Why You Should Care About the Lack of Pedestrian Data



Our industry is, at its core, about people and how they use space. This fundamental idea drives our quest for information that will aid us in making the best decisions to move the business forward.

One area that is getting increased attention is the importance of an accurate picture of traffic around a given property, be it retail, office or residential. Understanding peak times as well as where the people are coming from can inform decision-making and help avoid costly mistakes.  Traditionally, vehicle traffic is the most commonly counted, and this task was left to local government and departments of transportation.  Although the data might be accessible to business, they are usually not kept up to date and do not accurately reflect traffic volumes in developing areas. Another aspect of an area’s traffic –pedestrian activity- has mostly been overlooked and certainly under-utilized by commercial real estate.

A 2014 Transportation Research Board report echoes the sentiment that a lot of valuable information is being missed when we fail to monitor pedestrian traffic:

“Many potential sources of pedestrian and bicycle volume data are not being used. The feasibility of using these sources, including addressing privacy and security issues and extrapolating to estimate 24-hour counts and annual counts, needed to be investigated. Once investigated, guidance for practitioners on the use of existing, new, and innovative methods and technologies could be developed.”

According to the report, non-motorized (including pedestrians and bicycles) traffic is different from vehicle traffic in these ways:

  • Volumes are more variable than motor vehicle volumes –this makes estimation much more difficult.
  • Trips tend to be shorter and for different reasons
  • Motor vehicles are easier to detect
  • Less work has been done in pedestrian counting than motor vehicle counting, and technology is more limited.

Government entities and other groups find pedestrian counts useful in tracking changes in activity over time, assessing the impact of new infrastructure, prioritizing projects, and understanding networks and potential volume for transportation. These same topics are useful in commercial real estate planning and development, and can inform decisions relating to investment and transactions as well.

Local and state governments recognize the importance of accurate pedestrian data to complete and informative data collection on a given area. It gives the real picture of how people use the city space and makes it easier to plan effectively and improve the area to benefit the people who live, work, and play there. It is the same for commercial real estate. Many of the considerations of city planners and transportation analysts are also important in our industry, and a lack of data puts us at a disadvantage.

Fortunately, sensor technology has developed rapidly over recent years, and it’s become a viable option for commercial real estate professionals as well as government entities. Around the clock, instantly available statistics are tremendously valuable, and sensor platforms like Motionloft add value to the data. They handle software and device maintenance, prepare reports, and provide comparisons between multiple properties.

In a world where knowledge is power, using technology to automatically generate the information we need to excel makes good sense. As the importance of pedestrian data to understanding the overall activity in an area becomes clear, look for continued improvements in services that deliver that knowledge in an efficient and usable way.


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