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Cyclists using trails more, bike lanes less

Bicyclists took more rides on trails and used shoulders and bike lanes a lot less as the COVID-19 pandemic led to a shift in when, where and why cyclists rode.

Trail usage was up 39% while the number of cyclists riding on the side of the road or in bike lanes fell 13% last year when compared with counts collected in 2019, according to new unpublished research from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies (CTS).

Pedestrian traffic jumped 52% on multiuse trails and shared-use paths during the same time frame, graduate students from the U’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs found when looking at data gathered from automated counting locations, infrared counters and sensors in roadways and along trails that track when a pedestrian or bicyclist passes by.

The numbers might be low, said Greg Lindsey, a scholar in the U’s CTS. He points to West River Parkway as a prime example. Last year the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Department closed the road to vehicular traffic for several weeks to allow more room for socially distanced recreation. The result was that many pedestrians and cyclists who normally would have been on the trail were in the street and not picked up by automated counters.

The research results suggest that over the past year facilities were used far more for exercise, recreation and mental health, Lindsey said.

“During the pandemic, people were not going to work. They were telecommuting.”

The results don’t surprise Soren Jensen, executive director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition. Foot and bicycle traffic on the trail running 5½ miles through south Minneapolis from the Mississippi River to near Bde Maka Ska was “super busy” last year and has remained that so this year, he said.

“Bike sales are way up, people want to get outside, and they are looking for safe places to ride,” Jensen said. “Bike lanes are just paint. They don’t feel safe to a new bicyclist. We might be seeing these kinds of patterns.”

The change in riding and walking patterns gives more reason to continue advocating to extend the Greenway across the Mississippi River and into St. Paul, Jensen said.

That is one of the big takeaways from the research, Lindsey said. Planners, he hopes, will take a harder look at where and what type of infrastructure to build. A bike lane, say along West Broadway, might seem like a good idea, but a trail in the suburbs may get more use in the long run as needs and desires change.

“The idea is to start thinking of public facilities in a broader context and build evidence for more informed decisionmaking,” Lindsey said.

Two big east metro detours

Starting Monday, motorists won’t be able to use Hwy. 61 between I-35 in Wyoming and Hwy. 8 in Forest Lake for six weeks. MnDOT will resurface the road, complete drainage work, add turn lanes and put in a new signal system at Fallbrook Avenue. The work is scheduled to be done by July 19.

Larpenteur Avenue in Maplewood remains closed to traffic between Camelot and Sylvan street as crews work to fix extensive damage left from a sinkhole that developed from a failing culvert. Repairs are expected to take several weeks, Ramsey County officials said.

Drivers will find posted detours on both routes.

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.

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