“The current state of bike/ped counts is way behind where it should be,” said Darren Flusche, policy director at the League of American Bicyclists. “We know a lot about how to count cars but not a lot about how to count bikes.”
So why is it a big deal that data collection on walking and biking is less rigorous than for other modes?
For one, look at the recent traffic fatality findings. While auto deaths have seen a steep decline of late, pedestrian and bike fatalities are up. Is this the result of more pedestrians and bicyclists on the streets, or is something more insidious to blame? With a lack of sound data, experts can only speculate.
"Better measurement tools are especially important because the new transportation bill, MAP-21, emphasizes 'performance measures' in selecting projects for federal funding," notes Schmitt. "Having a weak sense of how many people are actually biking and walking makes it difficult to build a strong, data-based case for increased investment in infrastructure to support those activities."
“We live in a world where our decisions are increasingly based on data,” Flusche said. “If you don’t have good data, you can’t make good decisions.”
Thankfully, reports Schmitt, "[t]he state of bike/ped data may soon improve. For the first time this year, the Federal Highway Administration has issued recommendations for “non-motorized” groups in its Traffic Monitoring Guide [PDF]. States and localities still have to want to collect data — there’s no one forcing them to do it — but this will be the first time that the 'bible' for traffic counts even contemplates cyclists and pedestrians in its guidance."
"The guide sets out to help agencies decide what method is best for their purposes: manual or automatic counters, long or short-term measurement periods, and so on. It also advises transportation professionals about how to interpret the data — which, given the limited information currently available, has been very difficult to do."