The United States, along with much of the developed world, is struggling with rapidly rising rates of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Lack of exercise is a frequent culprit, but many Americans struggle to find time for the 2 hours and 30 minutes of physical activity that the CDC recommends  adults get each week. Most of us already spend well over 2 hours and 30 minutes commuting by car or bus each week, however, and by making the shift to bicycle commuting, we stand to greatly improve our health along with reducing traffic and emissions.
There is already an abundance of research that links bicycle commuting and good health, and in Minnesota, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area — home to about 3.5 million people — has taken notice. It’s been about 20 years since communities across the metro began implementing progressive bicycle policy and infrastructure in earnest — and the results are extremely promising.
Preferences Suggested for Off-road Trails
Minneapolis began rapidly increasing its bicycle infrastructure in 2000, especially its off-road trails linking primarily residential areas with job centers. A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity  found that this increase was matched by a sharp increase in bicycle commuting. The study suggested that off-road trails may be preferable to bike lanes, which can be intimidating and difficult to use.
Overall, over the course of the study, the total increase in bicycle infrastructure in Minneapolis was accompanied by a doubling in the number of bicycle commuters as a portion of total commuters, from only 1.8% in 2000 to 4.0% in 2010. Shifting demographics may also have contributed to this trend, but overall, this increase in infrastructure appears to have been a resounding success.
Bike-sharing Services Expand Ridership
Other services have sought to increase people’s access to bicycles, which can be expensive and daunting to maintain for new riders. In 2010, Nice Ride MN , a bike-sharing service, launched in downtown Minneapolis. Their model allows users to grab a bicycle from one local station and drop it off at any other station in their Twin Cities network, a boon for people who either can’t or don’t want to own and store a bicycle at home. They offer monthly membership for frequent users along with 24-hour passes and one-time rentals that are often used by tourists.
Nice Ride MN began as a local nonprofit movement that has grown enormously in recent years, serving as a proof of concept for similar local bike-share services.
Further confirming the importance of policies that promote bicycle use, a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion , conducted in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, found that commuting by bicycle was associated with a lower chance of obesity, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides (cholesterol), even in adults who made as few as three bicycle trips per week. This result, study authors write, “provide[s] empirical support for the promotion of active transportation as public health policy” — an exciting finding in an era when public health policy is being recognized as just as, if not more, important to people’s health as advances in biomedical science.
Issues of Equity and Access
A persistent criticism of bicycle policy in the Twin Cities, however, has been its unequal implementation. Wealthier, whiter neighborhoods tend to have better access to this infrastructure while poorer, primarily African-American, Latino, Native American, and/or Asian-American neighborhoods tend to have less access.
A 2017 study published in the Transportation Research Record found that lack of access to bikeways in disadvantaged Minneapolis-St. Paul neighborhoods not only impacted residents’ ability to bike safely, but could also limit their career options by unfairly limiting their commute. Several local bicycle advocacy organizations, including Our Streets MPLS  and the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota , have raised awareness of the issue and are placing pressure on the city to promote progressive bicycle policy for all.
As more and more people become aware of the health benefits of bicycle commuting — along with the community-wide benefits of reducing pollution and traffic — progressive bicycle policy will only grow in importance. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area is blazing trails for the rest of the world by exploring and testing exciting new options for its citizens.
If you currently live in an area with weak bicycle policy and poor infrastructure, stay tuned for the next post in this series, which will explore ways that you can advocate for progressive bicycle policy in your community!
 “How much physical activity do adults need?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 Hirsch, J. A., Meyer, K. A., Peterson, M., Zhang, L., Rodriguez, D. A., & 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.
 Nice Ride Minnesota [bike-sharing service].
 Berger, A. T., Xinyi, Q., & Pereira, M. A. (2017). “Associations Between Bicycling for Transportation and Cardiometabolic Risk Factors Among Minneapolis-Saint Paul Area Commuters: A Cross-Sectional Study in Working-Age Adults.” American Journal of Health Promotion.
 Wang, J. & Lindsey, G. (2017). “Equity of Bikeway Distribution in Minneapolis, Minnesota.” Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board.
 Our Streets MPLS [bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group].
 Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota [African-American bicycle club].
Maggie Tiede is a researcher and writer interested in public transit infrastructure and how it relates to health and sustainability living, especially in harsh climates, such as Minnesota’s, and with other types of green transportation infrastructure, including sidewalks, bike lanes, and electric car chargers. Connect with her at MaggieTiede.com and on Twitter.