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  • Writer's pictureRKPROST

Bike Lanes in Plymouth


Forty-eight-year-old Tim Bakula had attempted suicide twice and suffered from anxiety and depression. After his latest attempt to end his life on the Franklin Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Hennepin County Medical Center doctors asked Bakula and 29 other patients if they were interested in biking to combat their mental illness (Broaddus, 2017). The presence of bike lanes in the city enabled Bakula a safe and accessible way to bump up his production of endorphins, relieve tension, and elevate his mood by cycling (Angus, 2016). While biking, Bakula said he can focus on the road, get some exercise, and set aside the worries of the day (Broaddus, 2017). Bike lanes makes active transportation an alternative to prescription pills that improves not only mental health but physical as well. Equally important to health benefits, bike lane infrastructure motivates people to get out of their cars, therefore, decreasing traffic.

Opponents to bike lanes worry that by establishing bike infrastructure, traffic congestion will worsen. The INRIX 2017 Traffic Scorecard Report ranks Minneapolis as the 15th worst city for traffic in the United States (Wagner, 2018). With a scarce amount of road space, a reduction in car lanes delay workers, clients, and shipments statewide, therefore, decreasing economic efficiency. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, “Minnesota’s average commute time to work is 25.2 minutes” (MDEED, 2017). Not only do traffic delays make commuting unforeseeable, it also causes drivers to waste money and fuel. Randall O’Toole, an American public policy analyst reports, “The number of fuel Twin Cities’ commuters waste sitting in traffic grew from 5.0 million gallons in 1982 to 38.5 million in 2014” (O’Toole, 2017). Opponents of bike lanes believe to minimize traffic, there should be more lanes and roads, not fewer drivers. By acknowledging the role of bike lanes in these previous instances, it sparks conversation about what life in Plymouth would be like if the city implemented bike lanes.

There are persuasive social and economic arguments as to whether bike lanes should be created in Plymouth. Should the Plymouth City Council pass an infrastructure bill to provide funding for the creation of bike lanes because it promotes active transportation yielding a healthier lifestyle and because it makes living in the city desirable therefore increasing the demand for housing? Or should the Plymouth City Council not pass an infrastructure bill to provide funding for the creation of bike lanes because of driver frustration that comes from sharing the road with bikes leading to inefficient transportation and because of increased costs related to accidents between cars and bikes? Before citizens can imagine the future of Plymouth’s infrastructure, the past must first be explored to understand the reason behind bike lanes being a social problem.


The development of individualism was a cultural and social shift that occurred at the beginning of the 1980s (Gossling, 2017). More people began to own cars because cars granted the personal freedom of mobility. The Interstate Highway System developed in the 1950’s and 60’s allowed more people to live further from the cities and the need for vast parking areas increased (Gossling, 2017; Pflaum, 2011). But with more motor vehicles on the road, our carbon footprint increases.

To fight climate change, people are looking for alternative methods of transportation. In the 1970’s, fuel shortage and increased environmental awareness was the tipping point that caused more people to use the bicycle as a mode of transportation (Pflaum, 2011). The Minneapolis City Council developed the Minneapolis Bicycle Master plan in 2011. The plan intended to “establish goals, objectives, and benchmarks that improve safety and mobility for bicyclists and increase the number of trips taken by bicycle” over time (Pflaum, 2011). Several additions, such as adding on-street protected bikeways, have been made to the plan since its original adoption. Minneapolis is a leader when it comes to creating bicycle-friendly cities, however currently, Plymouth does not have any bike lanes planned for the near future.

The dispute over the funding and construction of bike lanes in Plymouth constitutes a social problem because of associated objective and subjective elements of harm. Although biking is growing in popularity, most workers drive. Therefore, there are opponents of bike lanes who argue for more attention to roadways and car lanes to move goods and most workers efficiently (PIM, 2017). On the other hand, some argue that citizens are too car-dependent which is impacting their health. According to a study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation found, “Bicycle commuting three times per week is also linked to 46 percent lower odds of metabolic syndrome, 32 percent lower odds of obesity, and 28 percent lower odds of hypertension, all of which lowers medical costs” (Qian, Linscheid, Lindsey, & Pereira, 2016). An objective element of harm is the fact drivers spend extended periods of time sitting which is negatively affecting their health. Bike infrastructure encourages active transportation which increases rates of daily physical exercise and lowers the risk of heart disease, the number one cause of death across America (Lynch, 2018). Bicycle lanes affect a small portion of the population, which sparks controversy over why so much funding would go towards their creation.

The Plymouth City Council has a conflicting obligation as to which group they are responsible to provide efficient travel for; the majority who are drivers or the minority who are cyclists. This leads to the value tension of private wealth versus commonwealth. Individual drivers don’t want their tax dollars going towards them. By prioritizing bike lanes, it reduces the amount of money spent on maintaining safe and good quality roads. As a result, this may jeopardize the lives of loved ones because of the likely increase in car-on-bike accidents which in turn will cause medical bills to rise, both subjective and objective elements of harm. On a larger scale, the individual’s contribution of tax dollars for the common good aids in reducing traffic and cleaner air for everyone.

Numerous stakeholders and advocacy groups have expressed their differing opinions on bike lane creation. These stakeholders include Plymouth drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, public transportation users, and businesses because they all share and rely on roadways. The Minnesota Bike Alliance and OurStreets are two advocacy groups that promote biking and active transportation. The Transportation Alliance and Progress in Motion advocate for effective transportation and raise awareness for Minnesota’s aging infrastructure (PIM, 2017). With both sides voicing their opinions, the Plymouth City Council is the key player that will set policy and eventually the budget for project layouts and changes to the roadway.

As Plymouth streets experience wear and tear, the Plymouth Department of Public Works has been busy designing plans to protect public infrastructure in favor of cars. The City of Plymouth’s Capital Improvement Program outlines projects for the next five years, 2018-2022. The Kilmer Park, Troy Lane, and Schmidt Lake Road Expansion are just a few current street projects in Plymouth (City of Plymouth Department of Public Works, n.d.). In the 2018-2022 CIP, cars are prioritized as the creation of bike infrastructure is not apparent in the grand total budget of approximately $73,115,000 dedicated to updating streets (City of Plymouth Department of Public Works, 2018). Opponents to bike lanes argue that funding bicycle infrastructure will be an expensive task only benefiting a minority of people, but there are other alternatives to encourage biking in cities. Like carpooling lanes are to drivers, bike sharing programs are to cyclists.

Nearby Plymouth, the city of Golden Valley, recently announced they are going to adopt dockless bike sharing; making them one of the first cities in the Midwest to do so (Otárola, 2018). Companies like LimeBike and NiceRide have developed dockless bikes that can be picked-up and dropped-off anywhere within a defined area compared to a specific docking station. They were first seen in China and now have expanded to places in Europe and the United States such as Paris, Lyon, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC (Stengle, 2018). Neither Golden Valley and Plymouth have designated bike lanes, but the brightly colored and readily available bikes will encourage citizens to use them to make short distance trips. To settle the Plymouth bike lane controversy, it is crucial to understand the social and economic impact the proposed plan would have on society.

Social Analysis

To form an educated policy recommendation, it is important to look at this issue from a sociological perspective. The social norm is to drive everywhere, but those who walk, bike, or use public transport are perceived as deviants. Examining both social institutions and the allocations of resources will help to understand the social costs and benefits because of bike lanes in Plymouth.

To begin, relevant social institutions must be analyzed. Structural functionalists try to understand social problems through social pathology and social disorganization. The belief in climate change is the social “sickness” causing people to deviate from using cars and relying on the bike to reduce carbon emissions. This rapid social change disrupts society resulting in social disorganization. To solve this, major agents of socialization such as family, driver’s education, and the government, must slowly adapt to accept the new norms.

Two manifest functions of family are aiding children in accomplishing developmental milestones and shaping their values. A common childhood memory many people share is the first time they learn to ride a bike. It’s a simple way for adults and children alike to exercise and enjoy time outdoors. A social benefit of bike lanes is that they promote active transportation yielding a healthier lifestyle. According to Hilary Angus, writer and managing editor of Momentum Magazine, “By bumping up the production of endorphins, physical activity relieves tension, elevates mood, and helps to stabilize sleep patterns disrupted by stress” (Angus, 2016). Making short trips by bike fulfills daily exercise and lowers the odds of obesity, both of which are manifest outcomes of bike lanes. A latent outcome is that bike lanes provide a buffer between pedestrians and cyclists on the sidewalk keeping both parties safe. On the other hand, positive feelings towards the car emerge when teenagers view earning their driver’s license as a rite of passage into being a self-sufficient adult. As they mature, a bike is considered a children’s toy. Because the belief in climate change is a social “illness,” preserving the environment and staying active are new family values being instilled into younger generations. As new family values are introduced, driver’s education must make course accommodations.

The manifest purpose of driver’s education is to learn good driving etiquette and safety to keep everyone alert and safe on the roads (Hopkins, 2012). Without bike lanes, a social cost for drivers is the unpredictability of cyclists, which may cause conflict, uncertainty, distress, or potential danger for them (Dalhof, 2015). A latent outcome of bike lanes is driver’s education programs spending more time emphasizing the importance of distraction-free driving. An additional latent outcome is offering bike education classes to inform cyclists about Minnesota bicycle laws. With these educational changes, the government must also adapt to change.

With increased car-on-bike accidents, the government is dysfunctional in how it protects its people. If drivers are carelessly hitting bikers or cyclists are not compliant with the rules of the road, the government may need to issue harsher sanctions to minimize anomie. A social benefit to designating road space for cyclists, is that they will feel safer and more motivated to bike. An increase in cyclists is a manifest outcome that results in less drivers, therefore decreasing the amount of carbon emissions. A study from the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy and the University of California, Davis concluded that “a world with a dramatic increase in cycling could save society US$24 trillion cumulatively between 2015 and 2050, and cut CO2 emissions from urban passenger transport by nearly 11 percent in 2050 compared to a High Shift scenario without a strong cycling emphasis” (Mason, Lew, & McDonald, 2015). Although social institutions are pivotal to balancing social order, it is also important to understand the division of social groups and how that impacts their frame of reference.

The conflict theory focuses on power and inequality as well as the distribution of resources in society. From a conflict theorists point of view, car owners are the dominant group because they have the privilege to travel further for longer amounts of time. Cyclists are the subordinate group as they do not have specific lanes to travel in nor the luxury of traveling great distances. With America’s future-oriented time sense, people are constantly trying to get things done quickly and move onto the next. Not only are drivers competing for road space with cyclists, they are competing with other drivers for the nicest car, as it is associated with social status. Drivers perceive bikers belonging to a lower social class because they are unable to afford a car, whereas a cyclist’s opposing interest to that of a driver’s may influence their decision to bike.

Non-Marxist conflict theorists would explain bike lanes as a social problem by examining the different value positions each group has. Opponents of bike lanes value speed and efficiency to move workers and products from their origin to their destination points (PIM, 2017). A latent outcome and social cost for bike lane opponents is that the infrastructure is “vastly underused most of the day” (Solomon, 2017). Furthermore, a manifest outcome is the fact that reduced road space may cause commuters to face more frequent traffic delays. This is another social cost because it makes travel times unpredictable and is an inefficient waste of time, money, and fuel. Because cars have caused urban sprawl, the addition of bike lanes is based off “an obsolete, polycentric version of a city in which jobs are in downtowns” (O’Toole, 2017) which is not realistic for workers that live in Plymouth.

Incremental change in social institutions and conflicting value positions render different subjective interpretations of social costs and benefits of bike lanes. After viewing this social problem from a sociological perspective and analyzing the social costs and benefits, an adequate policy recommendation still cannot be made without looking at this issue from an economic viewpoint as well.

Economic Analysis

The creation of bike lanes in Plymouth from a sociological viewpoint is key to forming a proper policy recommendation but looking at this social problem from an economic perspective is equally important. Scarcity is a basic economic problem that applies to constructing bike lanes. The allocation of space on a street space is scarce. In addition, it is applicable to analyze how the government could respond to why the market has failed to increase the number of people using bike lanes as they generate positive externalities. The role of scarcity and market failure provide insight into the economic costs and benefits associated with the building bike lanes in Plymouth. First, an explanation of scarcity is needed to begin an economic analysis of bike lanes in Plymouth.

The driving force behind economics is the idea of scarcity which is the concept of allocating a limited resource to satisfy unlimited wants. This applies to the physical road space needed to construct bike lanes because roads can only be made so wide. People face a tradeoff regarding safe transportation between being enclosed in metal or a plastic helmet. Due to high-traffic areas and the scarce amount of road space, the number of car-on-bike collisions has increased resulting in longer hospitalization period and increased medical bills (Metcalfe, 2017). One economic cost to bike lanes is the toll for bicycle-related injuries. For example, in 2017 the Los Angeles City Council “paid out more than $19 million in lawsuits to settle cases involving cyclists injured or killed on city streets” (CBS LA, 2018). The expense of recovery is on a case by case basis, but with an inflation-adjusted price, the cost grew from $62,971 in 2005 to $77,308 in 2013 (Metcalfe, 2017). This is problematic because injured Plymouth residents may not be able to afford the time off from work, medical bills, and diminished quality of life that decreases economic efficiency. The increased costs related to accidents between cars and bikes due to the scarce amount of road space for cyclists shows that the market has failed to increase the popularity of bike lanes even though they produce positive externalities as a result of market failure.

Market failure occurs when there is an inefficient allocation of goods and services causing outside forces to step in. An outcome of market failure are positive externalities which are benefit that spread to unrelated third parties. The market has failed to achieve a socially optimal quantity of bike lane users. Proponents of bike lanes argue that the government has not done enough advertising the positive externalities that bikeways provide. Because consumers have imperfect information and are unaware of the true benefit of the consumption of bike lanes, they are unable to see the economic value in their community. One study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation found that, “In 2014, the bicycling industry in Minnesota produced a total of $780 million of economic activity, which includes $209 million of labor income and 5,519 jobs” (Qian, Linscheid, Lindsey, & Pereira, 2016). This shows the potential for economic growth in Plymouth by creating jobs in a newly developing industry. Opponents of bike lanes argue that the government should regulate the placement of bikeways so that they are not in front of businesses that depend upon on-street parking. Businesses perceive bike lanes to be detrimental to their sales as they “displace lanes that formerly accommodated street parking” for their customers (Solomon, 2017). Due to the difficulty of finding a parking space, customers are unwilling to enter Plymouth businesses, therefore, reducing the company’s daily revenue. The government’s response to market failure and its positive externalities would economically benefit the city of Plymouth.

The creation of bike lanes yields economic benefits that spill over to third parties such as real estate developers. The real estate market is an oligopoly which means there a few large sized sellers with differentiated styles of apartments at competing prices. For instance, City Club Apartments in downtown Minneapolis is an affordable apartment complex designed to attract and “meet the budgets of recent college grads, particularly those without cars” (Johnson, 2018). The presence of bike lanes in Plymouth would make the city more living-desirable for people that use the bicycle as their main mode of transportation and therefore increase the demand for housing. According to Mike Benedict, the general contractor for the City Club Apartment project, “As many as 175 construction workers will be on the site daily” (Benedict qtd. Johnson, 2018). Not only will the high rises attract more workers and consumers to the city, therefore, increasing economic growth, new job opportunities for construction workers to build the apartments will be more readily available. There is a potential economic benefit for Plymouth due to the positive externalities generated by bike lanes.

Scarcity and market failure help analyze the economic costs and benefits of bike lanes. Bike lanes narrow the road which makes accidents between cars and bikes more likely. However, using advertisement by the government, an increased awareness of the positive externalities by bike lanes for housing developers will stimulate economic growth. Therefore, after a detailed social and economic analysis and weighing the costs and benefits on each side, creating bike lanes in Plymouth will be valuable for the current and future residents.

Policy Recommendation

After analyzing both social and economic perspectives of creating bike lanes in Plymouth, the Plymouth City Council should pass an infrastructure bill to provide funding for the creation of bike lanes. A study about potential bike lane infrastructure published in the Journal of Public Health found that 88.7% agreed that a non-painted 8-ft bike lane with 3 ft buffer and reflective post son a non-major roadway is adequate for bikers to travel safely with conflict with a vehicle (Coughenour, Paz, de la Fuente-Mella, Singh, 2016). The presence of protected bike lanes encourages more residents to feel safer using active transportation resulting in many health and environmental benefits. In addition, bikeways attract more workers and consumers to the city stimulating economic growth. For current and future Plymouth residents to benefit from bike lanes, they first must have a budget allocated to their construction in the Plymouth Capital Improvement Program.

There are a few necessary actions that need to take place to build bikeways in Plymouth from agenda setting to policy implementation and evaluation. First, Plymouth’s Public Works Department must work closely with its community members to determine the optimal streets to build them on. Then, a portion of Plymouth’s Capital Improvement Program budget must be allocated to their construction. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition states that one mile of a fully realized, basic protected bikeway costs $445,000 to construct (San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, 2014). The next step is to figure out the construction logistics and hire workers to build the lanes. Finally, bicycle education programs and safety guidelines should be publicly accessible to teach Plymouth residents how to use the bike network effectively. These steps must be completed to move this from idea to policy. Because of the small attention towards bike lanes it is unlikely this policy will be adopted in the next few years.

The likelihood of implementing protected bike lanes in the next ten years is low. According to the transportation chapter of the 2040 Plymouth Comprehensive Plan, which is scheduled for adoption by the end of 2018, “When road construction projects or significant citizen interest arises, the City will evaluate proposed routes on a case-by-case basis to determine the feasibility of implementing an on-road facility” (City of Plymouth Planning Division, 2018). This means that City Planning has discussed the addition of bike lanes to the community but foresees their existence in the distant future. Because Plymouth residents have a low demand for bike lanes, current funding and road maintenance priority is being allocated towards other projects. Since bike lanes are an unpopular opinion, creating them may bring about backlash.

The initial creation of bike lanes may cause spark negative reactions, but there are a few solutions to prepare for the backlash. To begin, the city can take a structural functionalist approach and introduce protected bikeways incrementally. Another solution is to form temporary lanes using paint and plastic poles to form a barrier between cyclists and cars. Arrian Marshall, a writer for Wired states, “Laying down temporary infrastructure before ginning up anything permanent also provides an opportunity to convince skeptics about the upsides of bike travel” (Marshall, 2016). This will allow time for the city to study their effectiveness and for residents to adjust to their pretense before making the changes permanent. Based on the evidence gathered through this in-depth analysis of building bike lanes in Plymouth, it would be most beneficial to adopt a policy to provide funding for their creation.

In conclusion, it is apparent that the city of Plymouth has the potential to socially and economically benefit from constructing bike lanes. Community members would have the opportunity to have a healthier lifestyle due the accessibility of safe active transportation. Bicycle infrastructure also increases the demand for housing because it makes the city living-desirable. Dorian Grilley, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Bicycle Alliance believes that, “Bicycling needs to be a bigger part of the solution to society’s most complex problems. Whether its public health or the environment or community quality of life issues” (D. Grilley, personal communication, March 9, 2018). By passing an infrastructure bill to provide funding for the creation of bike lanes, the Plymouth community will begin to solve a multitude of other social problems one bicycle ride at a time.

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