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Counting Biking Counts

Good planning requires knowing something about who you are planning for. An accurate understanding of bicycling in the U.S. is necessary to build proper accomodation, show support and interest in bicycling, track growth, measure safety, and calulate health and air quality benefits. (Counts matter: San Jose has been able to use their 2008 bike data to secure $1,377,000 in grant funding for new projects.)

 Unfortunately, good data on bicycling and walking levels are hard to come by.  Even the best national measures have limitations. The National Household Travel Survey cannot be reliably broken down to the local level – though it does tell us that the length of the average bicycle trip is about two miles. The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) asks only about journeys to work and counts only some bike commuters – it misses bike-to-work trips by people who mostly use other modes or split the trip with transit. Some communities have relied on deceminal census data for their bike planning, which combines the methodological shortcomings of the ACS with nearly decade-old numbers. With the growth we’ve seen in bicycling and bike commuting, that is like relying on a elementary school transcripts to determine college admissions.

One west-bound male with helmet

One indomitable west-bound male, with helmet

To make up for this, many communities do their own counts, often calling on volunteers for help. In appreciation for all of the bike counts that provide research data (Portland, LA, San Fransico, Pilladelphia, New York City,) I decided to volunteer for the bike count in nearby Arlington, VA. What better way to wind down from the National Bike Summit?

This Saturday’s count was rescheduled from the Snowmageddon weekend, but the change in date didn’t ensure pleasant weather. The cold rain kept all but the most dedicated away. For those of you familiar with the DC area, I was camped out on a stretch of Four Mile Run at 27th Road for two hours. Fortunately, I was able to duck under an overpass.

Despite the nasty weather (and disappointing counts), it felt good help add to the greater bike-count body of knowledge. In order to make sure that disparate counts happening in communities all over the country can truly add to our knowledge of bicycling levels, Alta Panning + Design and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) launched the National Bicycle & Pedestrian Documentation Project. They have guidelines to standardize the various counts in an attempt to make them comparable.

Check out their website for information on Bike-Pedestrian Counting Equipment 101, Adjustment Factors, Counts Training, Survey Training, and Facts and FAQs.

East-bound male with helmet

An equally dedicated east-bound male, with helmet

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