Archive for Thursday, September 10, 2009

Volunteers count walkers, bikers around Lawrence

Data to fuel support for projects

Larry Maxey, a retired KU professor of music, describes why he decided to volunteer two hours of his time Thursday morning to stand on Naismith Drive and count cyclists and pedestrians passing him by.

September 10, 2009


Phil Minkin, left, and Carey Maynard-Moody volunteered to count passing bicyclists and pedestrians in 2009 at Ninth and Louisiana streets. The two were part of a volunteer team monitoring 11 sites around Lawrence to help generate data to support the city’s efforts in grant applications for future bicycling and pedestrian projects.

Phil Minkin, left, and Carey Maynard-Moody volunteered to count passing bicyclists and pedestrians in 2009 at Ninth and Louisiana streets. The two were part of a volunteer team monitoring 11 sites around Lawrence to help generate data to support the city’s efforts in grant applications for future bicycling and pedestrian projects.

An army of volunteers spent several hours Thursday charting, mapping and otherwise quantifying the frequency of walkers and bicyclists moving throughout Lawrence.

No surprise there.

But the data — now just small marks in pencil and pen on one-page charts — soon will be entered into a national database capable of correlating Lawrence’s snapshot samples into a reliable documentation of use, frequency and latent demand.

The expected payoff: Hard data that can be used to drive plans and justify financing for a variety of pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly projects, from installation of “Share the Road” awareness signs to construction of full-fledged bike lanes and recreational paths.

“Bicyclists do have every right to be on the road,” said Bart Rudolph, transportation planner for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Office. “The more bike lanes we can install, the more safe it will be.”

Rudolph coordinated Thursday’s effort, as more than 30 volunteers spread out to 11 locations to document just how many people were walking and bicycling during two identified peak periods: 10 a.m. to noon and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The data collected Thursday — plus more to be documented during a weekend count, scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday — will be fed into a database maintained by Alta Planning & Design and the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Rudolph plans to use the data to support grant applications for future projects.

For two hours, Larry Maxey, a retired KU professor of music, counted cyclists and pedestrians along Naismith Drive just north of 19th Street. While he was expecting to see more cyclists early in his 10 a.m. to noon shift, one constant already had identified a need: cyclist education.

“Nobody’s wearing a helmet,” Maxey said, once again leaving a column blank on his clipboard, as yet another helmetless rider passed. “Not good.”

Kelly Barth, another volunteer counter, dutifully observed riders and walkers at the northern end of Massachusetts Street, where it becomes a bridge crossing the Kansas River.

She’s confident that information gathered Thursday will pay off.

“If we have a chance to get funding for pedestrians and cyclists — for sidewalks and paths — that’s fantastic,” she said. “Anything I can do to help is worth it.”


pastempah 8 years, 7 months ago

Someone oughta do a survey as to how many times the walk lights are lit and there are no pedestrians using the crosswalks. It's ridiculous how much time is wasted because this city feels the need to have Walk lights lit when there's no one there.

I'd also like to know how much gas is wasted each day because of this. Way to be green, Lawrence!

Still, this is a step in the right direction.

David Roberts 8 years, 7 months ago

I think the period from 7am-9am is an important one to look at too. The periods studied likely missed most of the cyclists commuting to and from work. I imagine that period of time is also when cyclists are most at risk. Also, recreational cycling (what was captured here) takes place in different places than commuting. When I commute, I ride where I have to ride (ie. 6th, 19th, 23rd). When I ride recreationally, I select calmer, more safe routes.

I commend the study though. It will help improve our recreational paths in the places people use the most.

As for cyclists not wearing helmets, I wonder if the demographic captured at that location had anything to do with it. A sense of invincibility often accompanies youth.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 7 months ago

I don't think there is a KU student that lives within two blocks of class. Check out campus sometime. Walking is highly overrated. Walkers have a whole different mindset that other people. The lights change for cars as well as pedestrians. The walk sign automatically comes on whenever the light turns green.

Brian Laird 8 years, 7 months ago

Irish (Irish Swearingen) says…

"The lights change for cars as well as pedestrians. The walk sign automatically comes on whenever the light turns green."

Only for certain highly used intersections. For many intersections in town the walk light only comes on after being activated by pushing the walk button. The walk button also controls the length of time that the light is green in that direction.

The problem I have on a bike is that many intersections (for example Louisiana and 19th) have motion sensors which do not register bikes. Unless a car happens to be going in your direction the light will skip you during the cycle. Usually after being skipped by 2 or three cycles I make the decision to proceed against the light. I don't like to do it, but I feel justified in this instance.

ashmole 8 years, 7 months ago

Did they count how many bicyclists were following traffic laws? I walk by a busy intersection in central Lawrence every day and have been keeping informal count of how bicyclists and drivers observe that simplest of traffic controls, the stop sign. Over several months I have noticed that less than 10 percent of bicyclists come to a stop, and up to half don't even slow down. Well over 90% of cars stop, although many (perhaps a majority) don't come to that nice, full stop that police officers like to see.

Bicyclists need to be responsible for their own behavior and stop blaming everything on drivers. Following basic traffic laws would be an excellent place to start.

fairplay 8 years, 7 months ago

"An army of volunteers..."

How many are in "an army of volunteers"? Why is this paper so averse to the use of real facts?

“The more bike lanes we can install, the more safe it will be.”

-- Mark Fagan, do me a favor; if I ever utter something so grammatically incorrect during an interview, go ahead and correct it for me.

Glad to see the study going on. Glad it's not costing the taxpayers an arm and a leg. Way to go volunteers. Hopefully, this will lead to wider sidewalks and more accommodating light recreation paths. If Lawrence really wants to be known as a walking/running/biking friendly community there must be an investment in the infrastructure.

Ken Harris 8 years, 7 months ago

Helmet use is a hot topic. A styrofoam hat won't prevent you from getting plastered by a hummer (or a Civic, for that matter). Riding the river trails at aggressive speeds is a very different thing from riding city streets at a moderate pace. So are helmets necessary? No, I don't really think that they are necessary for traversing the city. But I wear one most of the time anyway.

I also commute to and from work on my bike between 7 and 9am and 4:30 and 5:30pm. Didn't notice anyone counting yesterday either.

Recreation trails, while nice, should probably take a back seat to improving access to and from various parts of the city. If you wouldn't let your kid walk or bike from your house to school because it "isn't safe" then we should focus on how we can change our streets to make it safer. Reduce speeds, improve and expand sidewalks and add bike lanes. The future taxpayers have rights too.

meggers 8 years, 7 months ago

Ashmole said: "Over several months I have noticed that less than 10 percent of bicyclists come to a stop, and up to half don't even slow down. Well over 90% of cars stop, although many (perhaps a majority) don't come to that nice, full stop that police officers like to see."

Care to share your data, such as how many bicycles vs cars were included in your study sample? How long did a vehicle need to be stopped for it to count as a complete stop? Were cyclists counted as having stopped if they were rolling slightly forward, waiting for the light to turn? If you're going to throw out statistics, you really should have some objective data to support them.

As for this study, I think it's great, especially if the end result is that cyclists and pedestrians are able get around more safely. It's bad enough trying to defensively drive among so many inattentive and reckless drivers. Doing so on a motorcycle, scooter, bicycle, or on foot is truly a test in courage.

Bladerunner 8 years, 7 months ago

I walked out to my car this morning. No one counted me.

devobrun 8 years, 7 months ago

I would like to point out that this study is a preliminary gathering of evidence that can be used to do a scientific experiment. Science isn't yet served.

1) I would have placed car-counter strips along the road as well. This way the total traffic can be documented. I would also want to document incidents along the road for some period of time. Wrecks involving cars, bikes, pedestrians. 2) Change something and repeat the data collection. For example, place signs along Naismith Dr. that tell bicyclists to stay off the sidewalks.
3) Repeat the gathering of evidence after the change is made.
4) In the above example, one might pose an hypothesis that keeping bicycles off the sidewalk will encourage more walkers, who will not be irritated/threatened by bikes. It might be safer for bicyclists as well.

The above gathering of evidence, posing an hypothesis, changing a variable and measuring again is science. It is an experiment. If a change is made, then repeat the gathering of evidence. Go the extra step and actually test the hypothesis If the data is used only to push a political process, then it isn't science. It is stamp collecting. And if you are afraid that you wasted money widening the road. Tough.

I hope that this data and data from other communities who change individual parameters (like bike lanes, bike lane widths, enforcement of no bikes on sidewalks, etc.) can pool data and find the best way to spend money.

Measurement before and after changes can yield information about how to maximize safety, minimize environmental impact, increase physical exercise, reduce car congestion, etc. I deem all these goals as positive things in our society.

Notice that the simple gathering of evidence doesn't constitute science. Control, change, gather is data that can be used to test an hypothesis. That is science.

Oh, one more requirement for science is honesty. If signs or bike paths don't work, admit it. If simple placing of signs does almost as much as bike lanes, then admit that too. Science doesn't fudge the numbers.
Unlike big bang theorists who now have to multiply their theory by 0.05 and add an appropriate correction factor (dark energy and matter) Ha ha.

Another thing. If this sort of thing could be organized in hundreds of towns across the land and the data can be standardized and a statistician can be added, big time science can be done. Where's the stimulus money? Where are the "green" scientists when you need them? Time to shine, sunshine. Time to show up and do the job.

1029 8 years, 7 months ago

What?! How can somebody complain about the walk lights? The "crosswalk countdown" is possibly one of the greatest creations in the history of road planning/design. Who wants to be driving down a 45 mph road wondering if that traffic light up ahead is going to abruptly turn yellow? I love having a countdown until the yellow light. Seems great for safety as well as for reducing wear-and-tear on the vehicle.

That first comment has to be sarcastic. Wasting gas? How so? Just because a walk light is lit doesn't mean you can't make the turn. If the light is green and the walk light is lit and there are no pedestrians, just turn. What are you doing--stopping at green lights and waiting until it is red to make the turn because you don't want to drive across a crosswalk when the "walk" sign is lit?

devobrun 8 years, 7 months ago

consumer1: Politicians are people who can take rational, thoughtful information and turn it into whatever they want. Rod Blagojevich and Mark Sanford are two recent examples of politicians who operate in a world that doesn't need rational thought or reasoned action.

If a politician wants something done they do it. Lying is no problem. Ignoring science, monetary budgets, results. The only results are political power. Gathering political power is what a politician is all about. What troubles me is that so many people in the U.S. today fawn all over their favorite "guy". They cheer for politicians. It is the most absurd thing, seeing mobs cheer for a politician. Where have they been? How many times must they be screwed by a politician before they wake up?

I now wish to retract my earlier post involving the scientific method. It was naive. Consumer1 got me back on track. I'm sorry to have wasted your time with the possibility of science, thought, reason. This is politics........never mind.

BigPrune 8 years, 7 months ago

How will this survey be impartial since it's being done by proponents of bicycle lanes/walking paths?

Fugu 8 years, 7 months ago

Getting a firm pedestrian and bicycle survey in Lawrence is not unreasonable and shouldn't be tied to some "splinter group." To my understanding, Lawrence simply has not gathered data on this scale before. Biking and walking make up a good percentage of transportation use in this town and should be represented as such. I wonder how much money has been funneled into motor vehicle transportation planning?

If anyone actually cares to read the methodology, as opposed to making paranoid guesses, you can find it on this website:

This method is being used all over the country and has been rigorously tested.

pastempah 8 years, 7 months ago

1029: Never did I say I waited at a green light. I suggest you go back and reread what I said. There are walk lights all over the city that are active when there are no pedestrians trying to cross the streets. While the yellow light countdown is useful, they're also timed to give you plenty of stopping time when you're traveling at the speed limit. Something else that rarely happens in this town.

The wasting gas part comes in when you're trying to cross the intersection going in the perpendicular direction. You have no choice but to wait until the light counts down and then allows your flow of traffic to cross. Since you're sitting there with your car idling, it wastes gas.

Really, learn to read. I never said any of those things you commented on.

Sunny Parker 8 years, 7 months ago

I don't think the actual 'counters' are proponents. None of them look like they have ridden a bike!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.