct additional manual counts in smaller cities around the state, Austin says.

“We’re really excited that this bike and pedestrian counting project is moving into wider implementation,” Austin says. “This next phase will help us see which automated counting technologies work well and make recommendations for moving forward on a broader scale.”

Reprinted from the CTS Catalyst, May 2013.