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Assessing the Feasibility of a Pedestrian and Bicycle Count Program in Virginia
Hannah E. MacKnight
Lance E. Dougald
Lance E. Dougald
Peter B. Ohlms
Peter B. Ohlms
Year: 2018
VTRC No.: 19-R4
Abstract: In recent years, there has been a paradigm shift within transportation agencies to account for and incorporate nonmotorized travel in business and strategic highway safety plans. Several federal initiatives have been developed to encourage the creation of safer, more comfortable, and more connected bicycling and walking environments. In addition, local and regional agencies have established data collection programs of varying scopes and with varying methods. Some local governments and other organizations have implemented automatic counting equipment that provides short-duration or continuous count data. With some exceptions in urban areas and on major off-street trails, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has not typically collected or made use of these data, which vary in terms of quality and availability.

Based on discussions with staff of VDOT’s Transportation and Mobility Planning Division and Traffic Engineering Division, no formal approach or program had been established to collect or incorporate count data for bicycle and pedestrian modes throughout Virginia, thus making it difficult to plan projects, prioritize improvements, and justify investments. The purpose of this study was to identify ways to plan and implement a nonmotorized count program in Virginia including an understanding of whom such a program would serve and how frequently data would need to be collected and for what purposes.

The study tasks included (1) reviewing existing national-level guidance and examples from other state departments of transportation to determine effective ways to implement bicycle and pedestrian counting programs; (2) obtaining Virginia-specific information from localities and organizations including data collection locations and methods; and (3) developing a framework for VDOT to initiate a pilot count program in Virginia.

The study found a large volume of recent research on the topic of nonmotorized travel monitoring; several states were developing count programs and had begun putting their data to use. In Virginia, many localities were interested in some level of pedestrian and bicycle volume data collection, although relatively few already engaged in the practice. To assist with counting efforts, localities in VDOT’s Salem and Northern Virginia districts expressed a high level of interest in partnering with VDOT using partnership models currently employed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation and/or the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The study recommends that VDOT’s Transportation and Mobility Planning Division, with assistance from the Virginia Transportation Research Council, establish a pilot nonmotorized count program in one or more VDOT districts. Recommended program elements include purchasing and installing count equipment; identifying opportunities for training and outreach; and working with VDOT’s Traffic Engineering Division to identify an acceptable data storage mechanism. The study also recommends that the Virginia Transportation Research Council assist in evaluating the pilot program and documenting lessons learned. Providing count data that could be of use to localities and VDOT as described in this report and incrementally expanding VDOT’s capabilities in this area will inform future actions including maximizing the value of efforts (by using compatible data formats and methodologies), simplifying data analysis and use, and facilitating reporting of such data to the federal data repository.