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Volunteers are up for the count of bicycles and pedestrians

For the fourth fall, volunteers are fanning out across town to count how many bicyclists and pedestrians pass by a given location over a two-hour period.

The Twin Cities is one of four places selected for a bike/walk program funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and measuring trends in bicycle and foot traffic is an important part of the project, says Tony Hull of Transit For Livable Communities, the nonprofit group working with local governments on "Bike/Walk Twin Cities." (The other places are less urban: Sheboygan, Wis.; Columbia, Mo.; and Marin County, Calif.)

Counts by humans with clipboards are needed because bikes and pedestrians are too light to trip the rubber strips that planners stretch across roads to count motor-vehicle traffic volume. The data lets transit advocates and city officials factor in all forms of transportation rather than focusing solely on the flow of cars and trucks.

Volunteers get training to ensure accuracy and consistency, then head out to 48 spots where people like to bike and walk. A few locations have seen a doubling or even tripling of bike and pedestrian traffic from 2007 to 2009. Most saw percentage-point increases in the double digits. An observer along a busy route can expect to see several hundred bicycles over two hours of counting.

(This year's count could still use a few good volunteers. If you can help, check out this link.)

By Hull's reckoning, the traffic levels of bikes and pedestrians are increasing at a rate that raises the question, "Do we need more capacity?" Bulking up the infrastructure dedicated to non-motorized traffic, like bike lanes and paths, may be needed, he says. Consider, for example, the Midtown Greenway, which has become so popular it can suffer crowded rush hours and near-traffic jams. In places like that, Hull says, the need for transit "starts getting to the next level."

Source: Tony Hull, Transit for Livable Communities
Writer: Chris Steller
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