City planners track cyclists and pedestrians

Recent paper from USA today indicates estimation of cyclists increase based on assumption, but city planners develop more and more counting. "Without those numbers, you're leaning on intuition and assumption, which don't carry a lot of weight when you're deciding budgets in a recession," Norvell says. "The way we change concrete and asphalt is to start counting people."

Information is always essential to decide, to justify choice, to optimise. We can imagine in near future our Personnal Travel Assistant will propose best transport solution but also will track our mobility while protecting our personnal information. We will be able to learn links between our mobility and external factors such as day of the week, weather, congestion, accident … and then we will be able to forecast main mobility choice, optimise road repartition, adapt massive transportation solutions.

According to the most recent U.S. Census figures, the number of adults who bicycled to work in 2008 was 786,098, up 26% from 2006. That number continues to grow, says Wiley Norvell, spokesman for the New York City-based Transportation Alternatives advocacy group.

"It has just exploded," Norvell says.

Mindful of that growth, transportation planners in states and municipalities across the USA are increasingly deploying high-tech sensors along bicycle and pedestrian paths to map trail, sidewalk and bike-lane use and assess future needs.

FULL COVERAGE: Census 2010

Planners have long collected data about the number of vehicles on major roads by placing rubber-strip counters across travel lanes, but those counters are generally unable to detect passing cyclists, says David Patton, a bicycle and pedestrian planner for Arlington County, Va.

Some of the new counters, which can cost $500-$8,000, are triggered by the weight of passing trail users, while others rely on heat emitted by their bodies or bounce radar off them, Patton says. He says recent advances in technology have made the counters more affordable, which means more communities are buying them to supplement labor-intensive tallies conducted by human volunteers.

"You build a Walmart and we can tell you how many car trips it will generate, on which roads, and at which times of day," Norvell says. "We know next to nothing about how and where people bike and walk in this country."

Transportation Alternatives recently estimated that 201,000 people bike daily in New York City. City-conducted sample counts showed a 26% increase in bike ridership from 2008 to 2009, Norvell says. He says other large cities are seeing — and counting — similar increases.

The increased use of high-tech sensors supplements a push for expanded counts by the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project, which this September is overseeing censuses in about 150 cities, including Kansas City, San Francisco and New York City, Michael Jones says.

Jones, a planner and principal with the Portland, Ore.-based Alta Planning and Design, says he founded the count in 2004 after growing frustrated by the lack of consistently collected pedestrian and bicycle use data. He says about 10 groups conducted counts that first year.

Under the project's census, trained volunteers record the direction of each passing biker and pedestrian for two hours each on a weekday and weekend day in multiple locations, and then use around-the-clock tallies from automated devices placed on other nearby trails and roads to account for seasonal and daily weather variations, Jones says. He says it's easy to find volunteers to monitor riders on sunny days, but hard to find people willing to stand in the rain at night, even though cyclists are still out.

"It's a great relief to have robots out there counting … rain or shine," Patton says

Betsy Jacobsen, a transportation planner with the Colorado Department of Transportation, says planners believe riders and walkers represent a "significant" number of commuters daily regardless of weather conditions, but need the data to track whether adding bike lanes and paths, for instance, encourages more people to ride.

Colorado has installed two of the high-tech counters and is preparing to buy more, she says, in part because the federal Department of Transportation is requiring the data collection.

In March, federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared "the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized" and urged state and local planners to better accommodate and track pedestrians and riders.




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