D.C. Using Data to Envision Bike Lanes of the Future

November 18, 2014

11:00 am

One bike every 13 seconds. One-hundred fifteen bikes in a 15-minute period. That’s what newly-installed bicycle sensors recorded during a recent evening rush hour on the 15th Street cycle track in Washington, D.C. – a massive number, considering the bike lane itself is just two years old.

Darren Buck, the head of the Washington D.C. Department of Transportation’s bicycle program specialist, which installed the sensors, said they are the first 24-hour, 365-day counting mechanism used by DDOT to measure bike traffic. DDOT conducts manual counts annually at 50 locations throughout the District, but now it will have a dataset large enough to start projecting future usage.

“How many more we would see if we put in the next one?” Buck asked. “We want to be able to say, if you build it, x number of people will come.”

Sensors were installed on the Metropolitan Branch Trail and the Eye Street SW eastbound lane on September 26. The 15th Street cycle track sensors were installed on October 26.  So far, the 15th street cycle track’s busiest day was Tuesday, October 28 (the afore-mentioned day with one rider every 13 seconds), with 2,391 riders. The Met Branch Trail hit its peak on Tuesday, September 30 with 894 riders. Data from the Eye Street SW counter was not provided.

“Once you have a more complete picture, it helps you prioritize things and that could be things like plowing or leaf cleaning or coming up with a good sequence [for traffic lights],” Buck said. “This is really the start of a structured, permanent automated counting program for us.”

Eventually the data will be open to the public, but for now, the focus is ensuring data accuracy and understanding what else needs to be collected to get a more complete picture of cycle traffic in the District.

For biking enthusiasts looking for a more DIY-approach to cycle counting, New York City-based Tomorrow Lab has created a $199 traffic counter that will allow individuals to measure traffic across up to two vehicle lanes. Ted Ullrich, one of the founders of Tomorrow Lab, brought one of his counters to the most recent gathering of Mobility Lab’s Transportation Techies.

Currently the sensor can’t tell the difference between cars and bikes, which is a problem on mixed-use roads. But the best news: all of the data is available to the public here.

This article was written by Amy Eagleburger, Mobility Lab’s tech writer. Photo of 15th Street by Elvert Barnes.

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Paul Mackie is communications director at Mobility Lab, a startup that focuses on ways to help people have better commutes than driving alone in their cars.

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