Technology is a constant in society, and enhances our lives in ways we’re not aware of every day. The use of sensor technology to monitor pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle traffic, particularly in central business districts, is an important part of city planning and design. It can inform a range of decisions for city government as well as private businesses.
The American Planning Association endorses the use of pedestrian counts for all types of city planning considerations. According to this group, the counts can be applied to improving city centers in 3 areas: mobility, safety, and pleasure.
How easily pedestrians can move around in the city depends on several factors:
Conflicts with vehicular traffic – here pedestrian counts are very useful in determining where to install traffic lights, and determining the signals’ timing as well as whether to include pedestrian prompts, such as the Walk or Don’t Walk signals. A low pedestrian count at an intersection might be used to justify installing a flashing light rather than a timed traffic signal.
Sidewalk congestion- an overly congested sidewalk can force people to slow down or spill over into the street. Pedestrian counts help planners avoid this issue by providing sidewalks of appropriate width, based on the typical traffic for the area.
Availability of pedestrian routes- Using land inefficiently can cause pedestrians to take longer routes than necessary to their destination. Pedestrian counts help planners identify destinations and provide optimized routes to get people where they want to go, safely and efficiently.
The most important factor in pedestrian safety is the amount of conflict with vehicular traffic. Pedestrian counts can be used to study how people are responding to traffic signals. They’re also used to compare the rate of pedestrian and vehicle accidents related to the sidewalk traffic at a particular location. They can tell planners whether a given intersection has a greater than average percentage of jaywalkers, which indicates that improvement is needed to make that crossing more efficient and safe.
A great example of the use of data to improve safety is the Vision Zero Initiative, a multinational effort that focuses on reducing pedestrian and vehicular fatalities. These efforts look at how traffic calming and rerouting projects can impact pedestrian and vehicle traffic trends, and ultimately what patterns might be higher or lower risk. Deployment of pedestrian counting technologies like Motionloft can surface these patterns in real-time.
Being a pedestrian can be a very enjoyable experience, if the district is well planned. How the routes are laid out can greatly enhance the pleasure and comfort of walking in the city. Things like canopies, trees, and artwork are strategically placed using information that includes pedestrian counts.
City Garden, St Louis, MO
A great example of a well planned public space is the City Garden in St. Louis, MO. The park design took careful consideration of utilization of space by taking pedestrian counts, and in-person observation methods to appropriately design the placement of art pieces and the parks lighting. By taking these factors into consideration the city created a public space that naturally invites visitors to enjoy its space.
Data on pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle traffic is becoming more widely available, and it’s useful in many areas besides city planning. Management of events that temporarily increase congestion in a given area is made much more effective when these counts are considered. Businesses can make better decisions when they’re selecting locations for retail stores.
Cities use pedestrian counts to help determine downtown property retail values, and chart their overall rise and decline as well. For private business, the uses for this type of information are just starting to be explored. It is already an important tool for planners, and probably has an effect on each of us every day, whether we’re aware of it or not.