Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Cycling’s Demand Generation Problem

Bicycling. It’s neat, right? Those who do it like it.

But how do you convince those who aren’t doing it to do it more? That’s the key demand generation problem facing cycling right now. And it’s a filthy thing, but you need to have facility demand to get funding for facilities, but to get more people cycling, you need facilities.

People wave around the data, like how Minneapolis’ bicycle use went up rapidly when they got $25 million to spend on infrastructure, and other articles citing various cities. In 1993, Minneapolis estimated 3,000 bike commuters; in 2010, they estimated 7,000, per the Minneapolis Bike Account.

There’s one problem, from the perspective of economics: Is the increase in riders really infrastructure encouraging demand, or infrastructure meeting latent demand? There’s a big difference between the two. If programs are merely addressing unmet demand in the market, there is a natural barrier to growth and acceptance in place once that pent-up demand has been met.

Even with amazing data sets, it’s hard to determine if increases in bicycle use are a result of demand being let free, or demand being created. The data isn’t amazing, however. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with meeting unmet market demand, with $25 million to promote it, someone could probably create massive increase in the number of people wearing live puppies as hats. Without broad support, you can’t keep spending money. The total number of cyclists and supporters in Minneapolis remains a minority, as they do on the state and federal level when it comes to funding.

So how does one drive interest and demand? Is it in fact continued infrastructure spending, or are there other approaches? What are they?
Are they cheaper, and thus more sustainable in the near-term, as funding becomes an issue in the current economic climate?

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.


  1. I note that biking went up even before much of the money was spent. Is it possible that it’s not the infrastructure at all, but all the publicity that biking got as a result of the grant?

  2. How about the methodology of the counting? Has that changed or did it change from 07-08? Why doesn’t anyone talk about the major increase from 07-08 followed by years with decreases. Every time someone mentions increases in cycling they use 07 as the low reference.

  3. It’s a little misleading any time we say that infrastructure creates demand. Infrastructure only helps makes bicycling a viable option that people choose for a number of reasons. You don’t create demand with infrastructure, you create demand by changing any number of other policies that influence travel decisions, like urban density, parking policies, and various costs associated with other modes. It’s very telling that the areas in the Twin Cities that have the highest cycling rates are downtown and the U of M, which, not surprisingly, are the two most frustrating and expensive places to park. College students don’t ride bicycles because of infrastructure, they ride because it’s cheaper than driving. Elsewhere in the City, we can increase bike demand through pricing of other modes. Of course, easier said than done.