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Pedestrian and Bicycle Data Collection

Quantifying Use, Surveying Users, and Documenting Facility Extent in United States Communities

Download full document "Pedestrian and Bicycle Data Collection in United States Communities" (pdf 5.4 mb)

From Federal Highway Administration, Office of Natural and Human Environment:

INTRODUCTION

Communities throughout the United States are implementing projects and programs to integrate pedestrian and bicycle travel into the transportation system. Under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), Federal Aid Highway Program funding for pedestrian and bicycle facilities and programs increased from $17.1 in million in FY 1991 to $422.7 million in FY 2003 (1). Greater funding has contributed to an increase in shared-use pathways, paved shoulders, bike lanes, sidewalks, and safer roadway crossings in many parts of the United States.

As pedestrian and bicycle transportation systems are improved, many communities have begun to ask questions about the use and extent of pedestrian and bicycle facilities:

  • Where is pedestrian and bicycle activity taking place?
  • What effect does facility construction have on levels of bicycling and walking?
  • What are the demographic characteristics of non-motorized transportation users?
  • How many pedestrian and bicycle facilities are available?
  • Where are existing pedestrian and bicycle facilities?
  • What is the quality of pedestrian and bicycle facilities?
  • Where are pedestrian and bicycle crashes occurring?

This study was conducted to help practitioners determine the most accurate and efficient way to answer these questions in their own communities. It provides information such as methods and optimum timing for pedestrian and bicycle data collection; emerging technologies that can be used to gather and analyze data; and benefits, limitations, and costs of different techniques.

STUDY PURPOSE

Data on the use and extent of pedestrian and bicycle facilities have been collected by a number of local, regional, and state agencies. Information from these communities can begin to identify trends, increase national understanding about how and why communities collect pedestrian and bicycle data, and provide input for refining national data collection efforts. The purpose of this study is to share information about existing data collection efforts and provide the results to practitioners who want to collect pedestrian and bicycle data in their communities. It should be collected by the localities.

A case study approach was chosen to profile and evaluate different types of data collection efforts so that their successes (and lessons learned) could be shared with other communities. This report provides in-depth information about 29 different data collection efforts from local, regional, and state agencies in all parts of the United States. The 29 case studies show that agencies are:

1) counting users on non-motorized facilities;
2) gathering information about people using non-motorized modes of transportation;
3) recording locations of existing non-motorized facilities and identifying where
improvements are needed; and
4) documenting changes in the amount of use, characteristics of users, extent of facilities, and crash rates over time.

NATIONAL DATA SOURCES

Although the purpose of the present study is to present local case studies, there are a number of national sources of data on bicycling and walking that should be discussed. Several Federal agencies gather pedestrian and bicycle data that can be useful for communities. Federal data sources include the U.S. Census (updated every 10 years) (2), National Household Transportation Survey (NHTS) (updated every five to seven years) (3), and the Omnibus Household Survey (4). A National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors was implemented in 2002 (5).
Data from the NHTS, Omnibus Household Survey, and the Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors provide useful national information about the total number of trips, trip purposes, trip lengths, and opinions about pedestrian and bicycle travel. However, these data are generally not applicable at the local level (though the NHTS provides data for some metropolitan regions).

The Census provides pedestrian and bicycle commuting data for localized census block groups. However, Census data include only regular commuters—people making trips for non-work purposes, occasional pedestrian and bicycle commuters, and people who walk or bike for a portion of their commute are not considered.

There are several other sources of national pedestrian and bicycle data available from non-profit organizations. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy maintains a TrailLink database, which provides the location, activities, and length of many of the country’s major shared-use pathways (6). A database of all programmed transportation enhancements projects is updated annually by the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse (7). The Coalition for Recreational Trails maintains a database of State trail projects that have received funding from the federal Recreational Trails Program (8). All three databases are online and searchable, but include only major facilities.

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

The 29 case study communities provided many insights into the current state of pedestrian and bicycle data collection in the United States. These findings are summarized below.

1. Many communities followed similar data collection processes, which included:

  • Identifying the need for collecting data
  • Planning the data collection process
  • Collecting data
  • Storing data
  • Analyzing data
  • Creating reports, including the results in plans and studies, and sharing the data with other staff, elected officials, granting agencies, and the public

2. Local representatives often cited a clear political purpose for their data collection projects to justify spending public resources on pedestrian and bicycle facilities. Communities have begun to see the value in tracking use over time to justify continued spending, particularly given budget constraints.

3. Communities have identified other benefits to collecting pedestrian and bicycle data. These include:

  • Documenting changes in pedestrian and bicycle activity, safety, and facilities over time
  • Determining peak hour and seasonal adjustment factors that can be used to estimate pedestrian and bicycle volumes
  • Identifying locations for pedestrian and bicycle facility improvements
  • Using data in pedestrian and bicycle planning documents
  • Integrating non-motorized modes into multi-modal transportation models and analyses

4. Despite the benefits, the following reasons are often given for not collecting non-motorized data:

  • The agency has a limited budget and staff resources for collecting data
  • Departments charged with collecting data for the entire agency do not see pedestrians and bicycles as an important part of the transportation mix
  • Data collection results could show too few pedestrians and bicyclists using facilities to justify spending on them

5. State, regional, and local agencies that collect pedestrian and bicycle data tailor their methodologies to meet the unique needs of their community. Therefore, there is no single best method of collecting use or facility data, rather a variety of different methods have evolved over time, based on the nature of local needs.

6. Many communities have found creative ways to reduce the cost of collecting bicycle and pedestrian data, such as incorporating automated technologies, using volunteer labor, and integrating non-motorized data into existing motor vehicle data collection programs.

7. There are some misconceptions about the cost of data collection for pedestrian and bicycle modes. For example, some automated counting technologies cost far less than practitioners expected, while some surveys and inventories required much more staff time than was expected.

8. Emerging technologies have improved the ability of agencies to collect data efficiently, but each technology was shown to have particular strengths and weaknesses.

9. As is the case for other modes of transportation, GIS (Geographic Information Systems) has had a tremendous impact on pedestrian and bicycle data collection methods. For example, GIS has made it possible to analyze spatial distributions and identify concentrations of pedestrian crashes in Miami-Dade County, FL.

10. Coordination between pedestrian and bicycle staff and data collection departments is critical. When staff members who do not normally work on pedestrian and bicycle transportation issues assist with data collection, analysis, or dissemination, it is critical that they understand the overall purpose of the data collection project.

11. Communities experienced varying levels of success in disseminating data. Many data collection projects are done by agency staff. It has been a challenge to find resources to formalize results and make them available publicly.

12. The localities collected pedestrian and bicycle use, survey, and facility data either on a one-time basis to answer a specific question or on a recurring basis to determine changes in trends over time.

13. Data collection that is repeated over time has been used to benchmark progress in building a pedestrian or bicycle system. Institutionalized data collection programs also produce data at regular intervals so they are available to agency staff, elected officials, and the public when a relevant issue about non-motorized use or facilities is raised.

CONCLUSION

The information in this report is a useful guide for practitioners who are interested in developing or improving a pedestrian and bicycle program in their own community. Many communities throughout the United States are collecting data on pedestrian and bicycle use and facilities. Data collection results have provided valuable information to practitioners and agencies, and have also helped secure public support for pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

REFERENCES

Authors: Schneider, Robert; Patton, Robert; Toole, Jennifer (Toole Design Group); Raborn, Craig
Performing Organization:
Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Highway Safety Research Center, 730 Airport Rd, CB #3430, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3430

Download full document "Pedestrian and Bicycle Data Collection in United States Communities" (pdf 5.4 mb)

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