Invest in automated bicycle-pedestrian counters to both save time over doing manual counts and provide the ability to track continuous data over longer periods of time.
Experiences from a nationwide FHWA Bicycle-Pedestrian Count Technology Pilot Project, including identifying count locations, researching count technology, installing the technology, and uploading and analyzing the data.
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United States

FHWA Bicycle-Pedestrian Count Technology Pilot Project


In May 2015, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) initiated a one-year Bicycle-Pedestrian Count Technology Pilot Project. The purpose of the pilot project was to increase the organizational and technical capacity of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to establish and operate effective bicycle and pedestrian count programs, and to provide lessons learned for peer agencies across the country.

For the pilot, FHWA selected 10 MPOs with populations of at least one million people that did not have a formal bicycle-pedestrian count program in place. MPOs were awarded $20,000 each to purchase and install bicycle and pedestrian counting equipment, to gather baseline count data, and to consider how these data may be used to support multimodal planning and project development.

MPOs participating in the Pilot Count Project included:
  • Buffalo, New York
  • Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Fresno, California
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Palm Beach County, Florida
  • Providence, Rhode Island
  • Memphis, Tennessee
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Richmond, Virginia
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico

Lessons Learned

Throughout the course of the pilot, participating MPOs were able to establish baseline automated count programs, demonstrating that count programs can be initiated with a relatively small amount of funding over a short amount of time. The successes and challenges each MPO experienced with the pilot offers lessons learned for the MPOs going forward, as well as peer agencies.

Key takeaways included:

  • Involve partners in all steps of establishing and running a count program
    Selecting Count Locations: MPOs noted that careful planning is necessary for site selection. In particular, it is important to pay attention to whether there are suitable places (i.e. poles) to install counters. Working with regional partners that have previously completed counts helps with site selection. Partners include other city agencies such as parks and recreation departments, other MPOs, and bicycle-pedestrian advocacy groups that had completed past counts. Furthermore, allowing the jurisdictions within the MPO to select sites was beneficial as these local staff have a more detailed understanding of conditions at count location.
    Selecting Count Technology, Procurement, and Installation: In addition to working with regional partners that have completed counts, involving local agencies with technical expertise facilitates the installation process.
    Collecting and Using Data: MPOs that shared access to the data with the various cities and counties that make up the MPO were able to collaborate more effectively to use the data towards future planning. For example, local university students and other academics can assist with a more detailed analysis of the data.
  • Ensure sufficient time and resources are allocated for selecting, procuring, and installing counters
    MPOs reported that they faced challenges with procurement and installation due to lack of staff time, lack of prior experience with count programs, and administrative barriers to procurement. Indianapolis MPO recommends agencies be sure to allocate sufficient staff time for both installation as well as administrative tasks such as accounting setup. Although they were expecting to have a single technician install the counters, in practice a team of two was necessary. Other MPOs discussed the difficulty of having to train not only project and operations staff, but also administrative and procurement staff.

    Agencies that devoted more effort up-front to researching technologies and selecting count locations were better prepared to respond to challenges of installing and deploying counters. Some MPOs faced challenges with installation, including inability to install due to inclement weather and difficulties diverting road traffic during installation. MPOs that involved local traffic engineers had the most success with installation of their counters.

    Some MPOs also noted that purchasing bicycle and pedestrian counters from the same manufacturer offers the benefit of only working with a single company instead of multiple companies, particularly in collecting and analyzing data in a single database. However, others decided to use multiple different manufacturers after considering relative costs and the technological capabilities desired for their particular count program.

  • Consider best count technology for short-term counts vs. long-term counts
    Most MPOs conducted short-term baseline counts, and rotated counters to various locations throughout the pilot. For short term counts, portability and ease of installation are important as counters are moved and installed at multiple locations.

    MPOs highlighted use of passive infrared (IR) devices housed in boxes and pneumatic tube counters for portability and ease of installation for pedestrian and bicycle counts. Pneumatic tubes can be easily damaged, however, as they are installed on the pavement surface. The Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council (GBNRTC) opted to use pavement embedded sensors, a similar system used for their vehicle counts, which are more suitable for long-term bicycle counts as they are installed permanently.

  • Validate automatic count data with manual spot checks
    Data accuracy is a challenge for automated systems, and cross-checking data can be useful to understand the average margin of error. Data collected with automated counters can be cross-checked with manual counts, and also verified with video footage if available.

    MPOs adjusted in response to data accuracy concerns by repositioning counters or analyzing data to understand reasons for error. Several MPOs noted that in general the positioning of some of the counters was important to ensure that vehicles were not counted. Palm Beach MPO took an advanced approach by grouping count location types to extrapolate short-term counts for longer periods of time, which helps identify trends across different locations.

FHWA Bicycle-Pedestrian Count Technology Pilot Project

FHWA Bicycle-Pedestrian Count Technology Pilot Project
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Baas, Jessica; Rachel Galton; and Anna Biton
U.S. DOT, Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, Transportation Planning Division

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