Spark Logo

Share in our latest insight and ideas in energy, from data visualization to best practices from the field.

Bicycling Counts: Calculating the Impact of Minneapolis Cyclists

Posted by   |  Date May 15, 2012  |  Comments 2

Contributing author: Joshlyn Goepfrich

On June 2, CEE will launch “Bicycling Counts,” a public mobile art installation along Minneapolis bike paths. The project is a large-scale projection of the energy and financial savings generated by bicyclists, assuming they would otherwise be driving a car. The tally of savings is updated in real time with each passing rider.

Here’s some information from CEE’s project lead, Joshlyn Goepfrich:

Bicycling Counts is public art project that measures the social, environmental, and financial benefits of cycling in Minneapolis  The project celebrates local cyclists by visually translating a real-time count of passing bicyclists into collective impact. Bicycling Counts is a creative and engaging strategy that demonstrates how individual actions can contribute to a healthier community.
Last fall, Minneapolis and Belgium-based artist Arlene Birt gave an informal seminar for all CEE staff. I was inspired by her Bicycling Counts project in Malmö, Sweden and approached her with the idea of a local installation. Minneapolis had recently passed Portland to become the number one biking city in the nation according to Bicycling Magazine, and I wanted to build on that excitement. Arlene and I proposed the project to Center for Energy and Environment, and the Innovation Exchange adopted Bicycling Counts.

We first imagined the project as a permanent installation along the Midtown Greenway, but in order to create a more engaging experience, it progressed into a mobile projector. To avoid limiting the audience to Greenway users, we reviewed the City of Minneapolis bicycling reports and decided to install our counter along the most frequented bike routes. We’ve contacted local organizations at locations adjacent to where we will install the counter to ask if they’d like to participate in Bicycling Counts by offering their external walls as screens for the data and infographics and donating electricity to power the projector. The project is being well received by our community! We have a great foundation of supporters including Midtown Greenway Coalition, Schuler Publicity, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church,  Eco-Counter, Mill City Museum, and the Minnesota Twins. The list keeps growing!

Arlene and Innovation Exchange staff estimated the public health and cost benefit of cycling using recent studies on the impact of auto use.  We made data points Minnesota specific and found the overall percent and length of trips made by bicycle in Minneapolis. The true overall price of owning and driving a car is greater than the sum of individual trips. Besides gas and car payments, high level expenses include insurance and parking; externalities include accidents and road maintenance. The financial costs to the public health system are harder to calculate, but very important to consider. Estimates range for hospital and insurance costs, lives saved by reducing car emissions, and even the value of a human life. Our public health analysis considered both the collective benefits of reducing car emissions and the individual benefits of biking, such as calories burned and a lower risk of heart disease. 

Bicycling Counts will launch on June 2, 2012. The counter will use our final calculations of savings per individual cyclist to visualize and project the combined impact of everyone who bikes past. Why did Innovation Exchange take on this project? Data visualization is an effective education strategy that makes research results accessible and relevant to non-technical audiences. One reason that short bike trips have considerable benefits is because a larger share of auto impacts occur over the first few miles, while the car is starting and warming up. Bicycling Counts is an empowering installation because it shows how each ride adds up. And Minneapolis was recently ranked the most bikable U.S. city by Walk Score. So check out the Twin Cities Bike Walk Week schedule, take a ride by the installation, and stay tuned for more updates from i.e.!

For further info on our data sources for the calculations see:

Air Quality and Exercise-Related Health Benefits from Reduced Car Travel in the Midwestern United States

Travel Behavior Inventory: Where, when and how we travel

Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis II - Vehicle Costs

Transportation Statistics Annual Report 2010


Related posts:

Bicycling Counts: Official Counts

Bicycling Counts: Interview with Visual Storyteller Arlene Birt

Photo credit:


Wow! This sounds amazing! I can't wait to be a part of it!
This idea is great. It really reminds me of a water fountain at my gym where go for spinning when the weather is really bad for cycling outdoors. This fountain has a counter that has a count of plastic bottles saved by water being consumed through the fountain. When I am writing this post , the count is something like 5.4k of bottles. Thats alot.

Leave Your Comment