Taking count of cyclists, walkers, changes in Philly region

High-tech tools are counting bicyclists and pedestrians around Philadelphia and the region. They’re part of an effort by planners to take non-motorists into account.

On a recent day, four men were bicycling down a South Philly street, rolling over black tube taped down across the road.

Scott Brady was keeping track.

Brady, who calls himself a data geek, is the manager of travel data collection for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. During that day in South Philly, he was focused on cyclists and pedestrians.

When the quartet of bikes crossed the tubes, they sent a puff of air to a box fastened to a traffic light.

“Up until this time, if you wanted data on bicycles or pedestrians, you basically had to go out and stand out on the side of the road with a hand clicker or such and you’d count for an hour or two,” Brady says.

For years, planners such as Brady have been counting cars electronically. Counters for walkers and bicyclists have only been around for a few years.

Planners have a new interest in non-motorized travel — a combined effect of the effort to green cities, fight obesity, and make streets more lively.

But the results of those efforts are hard to measure. Take health education — how can you tell if people do become more active? How do you justify putting in the time and money to beautify a street?

Now there are numbers.

Right now, Brady is taking a baseline count, a week at a time, at corners in nine counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. By summer, he hopes to install permanent counters at key locations.

Brady says he will eventually “before” and “after” snapshots by going back to the same corners over time and documenting how the counts have changed.

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