A count program can help "make the case" for more/enhanced walking amenities and can help prioritize improvements. Reliable count data is necessary for measuring trends in facility use and for putting crash data in context. Collecting counts might also be an opportunity to note pedestrian and bicyclist behavior (e.g. the age of users, crossing behavior, etc.). Counts can be collected manually or through the use of automatic counters.
For a comprehensive introduction to non-motorized counting, check out the Guidebook on Pedestrian and Bicycle Volume Data Collection (NCHRP Report 797).
Low counts should not be used as a justification for not providing facilities or safety improvements at certain locations or along a corridor. People on foot or bike may need to access a destination, but roadway conditions could be so intimidating that few people attempt the trip.
Manual Count Programs
This type of count is taken by field data collectors who stand in pre-determined locations and use a standardized form. Pedestrian and bicycle counts can be collected on their own, or along with existing motor vehicle counts. These field observations are labor-intensive, but can provide more complex information than automated counting methods. Counts can be conducted along roadways segments, on trails, or at intersections.
The National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project was the first standardized protocol for bicycle and pedestrian data collection. Coordinated count dates allow for the comparison of some counting locations or cities, but agencies are also free to use the methodology, count forms, and intercept surveys to start their own count programs. Some communities have institutionalized their count programs by partnering with advocacy groups or downtown business associations and enlisting the help of volunteers.
Seattle, Washington, has been collecting pedestrian counts biannually since 2006. The Metropolitan Improvement District collects data during the peak summer and winter periods and analyzes it for seasonal and time of day impacts on walking volumes.
Automatic Count Programs
The purpose and duration of data collection are essential pieces of information for determining the appropriate technology. Inductive loops and pneumatic tubes are common practice for counting bicyclists. Pneumatic tubes are best for short-term counts, while inductive loops should be used for long-term counts since they are installed in the pavement. Active or passive infrared sensors are common practice for counting pedestrians (they also may collect combined counts of bicyclists and pedestrians).
Challenges for automatically counting nonmotorized users include the fact that pedestrians and bicyclists are less confined to paths of travel than motor vehicles and that they often travel in closely spaced groups. Agencies can overcome these challenges by carefully calibrating their technology or developing adjustment factors for count data.
The 2013 edition for FHWA’s Traffic Monitoring Guide (TMG) includes a review of existing techniques and guidance for implementing traffic monitoring programs for nonmotorized transportation.
Arlington County, Virginia, uses automated counters to collect bicycle and pedestrian volumes at a variety of locations and the municipality is developing an integrated database to store, analyze, and share results from the counting program, which also includes seasonal manual counts.