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 automated counters. To understand changes in bicycling and walking over time, it is essential to install permanent automated counters. Since permanent counters can’t be installed everywhere, short duration counts using automated equipment and/or collected manually can tell us how bicycling and walking varies spatially over a network. In this way, permanent and short duration counts work together to describe how bicycle and pedestrian travel varies over time and space throughout a network.

For a comprehensive introduction to non-motorized counting, check out the Guidebook on Pedestrian and Bicycle Volume Data Collection (NCHRP Report 797). Chapter 4 of the 2016 edition of the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA's) Traffic Monitoring Guide (TMG) includes a review of existing techniques and guidance for implementing traffic monitoring programs for nonmotorized transportation. For information on pedestrian monitoring specifically, FHWA offers a guide on Exploring Pedestrian Counting Procedures.

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.

Count Resources for Communities

Communities interested in learning more about conducting their own pedestrian and bicycle counts can access resources on this page. This information was prepared for communities participating in a pilot count program, and can be useful as a step-by-step resource for establishing programs and using count data.

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.

Automated 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).

Counting walking and cycling using automated equipment is challenging because 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 Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), uses permanent and short duration automated counters to collect bicycle and pedestrian volumes at a variety of locations. The region has developed an integrated publicly available database to store, analyze, and share results from the counting program. DVRPC is also using day-of-year seasonal adjustment factors from permanent counters to estimate annual average daily bicycle and pedestrian traffic at week-long count sites..

Data Formats

FHWA willwelcome bicycle and pedestrian counts into its Travel Monitoring and Analysis System (TMAS), a database of primarily motor-vehicle travel data. To add data to TMAS, jurisdictions will need to format the data as outlined in the 2016 TMG Sections 7.9 and 7.10. The guide, Coding Nonmotorized Station Location Information in the 2016 Traffic Monitoring Guide Format, offers detailed assistance and explanation for how to do this.