If you know me, then you know I have a passion for saving lives on our roadways and building strong, resilient infrastructure that can serve the needs of all citizens, which is why my interest was piqued when I heard about Bicyclist & Pedestrian Counts, which is part of a larger program, right here in my hometown of Columbia, S.C.
To start, let me share with you a little bit of background about this program. The city of Columbia had an objective to study and plan for the movement of bicyclists and pedestrians as part of the Walk Bike Columbia Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan planning process. Starting in 2014, a comprehensive study of existing city programs and multimodal infrastructure, traffic safety data, and demographic data was conducted to develop the recommendations set forth in the plan.
To gather this data, the Planning Division routinely conducts pedestrian and bicyclist counts throughout Columbia, with the help of staff and volunteers. This ultimately helps drive decisionmaking for the DOT (department of transportation) and the city. The information helps the city of Columbia to become aware of safety concerns that already exist and infrastructure changes that need to be made. With the data, the city is additionally able to do reports annually and use those reports when having conversations with the DOT.
While vehicular traffic counts are generally conducted at routine intervals by transportation agencies (both local and state), these standardized counts do not provide data related to the behavior and modal choices of the most vulnerable users—pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and persons with disabilities. As roadway design is often data-driven, the lack of this type of data can lead to the design of inadequate or contextually inappropriate infrastructure.
Leigh DeForth, comprehensive planner, City of Columbia, S.C., says “If you were just looking at the vehicular data, you might say ‘well we need to change the light timing,’ but if you are there and viewing the pedestrians and see that need, then you have a more complete picture.”
It’s more than seeing, it is believing. It’s about understanding the pace at which even the most vulnerable are crossing the intersection or even considering other types of information that might lead to a distraction at a given intersection.
The city has targeted areas that it knows are either safety concerns, are about to change, or have high volumes. The counts happen in 34 different locations.
“We count on weekdays, Tuesday through Thursday morning, from 7:30-9:30 am, and then we count on Saturdays from 10-12,” says DeForth. “The reason we do this two-hour window is we can use those two-hour windows to make approximations for the daily use. And we also know on Saturdays, or weekends in general, people are going to be more recreation-driven so 10-12 makes more sense whereas when we count from 7:30-9:30 we are really looking at the commuter mode so folks who are walking or biking to work or riding transit to work that we are accounting for those.”
The counts often happen in the spring and the fall. The counts are currently taking place this spring—having started this past Saturday, March 25, and they will continue through April 8. If you would like to volunteer to count, visit the website.
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