Bicycle data: Filling the gaps

By Chris McCahill

A decade’s worth of data now shows bicycle commuting and trip-making continuing to rise around the nation. A recent report from the U.S. Census—the first report of its kind—reveals that the number of people biking to work has increased by 60 percent since 2000, more than any other mode. In California, the percent of all trips made by bike roughly doubled. And yet, by most measures, funding and infrastructure for bicycles have not kept pace. Neither have data collection and analysis. Recognizing the problems associated with missing data, transportation, researchers, and independent enthusiasts are all stepping up to fill that gap.

As previously reported, the Colorado DOT and researchers from the University of Colorado-Denver have tested and put in place an advanced approach for estimating statewide bicycle traffic volumes. The District of Columbia has also begun augmenting census data with manual bicycle counts and will soon be using automated counters as well. However, transportation agencies aren’t alone in coming up with new ways of collecting and using data or addressing unanswered questions about how bicyclists travel.

A recent report produced by Portland State University for the National Institute for Transportation and Communities looked at the appeal, comfort, and performance of new protected bike lanes in five cities throughout the U.S. These separated bicycle facilities have cropped up in a handful of cities, but many transportation agencies have been reluctant to implement them. Based on video analysis, surveys, and traffic counts, the PSU study found that protected bike lanes overwhelmingly attract more riders, are perceived as safe and comfortable for cyclists, and—despite being fairly new—seem to have low numbers of collisions and conflicts.

Studies like those above should help improve the delivery and acceptance of bicycle projects, but there are still many more opportunities yet to be explored. A recent Bike Hack Night in Arlington, Virginia, highlighted some of those emerging possibilities. Among them were bicycle ‘heat maps’ derived from cell phone application data, using open data provided by Arlington County and bicycle share companies, visualizing bike volumes, thefts, and crashes, and mapping bicycle routes using OpenStreetMap.

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.