Does your community know how many people ride a bicycle, or to where, or for what purpose? Until very recently, no consistent methodology existed for performing bicycle traffic counts.

An answer to this need for data is the National Bicycle & Pedestrian Documentation Projectco-sponsored by Alta Planning and Design and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Pedestrian and Bicycle Council. This nationwide effort provides consistent model of data collection and ongoing data for use by planners, governments, and bicycle and pedestrian professionals. The Bicycle & Pedestrian Information Center also maintains a page about counting and estimating nonmotorized travel.

Automated Counters and Apps

Automated Bike Counter
An automated bicycle counter. Source: Florida Department of Transportation.

Smart phone apps are also being used to map and measure bicycle travel. The Cycle Atlanta app uses phones’ GPS to record routes in real-time, allowing the City of Atlanta to know which routes cyclists prefer. The app will also allow users to report problems along their route such as potholes, obstructed bike lanes, etc.

On a larger scale, STRAVA offers a Global Heat Map. A CityLab article examined how “125 organizations around the world, including the departments of transportation in Colorado, Utah, Texas, Florida, New Hampshire, and Vermont” are using STRAVA. However, the article also points out some significant problems with the data:

Because this data is coming from a social network for athletes, which would tend to attract wealthier, tech savvy folks, there are some glaring holes in the map. Large low-income neighborhoods, like South L.A., Chicago’s South Side, or the Bronx—to say nothing of countless non-urban areas—have far fewer data points than wealthier neighborhoods.

Manual Counts and Surveys

Manual Bike Count
Volunteers in Savannah stand on street corners and manually count the number of people on bikes who pass through selected intersections.

In Savannah, bicycle and pedestrian counts are done the old fashioned way through a cooperative effort between Bike Walk Savannah and the Coastal Region Metropolitan Planning Organization. The counts are conducted by volunteers who measure bicycle and pedestrian traffic at locations around the city. Additional counts are undertaken by watching footage of traffic cameras. While these counts are conducted manually, automated bike counters are also being used in other communities.

Surveys can be used to collect even more information from people who ride bikes, including economic impact, demographic information, and other data that can be useful in advocating for more bicycle facilities or improvements to existing infrastructure. Surveys can take the form of “intercept surveys,” which involve interviewers stopping cyclists and asking questions, along with drop box and mail-in surveys. The Rails to Trails Conservancy offers guidance on trail user surveys.