Municipal investment in off-road trails and changes in bicycle commuting in Minneapolis, Minnesota over 10 years: a longitudinal repeated cross-sectional study

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Place: Minneapolis

Overview

This study in Minneapolis, Minnesota, finds that commuting rates by bicycle increased substantially between 2000 and 2010 once 10 miles of paved paths separated from roadways were created. Using careful statistical methods, they show that neighborhoods closest to the new paths and with the most commuting routes crossing the paths had the greatest increases in bike commuting rates.

Relevance

This study is relevant for communities considering investments in bicycle infrastructure that want to know whether new routes will affect behavior changes in residents. This research demonstrates that bike infrastructure investments could help communities achieve goals related to public health, transportation management, and carbon emissions.

This is one of the more careful analyses of behavior change due to the construction of new trails. The authors note that it is most likely relevant for other dense, urban areas. They also note that the effects measured may be particularly strong because the paths evaluated are separate from roads, which research has shown are preferred by bicycle commuters, especially women.

Location

This study is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Trail Type

The study considers the effects of 10 miles of new, paved, off-road paths connecting residential neighborhoods to employment centers and the university.

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to measure whether the development of a multi-use trail system increased rates of commuting by bicycle.

This research was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute on Child Health and Development.

Findings

  • Bicycle commuting increased the most for census tracts both closer to the new trails and that had more commuting routes crossing the trail system.
  • Bicycle commuting increased by 2-2.5% for census tracts within 1 kilometer of the new trails, increased by 1.9-2% for census tracts within 2.8 kilometers of the new trails, and did not change census tracts 6 kilometers away.
  • For census tracts in the 25th percentile of share of commuting routes crossing the new trails, there was no change in share of commuting by bicycle. For routes in the 75th percentile, the rate of bicycle commuting increased by 2.6%.

Methods

The authors used data for tract-level bicycle commuting rates from the 2000 Census and the 2008-2012 American Community Survey (representing 2010). These data sources also provided socioeconomic data such as income, employment, and education. The authors combined these data with GIS data measuring the distance from each tract to the new trails, the location of which were provided by the city. Information on commuting routes was provided by Census Transportation and Planning Products, which maps tract-to-tract flows of trips for work to estimate the share of potential trips that cross the new trails.

The authors developed a panel data regression model comparing commuting rates in the census tracts between 2000 and 2010, controlling for other socioeconomic factors that changed in the tract over this time frame.

Citation

Hirsch, J.A., Meyer, K.A., Peterson, M., Zhang, L., Rodriguez, D.A. and Gordon-Larsen, P. 2017. Municipal investment in off-road trails and changes in bicycle commuting in Minneapolis, Minnesota over 10 years: a longitudinal repeated cross-sectional study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 14(1): 21.