The missing link: bike network quality boosts bike commuting

CTS Catalyst writes up our Missing Link paper.

Cities promote bicycle networks to support and encourage bicycle commuting, yet until now little has been known about how the overall quality of a city’s bicycle infrastructure network impacts bicycle ridership.

In a study analyzing bike networks in 74 U.S. cities, University of Minnesota researchers have discovered that even after controlling for city size and demographics, both connectivity and directness are important factors in predicting bicycle commuting.

“This new research fills in a big gap in our knowledge about how bike facilities impact ridership,” says Jessica Schoner, research assistant in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering (CEGE) and lead author of the study. “Previous studies have found relationships between the quantity of bicycle infrastructure in a city and ridership, but the missing link has been insight into how the quality of a network affects bike ridership.”

To determine how network quality affects ridership, Schoner and co-author RP Braun/CTS Chair David Levinson began by collecting bicycle infrastructure maps from 74 mid- to large-sized U.S. cities and analyzing the maps to evaluate the backbone network of dedicated bicycling infrastructure. Then, they tested the relationship between the network analysis and the number of bicycle commuters in the city while controlling for a number of variables, including city population, land area, median income, household structure, college enrollment, and auto ownership.

“We wanted to determine whether a cyclist could complete their desired trip using the bicycle network without significant detours or gaps that would require riding in unsafe or uncomfortable conditions,” Schoner says.

BikingPhoto: Nicola Harger

Through their analysis, researchers found that a city’s bicycle commuting rate is associated with several measures of bike network quality, such as network density, connectivity, fragmentation, and directness. Interestingly, they discovered that density had the greatest impact on the level of bicycle commuting. According to Schoner, these findings suggest that cities hoping to maximize the impacts of their bike infrastructure investments should first consider increasing the density of a bike network before expanding its breadth. Researchers also concluded that excessive small fragments of bike facilities should be avoided, and they found that college enrollment is a strong predictor for bicycle commuting.

This research comes at a critical time in the development of bicycle networks across the U.S. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), cities are increasingly promoting biking for its environmental, health, and congestion-relief benefits. Investment in bike facilities has also increased: between 1999 and 2011, total federal and state government funding on bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure exceeded $7 billion. In 2012, the FHWA completed the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, which allocated $25 million each to four pilot cities over five years to measure the impacts of new infrastructure on mode shift to biking and walking.

“As we continue to invest in our country’s bike networks, it is important for transportation and planning agencies to fully understand how their bicycle infrastructure networks affect bicycle commuting in order to target investments in a way that optimizes the impact on existing riders and potential future cyclists,” says Schoner. “These findings provide a framework for transportation planners and policymakers to evaluate their local bicycle networks and prioritize the projects that best support nonmotorized travel behavior.”

Thredbo 14: 14th International Conference on Competition and Ownership in Land Passenger Transport

Registrations Open

Thredbo 14 Conference

Early bird registration closes 31 May 2015

14th International Conference on Competition and Ownership in Land Passenger Transport

Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Santiago, Chile

Sunday 30 August to
Thursday 3 September 2015

Thredbo 14 Conference
Santiago, Chile

The Thredbo Series serves as a forum for the international community, integrating a mix of executives from public agencies, and operating and consulting companies with researchers and academics in a unique and lively discussion. The conference includes academic developments, case studies, and benchmark experiences, with participants from every continent. Unlike most scientific conferences, Thredbo is structured around workshops with delegates choosing a workshop which they stay with for the duration. In each workshop, there is a deep discussion around a relevant question that later forms the basis of a report which is shared in a plenary presentation and then published in a special journal edition. This structure allows everyone attending Thredbo not only to hear interesting viewpoints but also to be actively involved in the discussion.

This conference has captured the attention of researchers worldwide; we have received 160 papers from 27 countries that have been allocated across eight exciting workshops. It will be a very lively and exciting week that you should not miss.


Main Street – St. Bonifacius, Minnesota

A week after I came to the Twin Cities (June 1999), I picked up a City Pages and saw this great article by Katy Reckdahl: The Cars of St. Bonifacius.

Head west on Highway 7 past Excelsior about 35 miles from Minneapolis, cross the rails put in place a century ago by the Great Northern Railroad, and you’ll be in St. Bonifacius, population 1180. Immediately off to the right across a grassy ditch is the St. Boni Farm Store, which Tom Logelin’s father started in 1932 as a feed and seed store and Logelin has continued as an appliance outlet. Logelin–a dignified man with a shock of wavy gray hair and an “I’d Rather Be Fishing” belt buckle that explains his nut-brown tan–gracefully winds up a dishwasher demonstration before approaching another potential customer.

“Oh, yeah, the taxicab thing,” he says when informed of the visitor’s question. “We register more damn taxis out here than any other place around. We always know it’s that time of the year–October or November–because there are a stream of taxis stopping here, asking for directions.” But this year may see the last time Logelin leaves his sea of white Whirlpools to gesture the way to city hall (up the hill and to the right). If state regulators have their way, St. Boni will have to gear up its bureaucracy, or forsake its unlikely status as the metro’s taxicab capital.

First, some numbers. A decade ago, according to city hall estimates, St. Bonifacius had only about 50 licensed cabs. But in the last few years, cabdrivers around the metro area have found out that Logelin’s directions lead them to one of the best license deals around: $50 per car per year, compared with more than $300 in St. Paul and $400 in Minneapolis. Airport cabdrivers, who have to be licensed with a metropolitan city in order to receive a permit, have been taking notice. In 1998, 390 cars–more than two-thirds of all airport cabs–were licensed in St. Bonifacius. That’s roughly one cab for every three people in St. Bonifacius, for a total number that edges out the 343 registered cabs in the city of Minneapolis, and eclipses the 124 licensed by St. Paul. …

As part of my tour of Main Streets of Minnesota, I accidentally stumbled upon St. Bonifacius on my way to Hutchinson and New Ulm (see coming episodes). I knew intellectually this was a small town. But given its legend as taxi capital of Minnesota, it was smaller than anticipated.

The article continues:

St. Bonifacius wasn’t always a taxi town. The area was settled in the 1850s by German immigrants, among them Tom Logelin’s grandfather, and Logelin serves as the community’s unofficial historian. At one point, he boasts, “we were a hub of commerce for the surrounding area. Much bigger than Mound, Excelsior, Waconia.” The locally headquartered Minnetonka Canning Company “was the biggest cannery west of the Mississippi. Every canned good on the Great Northern came from St. Boni.”

But the advent of the automobile changed all that, Logelin says, allowing people to travel further for their errands and cutting into business on Main Street. Car travel also hurt the rail business, which put the pinch on Minnetonka Canning. The firm shut down its assembly lines during the Depression. “Isn’t it ironic?” Logelin asks, in an oratory style used most recently when he spoke at the local Memorial Day service. “Whereas in the old days the development of the automobile started the demise of St. Boni, today’s great income is from the automobile.”

Twin Fields for Kids 2011 Grant Recipient Lost Dog in St. Boni. Last seen on Kennedy Memorial near the Library. Pixie Work Projects Administration Project 1939. City Park Rules. No Pets Allowed. No Bikes Skateboards or Motorized Vehicles Allowed. Park Closes at Dusk
Mar 29 Legion Aux Ham Bingo 200 7 Ton Road: 5 Tons Per Axle Weight Limit During State Weight Restrictions. In Memory of the Unborn Child
Street Bench Daylight Copper Washtub at the Laundromat. Dressel Agency Insurance Sales.
Grumpy's Pizza Burgers Wings. It's Miller Time St. Boniface Catholic Church "As for Me, I Trust in the Lord" Sculpture by church
Welcome to St. Bonifacius (someone tried flags). DNR Approved Wood. Rocket (US Army Surplus?) at playground. Playground in St. Bonifacius

Main Street (County Highway 92) intersects Highway 7, and the town is a couple of blocks in from the current right-of-way of the highway, centered on the intersection with Kennedy Memorial Drive, a block south of Old Minnesota 7. The town now has over 2200 people.

So if you are ever on Highway 7 and looking for a Meat Raffle, a Ham Bingo, or a playground for the kids, take a right on Main Street.

Cross-posted at

Elements of Access: Spontaneous Priority

by Wesley Marshall



SPONTANEOUS ROAD USER PRIORIZATION IN SHARED SPACE INTERSECTIONS (red line = 1:1 ratio of pedestrians to vehicles; hollow circles = pedestrian-dominated intersections; blue circles = vehicle-dominated intersections; circle size = higher level of modal dominance when conflict arose) by Wesley Marshall and Nick Ferenchak

SPONTANEOUS ROAD USER PRIORIZATION IN SHARED SPACE INTERSECTIONS (red line = 1:1 ratio of pedestrians to vehicles; hollow circles = pedestrian-dominated intersections; blue circles = vehicle-dominated intersections; circle size = higher level of modal dominance when conflict arose) by Wesley Marshall and Nick Ferenchak

Like we said last time, shared spaces are streets where all signs, traffic control devices, street markings, and separation of modes have been removed. This way of thinking forces all road users, no matter the mode of transportation, to take responsibility for their own actions and negotiate the space via all the other road users by means of eye contact and other social cues. This is in stark contrast to a conventional street design where modes tend to be separated and movements guided and controlled by traffic signals and the like. In the right context, the result of shared space is not chaos; instead, spontaneous order takes hold, resulting in a space often more efficient and safer than a conventional design.

Shared space is an often misunderstood concept. First things first; the right context is key. Shared spaces would not work everywhere, especially when the focus is mobility and high travel speeds. The surrounding land uses and the way that these buildings and activities interact with the street make a big difference. So does the mix of road users. A street dominated by cars would be hard pressed to function like we might imagine a shared space should.

Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.
Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.

Many people believe living streets and/or woonerfs to be synonymous with shared spaces. However, these street types specifically grant priority in the street space to pedestrians. A true shared space concept does not. Why? Because it doesn’t have to. In the right context, this prioritization occurs naturally. The above graph is from a recent paper I wrote with my doctoral student Nick Ferenchak. We analyzed data from 37 shared space intersections with high levels of interaction between pedestrians and vehicles and assessed which mode acquiesced to which when a conflict arose. When vehicles outnumbered pedestrians, while controlling for other design factors, the pedestrians tended to back off and cede the road space to the cars. However when pedestrians outnumbered cars, this prioritization spontaneously flipped. Now, the cars were the ones yielding to the pedestrians when a conflict arose. The red line in the graph above represents the 1:1 ratio of pedestrians to vehicles. What we call the modal dominance index is represented by the size and color of the circles. The hollow circles signify pedestrian-dominated intersections while the blue circles represent vehicle-dominated intersections. The size of the circle indicate a higher level of dominance over the shared space.

Many shared space designers are tempted to follow the living street or woonerf model and grant pedestrians priority in the street space, to the point where there is a call for what is known as a Pedestrian Priority Shared Space (PPSS). While such designs can be successful and find a multitude of benefits, putting up signs to grant pedestrians priority misses a key point of the shared space concept.   A true shared space in the right context doesn’t need those signs.


What is Subsidy?

Should governments subsidize transportation? If government subsidizes transportation, should it subsidize producers or consumers? If a government give money to consumers, they can spend it on what they want, paying for a service, which if it covers operating costs, can lead to more investment. If it gives money directly to producers, they spend it on more supply. Which leads to a better outcome?

Let’s think about “subsidy” for a moment. Below are a few examples.

  1. If I buy a ticket on a train, and it pays my share of both the fixed and variable elements of the full cost of the trip, am I subsidizing the train? [No]
  2. If my mom buys the ticket for me, is she subsidizing the train or subsidizing me? [me]
  3. If my employer buys the ticket for me, is it subsidizing the train or subsidizing me? [me]
  4. If a store buys the ticket for me, is it subsidizing the train or subsidizing me? [me]
  5. If I buy a ticket which pays the marginal cost of my trip, but not the fixed cost, and my mom pays the difference, is she subsidizing me or the train? [the train]
  6. If I buy a ticket which pays the marginal cost of my trip, and my city pays the fixed cost, is the city subsidizing me or the train? [the train]
  7. If I buy a ticket which pays the marginal cost of my trip and the state pays the fixed cost, is the state subsidizing me or the train? [the train]
  8. If I buy a ticket which pays the marginal cost of my trip, and the federal government pays the fixed cost, is the state subsidizing me or the train? [the train]
  9. If the state gives me money and I buy a ticket which pays for the full cost of the train, is the state subsidizing me or the train? [me]

American Heritage says:
“sub•si•dy (sŭbˈsĭ-dē)

  • Monetary assistance granted by a government to a person or group in support of an enterprise regarded as being in the public interest.”

Wiktionary gives the etymology: “From Anglo-Norman subsidie, from Old French subside, from Latin subsidium, from subsidere (to settle down, stay, remain).” This doesn’t help much.
Dictionaries imply that subsidy is primarily from a government. You can then decide what is government (family? homeowners association? but city, state, and federal certainly apply).

This is relevant in transportation accounting. According to the Amtrak Annual Report for instance Amtrak is a publicly owned corporation that gets a subsidy (which it calls “funding”) from the federal government. If it were to declare that subsidy to be revenue, it would earn a “profit.” (Apparently it once did, but does so no longer).

It also gets subsidies from state governments. It does declare those subsidies to be revenues. If you think about it as providing a service to the states, this makes sense. Any contractor to the state which charges in exchange for a service books that revenue as income. So in Amtrak-accounting, state-supported services are “passenger-related” revenue, but federal support is not.

States are certainly closer to passengers than the federal government, and from a federalism perspective, to minimize off-diagonal outcomes in the correspondence problem (that is making sure local problems are addressed locally and national problems are addressed nationally), and from the idea of subsidiarity, placing these subsidies at lower levels of government has advantages, but I am not sure there is an objective reason why one is revenue and one is subsidy.

I certainly advocate reframing current US practice in transit subsidies away from thinking of transit agencies as money-losing, and instead towards an organization or utility providing services for users. Hopefully most of those users are passengers.  It also would provide service for governments if governments want a particular service that users cannot pay for directly. The government would not be subsidizing the transit agency, it would be subsidizing users of the service by paying someone to provide the service. The difference in thinking is subtle, but important.

Elements of Access: Diurnal Curve

People possess Circadian rhythms, they operate on a 24-hour cycle, and about half that time is daylight. Going to the place where that (work) activity occurs follows a pattern: Leave home early enough to arrive at the destination at a desired time. Do something there. Leave there (after, say, 8 hours) and return home. There are many complexities.

 Diagram indicating the licensed capacity of the cars running over a typical route on the inward journey during each hour of a traffic day and the number of passengers carried (Midwinter)

Diagram indicating the licensed capacity of the cars running over a typical route on the inward journey during each hour of a traffic day and the number of passengers carried (Midwinter)

The graph has two peaks: morning and eventing.  These peaks are the “rush hours” of common complaint, when more people want to use the transportation system than capacity is immediately available, leading to congestion. This graph shows both the supply provided by the public transport system (more seats are made available during the peak) and the demand of users. The supply clearly responds to the demands. The afternoon or evening peak is usually higher (and almost always broader) than the morning peak, as we organize more activities after work than before.

Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.
Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.

This pattern ensures some set of people (peak commuters) are generally at work at the same time, which reduces inter-personal coordination costs. If we are generally in the same place, we don’t need to pre-arrange meetings, since we can easily visit each other’s office or run into each other in the hall.  The price of this is congestion, since we do not (and perhaps cannot) provide enough capacity to satisfy the peaks of demand when we do not charge for its use. Most trips are not work trips, even during rush hour. However  work trips, with their tight scheduling and longer distances, overload the system at peak times.

Elements of Access: Turning their backs, opening their arms: the Radburn system

by Kay Axhausen

Plan of Radburn, New Jersey
Plan of Radburn, New Jersey

The traditional practice of urban design was that the house would show its best side to the street and engage and welcome the visitor and passer-by. The rooms inside the building would match this by having the reception rooms facing the street façade and by being recognizable in the fenestration and with suitable detailing of the front. This attitude was maintained throughout the 19th century in spite of the noise of the horses and horse-drawn vehicles, and of the hub-hub of pedestrian crowds and the cries of the peddlers.
With the increasing wealth and the increasing demonization of the urban environment as filthy and unhealthy the urban middle classes removed themselves to the suburbs, but initially maintained the style and expressiveness of their dwelling emulating the rural villas of their much richer role models. The generally generous lots gave the space to place the house at a distance to road and from each other and to produce a park-like environment in the early and the more expensive suburbs.

Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.
Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.

The arrival of the car and the much broader city exodus of the early 20th century changed the equation as the houses became smaller and streetscape less interesting and the actual and even more so, the perceived accident risks greater. While many American suburbs maintained a public face through porches and porticos, the reversal of the order began: entry from the back via the garage, entry via back alleys now used by the house owners and not as earlier by the servants, coachmen and delivery boys.
In Europe both apartment blocks and suburban houses began to reorient their internal layouts towards the garden in the back. The new desire for maximum sunlight invited a flowing transition from the ground floor living room into the garden instead of a first floor reception and dining room with kitchen and pantry on the ground floor together with the servants.
In this context of changing patterns of externalities, increasing expectation of quite and sunlight, the New York designers Clarence Stein und Henry Wright went one step further and reversed the order completely. Their 1928 design for parts of Radburn, NJ opened the house to a common park, which flowed into the garden of the house. The front entry would be from a cul-de-sac accessible garage and parking space. The residents and in particular the children could walk away from the cars to their destinations, as the different parks were linked by suitable underpasses and overpasses to avoid the streets.
The original design covered only a small area, but the design idea was applied at much larger scales in many post-war suburbs around the world. At this scale it became clear, that the loss of the streetscape was in many cases not balanced by an active communal use of and life in the parks. Many gardens gates were locked, the view into and from the park was blocked by hedges and fences.

Groper Trains Accommodate a Variety of Tactile Preferences

A recent report from the Maldives Telegraph: Groper Trains Accommodate a Variety of Tactile Preferences:

Building on the success of ladies-only train cars, and singles cars, and responding to complaints from those who felt excluded, a transit agency in Malé, Maldives announced a series of specialized train cars to accommodate a variety of tactile preferences.

To avoid complications, cars are designated by groper’s choice. Travelers will be required to chose whether to be a groper or a gropee, or neither. This will be marked on tickets.

Floors in many train cars will have a blue and pink checkerboard floor pattern to facilitate maximum gropage, where the be-groped (but not groping) are expected to stand on the pink tiles and gropers (but not be-groped) on the blue tiles, while those open to both groping and being groped are on the orange tiles, and those neither groping nor being groped stand on the green tiles. When asked if this was sexist, the agency said “No”.

It is hoped that cars will be evenly used.

Hans Pincher, spokesman for Friendly Hands, the groper advocacy organization, praised this new configuration, but noted sadly that Malé’s  trains do not have 32 cars to accommodate all preferences for people who want to simultaneously grope and be groped without creating confusion.

The following table was published by the agency:

  • M g M & ! W – 1
  • M g W & ! M – 2
  • M g M & W – 3
  • M !g M | W – 4
  • W g M & ! W – 5
  • W g W & ! M – 6
  • W g M & W – 7
  • W !g M | W – 8

“M g M & ! W – 1” should be pronounced as “Men who want to grope Men (and not women) should use car 1. La-de-da.”

M = Men
W = Women
g = grope
b = be groped
! = not
& = and
| = or
X = cannot be accommodated

People who choose to be gropees should use the following cars based on preference

  • M b M, !W – 1, 3
  • M b W, !M – 5, 7
  • M b M & W – 1, 3, 5, or 7
  • M !b M | W – 2, 4, 6 or 8
  • W b M, !W – 2, 3
  • W b W, !M – 6, 7
  • W b M & W – 1, 3, 5, or 7
  • W !b M | W – 1, 4, 5, or 8