College of Environmental Design Professor of City & Regional Planning Daniel Rodriguez, as part of a team of five researchers, contributed to a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity this week titled, “Municipal Investment in Off-Road Trails and Changes in Bicycle Commuting in Minneapolis, Minnesota Over 10 Years: A Longitudinal Repeated Cross-Sectional Study” on the effect of key development and expansion of an off-road, multipurpose trail system in Minneapolis between 2000 and 2007 to understand whether infrastructure investments were associated with increases in commuting by bicycle.
Over the past decade, the proportion of workers who commute to work by active modes has surged: Nationwide, the percentage of commuters who walk increased 12% between 2007 and 2016 and the percentage of commuters who bicycle increased 50%. Concurrently, the 50 most populous U.S. cities experienced more pronounced increases in active commuting, with 14% increase in pedestrian commuters and 71% increase in bicycling commuters. However, overall rates remain low, with only 2.8 and 0.6% of U.S. commuters walking and bicycling, respectively, and 5.0 and 1.2% of the 50 most populous cities’ commuters walking and bicycling, respectively.
Development of municipal cycling infrastructure has also coincided with increased commuting rates: According to the Alliance for Bicycling & Walking 2016 Benchmarking Report, 36 states published goals to increase bicycling, up from 22 states in 2010, and 15 states established annual spending targets for bicycling and walking initiatives, up from 6 states in 2010. While evidence exists for the positive effects of bike infrastructure nationally, many current studies are cross-sectional. Scarce longitudinal research has been published on this topic and has produced mixed results, potentially due to a limited time frame or differences in type of bicycle infrastructure investigated.
Furthermore, understanding infrastructure’s role requires consideration of not only proximity to new infrastructure but also potential commute patterns and accessibility to employment centers. This can be accomplished by investigating the proportion of work-related trips that might traverse the new infrastructure for some portion of the commuting route. Ultimately, off-road paved trails may be particularly conducive for encouraging bicycle commuting if they link residential areas with commercial and employment centers. In addition, off-road paved trails may encourage non-utility cycling by providing pleasant and safe cycling environments valued by leisure-cyclists.
Using repeated measures regression on tract-level data to examine changes in bicycle commuting between 2000 and 2008–2012, the principal investigators reviewed trail proximity measured as distance from the trail system while trail potential use was measured as the proportion of commuting trips to destinations that might traverse the trail system.
The study results found that tracts that were both closer to the new trail system and had a higher proportion of trips to destinations across the trail system experienced greater 10-year increases in commuting by bicycle. Ultimately, the paper concludes that proximity to off-road infrastructure and travel patterns are relevant to increased bicycle commuting, an important contributor to overall physical activity. Municipal investment in bicycle facilities, especially off-road trails that connect a city’s population and its employment centers, is likely to lead to increases in commuting by bicycle.