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How many people ride bikes in Minneapolis and St. Paul compared to Chicago?

I applied for a job on Tuesday in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (Twin Cities).

I had heard that more people, as a percentage of all commuters, commute by bike in Minneapolis and St. Paul than in Chicago and many other cities. If you’ve been reading Steven can plan for a while, you know that I visited Minneapolis in September 2009 and rented a bike for 24 hours.

I used the American FactFinder to get the details. And now I know what I heard is true.

Chicago Minneapolis St. Paul
Workers over 16 1,230,809 190,814 131,798
Ride bikes to work 12,755 6,770 1,567
Bike mode share 1.04% 3.55% 1.19%

Permalink to data results. Data from the 2006-2008 3-year American Community Survey estimates, table B08301.

Knowing these figures led me to question the nothing that Chicago is a bicycle-friendly city. If it’s so friendly to riding a bicycle, how come there aren’t more people riding their bikes to work?

One of my ideas: There are many trails criss-crossing Hennepin and Ramsey Counties that go to and through major neighborhoods and employment centers. These are essentially bike highways without the threat of a automobiles.

What’s up with bicycling in Minneapolis, part 2

Part 2 of What’s up with bicycling in Minneapolis:

  • I feel better knowing that Metro Transit has a similar bike parking problem like Metra and the Chicago Transit authority. Metro Transit doesn’t provide bike parking at the Mall of America light rail station so several bicyclists locked their bikes to the most secure object at the station: the platform handrails. Thankfully, the bicyclists had the sense to lock far away from the trains – locking to handrails can be dangerous in emergencies, and trains occasionally have emergencies. I think I know what the station designers thought when they planned (or didn’t plan) bike facilities at the Mall of America station: “Who will need to park their bike here? This is a trip destination, not origin.” Don’t underestimate the needs of bicyclists who use transit. Every station needs bike parking, no matter its location or perceived use. I imagine at least three reasons these bicyclists locked here (ask me).
  • I experienced a little shock when I finally found the Intercampus Transitway I initially viewed from Google Maps satellite view. The roadway serves exclusively bicyclists and buses traveling between the busy University of Minnesota campus and the busy State Fair (when operating). An off-street trail matches most of the length of the roadway, but I had to enter the transitway when the trail ended but the road continued. The 10 buses who passed me (the State Fair must be popular) respected my space and safety, a very appreciable behavior.
  • One of the many bridges spanning the Mississippi River connects both campuses of the University. The upper deck carries bicycle and foot traffic where bridge designers installed a completely enclosed walkway.

What’s up with bicycling in Minneapolis, part 1

I present you a synopsis on what I observed about bicycling in Minneapolis. I visited the city (surfing someone’s couch) over the Labor Day weekend, rented a bike, rode the train and spent 9 non-stop hours exploring the city.

Sorry if it seems I only noticed the off-street trails and paths. Please read my experience in two parts, part 1 below:

  • Residents like trails. Trails connect residents to suburbs, several neighborhoods, cut across the city, get bicyclists downtown, to the light rail, and help preserve open space. Many of the trails are converted railroad rights of way. Some of the railroads are still active. I liked seeing railroads and bicyclists and other trail users traveling together. I wish I had
  • Hennepin County takes care of the trails. The trails’ pavement quality and their signage exhibited supreme guardianship. The designers of the trails obviously went to great lengths to keep low the number of bicyclist-pedestrian conflicts, provided restrooms, and when most convenient for riders, made a trail carry only one-way traffic (a loop around the Lake of the Isles).
  • I enjoyed Minneapolis’s crown jewel trail: the Midtown Greenway. I liked not only how the trail stretches uninterrupted (save for one at-grade street crossing) for 5 miles, but also the respect citizens give it. The 20+ (what’s the official count?) bridges crossing the Greenway give users a neat view.
  • Minneapolis has implemented several ways to remove conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians and bicyclists and motorists. The Martin Sabo bridge over Hiawatha Avenue and the Hiawatha segment of Metro Transit’s light rail lets trail users ride continuously from trail to trail, making the connections easily, quickly and best of all safely.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3.

Divvy isn’t a real bike

Riding on Divvy in the snow.

Divvy, for the first time in its short, seven-month existence, shut down today at 12 PM on account of the weather and keeping members and workers – who move bikes, shovel snow, and drive vans around town – safe.

Every news media in town reported on the shutdown. Chicagoist, ABC 7, NBC 5, FOX 32, Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times – you name it they had it.

But nothing has been published, except parts of this story from DNAinfo Chicago, that discusses how bicycling – whether on Divvy or your own bike – is very difficult in Chicago winters because of the poor coordination between the Streets & Sanitation and Transportation departments’ snow removal efforts, and the slow pace at which CDOT gets around to removing snow from the protected bike lanes. (I was quoted, alongside someone I recommended the author get in touch with, and we have differing views on the matter.)

In winter the protected bike lanes are the only bikeable kind of bike lane as conventional bike lanes become snow storage areas because plows can’t reach further right when there are parked cars (to avoid knocking off car mirrors).

This problem is not unique to Chicago and other cities have solved it. The cold isn’t why people in Chicago stop biking: it’s that snow and ice make it even more difficult in a region with little, separated (meaning safe and desirable) cycling infrastructure. There are climes with similar and worse winters where a large portion of people who bike in the summer keep biking in the winter. Places like Boulder, Minneapolis, Montréal, and Copenhagen.

A well-plowed, separated bike lane in a Copenhagen winter. Stranded? Put your bike on the back of a taxi (their buses don’t allow bikes).

I think it’s good that news media have recognized Divvy’s position as a transit system in the area, which they do by holding it to the same, weird standard they do Chicago Transit Authority and Metra, and posting about it frequently. When the CTA or Divvy has some marginal or perceived issue with its finances or service, an article gets written. But when it comes to bicycle infrastructure they give the city a pass where it doesn’t deserve one.

The media cares about Divvy, but it doesn’t care about bicycling. It might be the 11,000 Divvy members (more than Active Transportation Alliance or The Chainlink), however, that gets the city to kick up its bike lane snow removal efforts up a notch and I anxiously await that day.

When did everyone start caring about bicyclists dying?

A Plague of Cyclists appear to run cars off the road on The Weekly Standard’s cover.

A couple weeks ago a bunch of journalists from major international news outlets were having drinks somewhere (maybe The Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago’s basement) and wrote the same story.

Actually, they didn’t, but it’s surprisingly weird how close they were.

On Sunday the New York Times published “Is It O.K. To Kill Cyclists?”. Next, on Monday, Crain’s Chicago Business published “Why everyone hates bicyclists—and why they hate everyone back”.

Daniel Duane’s op-ed in NYT garnered a lot of response (7 of them are linked here, which doesn’t include Crain’s or The Weekly Standard). The Economist responded to the NYT article with “Cycling v cars: The American right-of-way” saying we should adopt laws like the Netherlands and gave several examples there of who’s liable for a crash between a car and bike (nearly always the driver). Bike Snob wrote the response I most agree with. Karen Altes of Tiny Fix Bike Gang got pissedTwin City Sidewalks (in Minneapolis/St. Paul) wrote that “bicyclists need to stop blaming themselves for dangerous roads”, referring to the bicyclist in question, Daniel Duane, the NYT op-ed contributor.

Tanya Snyder, writing for one of my employer’s sister blogs Streetsblog Capitol Hill, headlined her own roundup post, “The Times Blows a Chance to Tackle America’s Broken Traffic Justice System”. Andrew Smith at Seattle Transit Blog said that he gave up cycling to work in the first week he tried it. Brian McEntee wrote on his blog Tales from the Sharrows about two scenarios to consider about “following laws” (which isn’t what cyclists or drivers should be aiming for).

David Alpert, who runs a Streetsblog-like blog called Greater Greater Washington, said that it’s not okay to kill cyclists, “but if a spate of other op-eds are any indication, it’s sure okay to hate them and the facilities they ask for in a quest for safety”. BikeBlogNYC later published myriad examples of how streets continue killing everyone who’s not driving a car.

Then The Weekly Standard published something very similar to Duane’s piece. I don’t know when – it’s in the issue marked for November 18, but I believe it went up Monday, with a sweet cover. It went by two names. On the cover, “A Plague of Bicyclists” (by Christopher Caldwell) and on the site, “Drivers Get Rolled: Bicyclists are making unreasonable claims to the road—and winning”.

Most of the proceeding discussions revolve around “who’s right”. And the Economist skirts discussing the answer and instead just gives the answer: the bicyclist, because they’re the ones who die.

When you are driving in the Netherlands, you have to be more careful than you would when driving in America. Does this result in rampant injustice to drivers when accidents occur? No. It results in far fewer accidents. As the ANWB [Royal Dutch Touring Club, like the AAA] says, some drivers may think the liability treatment gives cyclists “a blank check to ignore the rules. But a cyclist is not going to deliberately ride through a red light thinking: ‘I won’t have to pay the damages anyway.’ He is more likely to be influenced by the risk that he will land in the hospital.”

I like what Evan Jenkins, a sometimes urbanist blogger studying mathematics at University of Chicago, wrote on his Twitter timeline:

That’s encouraging. He linked to several of his past articles about cyclist murder.

 

What’s also funny about this weekend’s bike-journo-fest is that Whet Moser, writing for Chicago Magazine, interviewed me two weeks ago about bike infrastructure and penned this uncomplicated, unruffled but comprehensive article saying “drivers and cyclists don’t have to be angry and fearful…with smart planning, a city can design safe roads for all.”

Chicago has started on that path. You know what might influence more change than any bike lane built? Speed cameras. And no, I won’t let them be removed.

Updated multiple times to add more responses to Duane’s op-ed. 

Finding a new way to measure cities’ bike friendliness in the United States

A really smart person could come up with a way to measure day-to-day bike friendliness based on how well cities adhere to standards that keep roads clear of obstructions that further frustrate the commute, like construction projects that squeeze bikes and cars together. 

I work at home. There are some days when I only leave my house to get milk from the Mexican grocery store at the end of my block (which makes awesome burritos). That means I ride my bike half as much as people who commute to work. on their bikes. Today I had a bunch of errands to run: drop off stuff, buy stuff, take pictures of stuff for my blog, Grid Chicago.

It was a very frustrating experience. I don’t need to go into details about how I was harassed by people who the state so graciously awarded a license to drive. But it happened. And it happens a hundred times a day to people cycle commuting in Chicago. I got to thinking about “bike friendly” cities. Is there a way to incorporate driver attitudes in there? I tweeted:

[tweet_embed id=264575958374305792]

Later I had the idea to use some very simple but objective measurements to create a new bike friendliness metric. It would help ensure that “Silver” (a ranking the League of American Bicyclists [LAB] uses) in one city means the same as “Silver”. It can expand from here but basically it works like this:

  • The share of people going to work who go by bike is a proxy for how “friendly” a city is to biking.
  • If a city has a lot of people biking to work, it must be friendly.
  • If a city has a few people biking to work, it must be non-friendly.
  • Cities are compared to each other to determine friendly and non-friendly.
  • The metric uses standard deviation to score cities.

Stop me if this has already been done.

I created a spreadsheet that lists the top 10 populous cities in the United States. I then added 10 more cities: Austin, Boston, Davis, Madison, Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In the next column I listed their bike commute share from the American Community Survey 2006-2010 5-year estimates. I calculated the standard deviation and mean of these shares and then in another column used Apple Numbers’s STANDARDIZE function:

The STANDARDIZE function returns a normalized value from a distribution characterized by a given mean and standard deviation.

I think that’s what I want. And the output is close to what I expected. I then found the LAB ranking for each city and found the variance of each ranking to see how far apart each city within one ranking was from another city in the same ranking. The results were interesting: the higher the ranking, the more variance there was.

Hurricane Sandy prompted a lot of New Yorkers to bike. It made headlines, even. Photo by Doug Gordon. 

I wanted to add another metric of bike friendliness, and that’s density. To me, a higher density of people would mean a higher density of places to go (shop, eat, learn, enjoy) and friends and family would be closer, too. Or the possibility of meeting new people nearby would be higher. Yeah, I’m making a lot of assumptions here. So I applied the STANDARDIZE function there as well. I added this number to the previous STANDARDIZE result and that became the city’s score.

So, in this new, weird ranking system, the most bicycle friendly cities are…drum roll please…

  1. Davis, California (Platinum)
  2. New York City (Silver) *
  3. San Francisco (Gold) *
  4. Boulder (Platinum)
  5. Boston (Silver)
  6. Philadelphia (Silver)
  7. Tie: Chicago*, Washington, D.C. (Silver)
  8. Tie: Portland* (Platinum), Minneapolis* (Gold)

Remember, I said above that any author of a list should spend at least a day cycling in each city. I’ve starred the cities where I’ve done that – I’ve cycled in 5 cities for at least a day.

I only calculated 20 cities. Ideally I’d calculate it for the top 50 most populous cities AND for every city that’s been ranked by LAB.

LAB cities list (PDF). My spreadsheet (XLS).

Chicago may get its first on-street bike parking corral today

Well, it won’t actually be built or open for “business” today.

The Wicker Park-Bucktown SSA (#33) will vote Tuesday at 7 PM on a motion (PDF) on whether or not to spend $4,000 to pay CDOT to install the city’s first on-street bike parking corral on Milwaukee near Damen in front of the Flat Iron building in Alderman Moreno’s 1st Ward. I plan to attend the meeting.

This location will serve Bank of America customers, Debonair clubgoers, and artists and gallery visitors at the the Flat Iron Arts Building. Note that the bike parking would be paid for by the Special Service Area’s revenue, which comes from taxing businesses in the district.

This won’t be the first bike parking corral in Illinois – that honor probably goes to Oak Park, a village east of Chicago. And it won’t be the first in the Midwest. Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, and Milwaukee will have beat us. In fact, Milwaukee’s first bike parking corral opened last Friday, May 6, 2011, in front of an Alterra café.

See list of cities around the world with bike parking corrals.

Oak Park’s on-street bike parking corral at 719 South Blvd., next to David A. Noyes Company and Anthony Lullo’s hair designs. I probably wouldn’t have selected this location, but it’s also across the street from the Oak Park Green Line station, so it can serve as overflow parking. Notice that at least 12 bicycles can park in the same space a car can park.

Milwaukee’s first on-street bike parking corral at 2211 N. Prospect Ave.,  designed by Chris Socha of The Kubala Washatko Architects and fabricated by Ryan Foat, Principal of Oxbow Studio. Photo by Dave Reid of UrbanMilwaukee.com.

Where I went in 2009 through 2011

I think my trip to San Francisco this past weekend for visiting friends and Transportation Camp West winds up over a year of domestic and international travel. This post links you to all the recap entries and Flickr photo galleries for the awesome cities I traveled to, rode the train in, and biked through.

2009

September

December

Approximate 2009 travel distance: 3,792 miles*

2010

April

August

September

November

December

Approximate 2010 travel distance: 17,515 miles (does not include intercity train trips)*

2011

January

March

May

August

September

Approximate 2011 travel distance: 8,271 miles (does not include intercity train trips and one car trip)*

*Travel distances exclude biking, walking, and trips on transit.

A better way for bike storage on trains

UPDATED: How BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, San Francisco region) treats bikes on board. Simple signage and a bike graphic tell all passengers where bikes belong. Photo by Jim Dyer. More photos.

Look at the photo below and take in all the details about the bicycle’s position and orientation in relation to the vestibule, modesty panel, doors, seating, and aisle. Accommodating bicycles on many of the Chicago Transit Authority’s ‘L’ cars can be a hassle, not only for the bicycle-toting customer, but for the other passengers as well.

This photo shows what I see as the only appropriate location for a bicycle on the Red Line’s 2600-series car.

The passengers may be hit by wheels or handlebars, or have their personal space intruded upon or reduced.

The bicycle owner has the responsibility to ensure they don’t hit or disturb other passengers – to be successful with this on every trip is nearly impossible. Additionally, according to the platform position, the owner will have to move their bicycle to the other side of vestibule to allow access to the doors and aisle. Sometimes other passengers are already standing there, not paying attention, and it can be almost embarrassing to ask them to excuse you and your bicycle.

The 2600-series car in which I rode and took these photographs was built in the 1980s. I think it’s safe to say that the designers and engineers at CTA and Budd Manufacturing didn’t consider the spatial needs of bicycles in the plans. And retrofitting train cars is expensive. Bicycle riders in Chicago “get by” with the current rolling stock. (The train cars with the butterfly doors cannot accommodate wheelchairs or bicycles – there are 2 of these cars on many Blue Line runs.)

But there’s an opportunity to change things because the CTA will be asking Bombardier Transportation for some refinements on the 5000-series cars that the transit agency has been testing on all lines. Now’s our chance to request changes!

If you don’t know of the differences beforehand, you can’t recognize that this is a brand new car with a slightly different exterior design. The interior, however, differs wildly.

The most striking distance is the longitudinal or aisle-facing seats.

The new train car now provides two spaces for passengers in wheelchairs (look in the middle for the wide seat backs facing you). The seats flip up and there’s a seatbelt to hold the wheelchair in place. Photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz.

Based on the design we’ve all seen, I suggest the CTA and Bombardier make the following changes to better hold bicycles on board:

  1. With signage and markings (on the interior walls and floor), indicate that the space for wheelchairs is a shared space and that passengers with bicycles may also use it. The signage would mention that customers with disabilities always have priority as well as mention the times bicycles are allowed on-board. This change would send a stronger message to all other passengers that bicycle owners also have a priority to use this space and they may be asked to move so a bicycle can fit here.
  2. In an educational and marketing campaign, teach customers about bike-on-board rules, where to place bicycles on the ‘L’, and where and when customers can expect passengers with bicycles.
  3. On or near the train door exterior, use markings to indicate where passengers with bicycles should board. The current system has a sign on one entrance saying, “Limit 2 bicycles this car” (see photo below). The other entrance has no sign. The confusion lies here: Should two bicycles occupy the same space, at one end of the car and only enter through the door with the sign? Or should two bicycles occupy opposite ends of the car and enter through either door? If the former is preferred, the second door could have a sign that says one should enter with their bicycle through the other door.
  4. Install a method or mechanism that can hold a bicycle still. This could be with a hook, a seatbelt, or a “groove” in the floor. In Minneapolis, passengers with bicycles can hang them (see photo below).
  5. Install a light at each door in the car that would pulse to indicate which doors will open at the next platform (left or right). This can help passengers with bicycles know where other customers will be alighting and boarding.

I have some other ideas for the 5000-series cars but not related to bicycling.

Photo of exterior bicycle sign. Photo by Payton Chung.

Photo of bicycle hanging from hook within the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Transit Hiawatha light rail train.

Some disjointed thoughts about bike commuting rates and how we get them

  1. In November 2010, I wrote that Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, have a higher percentage of workers (16 and older) commuting to work by bicycle.
  2. Yesterday, I updated an article about how the frequency of women in Chicago bicycling to work is decreasing.
  3. Today, I started updating the November Minnesota article to include the 2007-2009 3-year estimates from the American Community Survey (which shows that bicycling to work is growing faster in Minneapolis than Chicago). View the rudimentary spreadsheet. Bottom line: MPLS jumped from 3.55% bike mode share to 4.14% and Chicago only went from 1.04% to 1.13% (but again, only counting employed people!). Can we get some recession job statistics?
  4. Unemployment rate in Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI MSA is 6.5%; Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI MSA is 9.0%. See the table on Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But now I must pause and look at what I’m analyzing.

Someone pointed out in the comments on Chicago bicycling (and working) women that the sample size is low and the margin of error high meaning it’s hard to make accurate interpretations of the change in ridership from year to year. He suggested increasing the sample size.

Add this to the fact that the Census Bureau only collects data on trips to WORK and not everywhere else that people go daily. In this recession, fewer people are working. In fact, perhaps women lost their jobs more frequently than men. That could perhaps explain the drop in women bicycling to work. To increase the number of women bicycling to work, perhaps we just need to find more jobs for women. See points 3 and 4 above for evidence on the number of people who bicycle for transportation that we’re not counting.

After thinking these things over, my point is that gauging a city’s ridership based on Census Bureau home to work data is insufficient.

If these Phoenix bike riders aren’t going to work, they aren’t being counted.

To move from a bicycle subculture to a bicycle culture, we’ll need to know when we get there. We need a better picture on who is riding and for what purpose. CMAP rarely performs their household transportation survey (which gathers data on all trips on all modes and in many counties) and when they do, they don’t single out cities. In essence, Chicago doesn’t know where or why people are riding their bicycles (except for the limited and noisy information the Census or American Community Survey provides) – we have no good data!

Both New York City, New York, and Portland, Oregon, methodically perform bicycle counts annually. Both cities also count ridership on their bridges: Portland has at least 5 to count, NYC has over 10 (also called a screenline count). They can report how many people are riding bikes on the street, blind to their trip purpose and destination. It’s easy to note changes in ridership when you count all trips over work trips.

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