source: PBIC Image Library
When planners and engineers begin to assess the benefits of different ways to improve the transport network a primary input in all decisions will be the amount of information on the reasons why the improvement is necessary. The information on traditional traffic modes, of cars, buses, trains, freight vehicles are well documented and we have developed technology which tracks how many vehicles crossed intersections or other points on the network. Information on the two most sustainable modes – walking and biking – is often non-existent or extremely limited.
This post explores what is being done internationally on the concept of counting bicycle trips. Subsequent posts will explore how that data can be used to begin informing the process of infrastructure investment.
The nature of biking is that it is very flexible and provides quick access requiring about a 1/6 the space of a car to travel along footpaths, shared use paths, cycle tracks, cycleways, roadways, and just about anywhere else save for a stairs. This creates challenges in terms of counting users and understanding their behavior.
These challenges have resulted in a variety of measures being employed to assess the level of bicycle use in communities and around the nation.
At the very highest level of assessment is the national census. Most often countries do this periodically ever few years.
- Pros: The detail can be very helpful to practitioners because of the resolution of the data (often down to a typical city block) level as to how many people use cycle for their trips, where is their primary work destination, and demographic data.
- Cons: When censuses are delayed they can affect the quality of data being used, especially when comparing trends over a long time. Census data is relatively slow to emerge and can become stale as some areas are changing quickly. Some regions do smaller sample census updates which can provide an updated account of the census data.
The most common next level of bicycle count data being collected are short-term counts, often on the municipal or metropolitan level. There are numerous methodologies established, all trying to understand trends, patterns, and create a better snapshot of bicycle user behavior.
A USA demonstration project is underway, http://bikepeddocumentation.org/, which is starting a national (perhaps international) dialogue on short-term bicycle counts. The program is working with universities, organizations and agencies around the country. The National Documentation Project proposes the following objectives (from their site):
- Establish a consistent national bicycle and pedestrian count and survey methodology, building on the ‘best practices’ from around the country, and publicize the availability of this free material for use by agencies and organizations on-line.
- Establish a national database of bicycle and pedestrian count information generated by these consistent methods and practices.
- Use the count and survey information to begin analysis on the correlations between various factors and bicycle and pedestrian activity. These factors may range from land use to demographics to type of new facility.
The program will work with cities and organizations which share their data. The program will collate the data and prepare reports for the partnering organizations.
Most municipalities post their bicycle statistics online, through summary reports, graphics, and presentations. A few of my selected ones include:
- Auckland, New Zealand: manual count data
- Boston, Massachusetts, USA: http://www.cityofboston.gov/bikes/statistics.asp
- Chicago, Illinois, USA: city count program and data
- Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: count programme and data
- New York City, NY, USA: city count program, Boroughs count program
- Portland, Oregon, USA: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/44671
- Seattle, Washington, USA: count program, surveys, data
- Sydney, NSW, Australia: cycle data displayed on a map
- Toronto, Ontario, CA: http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/data/index.htm
The newest and fastest growing component of the cycle count program is emerging from the use of automatic counters. Automatic counters are being deployed primarily in places with a high flow of bicyclists and in locations such as shared use paths which will likely capture the majority of users. The Eco-Counterfrom France has been the most widely used thus far to provide a reliable, electronic means to count cyclists continually.
- Pros: continuous data can provide better understanding of the seasonal trends, the effects of rain, wind, snow, and other inclement weather. Effects of short-term closures and other infrastructure works can be immediately tracked. The on-going costs per hour of observation are negligible, considering the amount of data being collect.
- Cons: capital costs can restrict wide deployment. The fixed observation zone may not detect all users of the facility or can’t prevent people from avoiding being counted. The observation is only a basic count and direction. No user data, helmet, age, or trip purpose data may be ascertained.
The Automatic counters can be used for short-term installations and have the same pros and cons as noted earlier.
Please send me your cities and sources of bicycle data. I will put a separate post online about keeping track of which city is doing what with their data.