Friday, August 21, 2015

A giant leap for bicycle and pedestrian planning

The kids are heading back to school. For many of us, that signals the end of summer, but – despite homework and busy back-to-school schedules – it’s really not. In fact, this time of the year often provides the nicest weather to get out and be active. As I write this, we’re socked in with smoke from wildfires, but that will soon pass and we’ll be able to enjoy the warm, sunny days that are late summer and fall in the Treasure Valley. If you get outside, you know that on those sunny days, every mile – every foot – of the greenbelt and other pathways seems to be in constant use.

While it is great to see so many people using our pathways, we don’t know a lot about how they are being used. How many people are biking and walking? What routes do they use? Where are they going? Are they biking to work? Running for exercise? Walking the dog? Are people using the pathways every day, rain or shine, or just on sunny weekends?

COMPASS has recently purchased a set of 12 permanent bicycle/pedestrian counters to help us answer some of these questions. The counters will be able to tell us how many people are using Treasure Valley pathways, as well as how and when they are using them.

The permanent bicycle/pedestrian counters, the first of their kind in Idaho, are being installed over the next few weeks. The locations for the counters were chosen with the help of a 40-member Active Transportation Workgroup. The counters will be spread throughout the valley on or near dedicated biking and/or walking paths to gather information from diverse areas, including both large and small communities. Check out the map to see if there will be a counter along your favorite bike or walking route (click to enlarge).

While the permanent counters will focus on dedicated biking and walking paths, we have not forgotten about bike lanes, roads, and intersections. To capture data from those, COMPASS has purchased portable bicycle/pedestrian counters. These portable counters can be used to capture a lot of information about a small area, then be moved to do the same in a different area. When several portable counters are used together, we will be able to measure all the bicycle and pedestrian movements at an entire intersection at one time, which will provide valuable information.

The data collected will be used to help inform bicycle and pedestrian planning in the Treasure Valley. COMPASS will use the data as we develop a Regional Bicycle/Pedestrian Plan for Ada and Canyon Counties and our member agencies can use the data for their local plans. The portable counters will allow COMPASS to assist members by collecting data from specific locations to assist with specific local planning efforts.

These data will fill a gap in what we know about bicycle and pedestrian use. We currently have a method to examine the “supply” side of bicycle and pedestrian facilities – we can map exiting facilities, such as bike lanes and sidewalks, and measure the characteristics that make them more or less appealing for biking and walking.

This new data will help us examine the “demand” side of the equation. Are people using the existing sidewalks, bike lanes, and bike paths? Are they using other routes that we haven’t anticipated?

We will soon be able to look at the two types of data together to see where we have gaps and where we should plan for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in the future. The permanent counters will also help us to track trends over time, to see if and how the numbers of users change by time of day, day of week, and month of year.

This is an exciting step forward for COMPASS and for the region. We have a lot of anecdotal information on bicycle and pedestrian use that we will soon be able to confirm – or deny – with this new data. While each bicyclist or pedestrian we count may just be taking one small step, these new counters are a giant leap forward in bicycle and pedestrian planning for our region.

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Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.