Research on bicycle and pedestrian traffic in the City of Minneapolis is helping policymakers and planners make better decisions about when and where to invest in nonmotorized transportation infrastructure.
Led by Greg Lindsey, a professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, a team of researchers used infrared counters to collect data on the use of Minneapolis trails by cyclists and pedestrians. The team also analyzed field traffic counts taken by the Minneapolis Department of Public Works and Bike Walk Twin Cities and used the counts to develop models for estimating nonmotorized traffic on Minneapolis streets, sidewalks, and trails. The project was funded by the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute.
Results indicate that bicycle and pedestrian traffic volumes follow distinct patterns that vary by location, infrastructure type, time of day, day of the week, and season. The team also found that bicycle traffic is significantly affected by land-use mix, the presence of bicycle facilities, and socio-demographic factors like education level. Factors affecting pedestrian traffic include road classification and proximity to retail centers and bodies of water.
Using this information, the researchers developed models for estimating bicycle, pedestrian, and mixed-mode traffic. These models were then used to estimate and map nonmotorized traffic for all street segments in Minneapolis. The maps show higher levels of traffic on arterial and collector streets, in the downtown area, and near neighborhood shopping areas.
Ultimately, Lindsey says, these models will provide transportation planners with the tools to make more informed investment choices. The study’s findings have already been used by the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and Bike Walk Twin Cities in a report to Congress on the Nonmotorized Pilot Project Program.
The data and models are also being used in collaboration with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB). Initial data collected by the infrared counters found that three locations on MPRB trails around Lake Calhoun, Lake Nokomis, and Wirth Park have about two million users annually.
In an effort to expand this information into an estimate of total miles traveled by trail users, the researchers now plan to systematically sample each segment of paved trail maintained by the MPRB. The team will use these counts to update the estimation model and calculate total annual traffic for each segment as well as total trail user-miles traveled on all MPRB trails. The estimates—similar to calculations of vehicle-miles traveled on roadways—could be used to support planning, engineering, maintenance, and funding decisions.
“This could provide decision makers with a better understanding of the use of the entire system,” Lindsey says. “It would be helpful for both management decisions and applications for financial support for trail development.”