This article was originally published in Catalyst, May 2022.
Photos and stories about people biking and walking on packed trails were common during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Transportation researchers also reported surges in bicycling and walking during this time of social restrictions and widespread closures, but little was known about how those surges related to longer-term trends.
This article was originally published in Catalyst, November 2021.
As gyms and indoor health facilities closed during the beginning of the pandemic, people flocked to trails and parks, creating both opportunities and concerns for public health and land managers. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended a six-foot distance between people (even outdoors), but little was known about compliance with these recommendations.
Understanding pedestrian and bicyclist flows is vital to distributing a limited construction budget to new infrastructure for improved safety on specific roads. Unfortunately, statewide data collection for active transportation flows is challenging.
MnDOT and local agencies historically have lacked estimates of bicycle and pedestrian traffic on Trunk Highways and County State Aid Highways.
Since about 2016, MnDOT has begun monitoring bicycle and pedestrian flow at more than 25 locations across the state, but, given the small number of counters and the variability of flows in response to variations in weather across Minnesota, these monitoring data are insufficient for estimation of Annual Average Daily Bicyclists and Annual Average Daily Pedestrians.
One option for obtaining travel data without expensive infrastructure is relying on mobile data collection.
This article was originally published in Catalyst, November 2020.
Electric scooters let riders move quickly between the roadway and the sidewalk, but these sometimes-unpredictable travel patterns can pose risk for riders and the people around them. Making scooters smarter is the goal of a new U of M research project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Under the $1.2 million Cyber-Physical Systems grant, a cross-disciplinary team will study smart tracking systems on scooters for ensuring safe and smooth interaction with other vehicles and pedestrians.
Roundabouts reduce the severity of crashes at intersections, but transportation agencies have received some feedback from pedestrians indicating that roundabouts, especially larger multi-lane roundabouts, can be difficult to navigate.
A new guidebook published by the Minnesota Local Road Research Board offers a uniform approach and practical methods for selecting locations and the right treatment for uncontrolled pedestrian crosswalks in Minnesota.
A two-year research project underway in the City of St. Paul is already improving pedestrian safety and driver behavior by applying lessons learned from a national award-winning pedestrian traffic study. The city began using the practices last fall with the “Stop for Me” campaign, and driver yield rates have already gone up by 9 percent.
Each year, dozens of Saint Paul pedestrians legally crossing the street are struck by vehicles driven by motorists who fail to stop. In 2015, 40 pedestrians died in Minnesota after being hit by a motor vehicle; 900 were injured. In 2017, there were 192 vehicle-pedestrian crashes in Saint Paul, three of which proved deadly.
Pedestrian fatalities and injuries represent a growing percentage of traffic fatalities and injuries nationwide. For example, pedestrian fatalities comprised 10.9% of all traffic deaths nationwide in 2004, but 14.5% in 2013.
University of Minnesota researchers are charged with reviewing the City of St. Paul’s efforts to improve pedestrian safety and investigate whether a program similar to the one in Gainesville can change driver yielding for pedestrians and speed compliance. The activities in St. Paul are being planned together with city traffic engineers and enforcement officers and will include various educational, engineering and enforcement countermeasures and media campaigns.
Last fall, St. Paul began the “Stop for Me” campaign, which enforces pedestrian laws, increases driver and pedestrian education and works towards enhanced signage and other changes to crosswalks around the city.
On June 25, the St. Paul Police Department began the second phase of the campaign by ticketing drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.
Additionally, police officers are ticketing drivers for “endangerment” if they pass a vehicle that is stopped for a pedestrian at a crosswalk. This citation leads to a mandatory court appearance for the driver.
As part of an ongoing effort to institutionalize bicycle and pedestrian counting in Minnesota, MnDOT has published a new manual designed to help city, county, state, and other transportation practitioners in their counting efforts.
The Bicycle and Pedestrian Data Collection Manual, developed by University of Minnesota researchers and SRF Consulting Group, provides guidance and methods for collecting bicycle and pedestrian traffic data in Minnesota. The manual is an introductory guide to nonmotorized traffic monitoring designed to help local jurisdictions, nonprofit organizations, and consultants design their own programs.
Topics covered in the manual include general traffic-monitoring principles, bicycle and pedestrian data collection sensors, how to perform counts using several types of technologies, data management and analysis, and next steps for nonmotorized traffic monitoring in Minnesota. Several case studies illustrate how bicycle and pedestrian traffic data can be used to support transportation planning and engineering.
The manual was completed as part of the third in a series of MnDOT-funded projects related to the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative, a collaborative effort launched by MnDOT in 2011 to encourage nonmotorized traffic monitoring across the state. U of M researchers, led by professor Greg Lindsey at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, have been key partners in the initiative since its inception.
In addition to the manual, U of M researchers have published a final report outlining their work with MnDOT on this project. Key accomplishments include:
A new statewide bicycle and pedestrian traffic-monitoring network with 25 permanent monitoring locations
A district-based portable counting equipment loan program to support MnDOT districts and local jurisdictions interested in nonmotorized traffic monitoring
Minnesota’s first Bicycle and Pedestrian Annual Traffic Monitoring Report
A MnDOT website for reporting annual and short-duration counts that allows local planners and engineers to download data for analysis
Provisions added to MnDOT equipment vendor agreements that enable local governments to purchase bicycle and monitoring equipment
Annual training programs for bicycle and pedestrian monitoring
Provisions in the Statewide Bicycle System Plan and Minnesota Walks that call for bicycle and pedestrian traffic monitoring and creation of performance measures based on counts
“This is an excellent resource that steps through all aspects of managing a count program, and I think it will be very helpful to other states and organizations that want to implement their own programs,” says Lisa Austin, MnDOT bicycle and pedestrian planning coordinator. “Since Minnesota is a leader in counting bicycle and pedestrian traffic, it also fulfills what I think is an obligation to share our story with others.”
Across Minnesota, local agencies need better information about where and how many people are biking and walking to make decisions about infrastructure investments, understand safety risks, and even plan active living initiatives.
To help provide agencies with bicycle and pedestrian traffic data, U of M researchers have been working with MnDOT on the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative since 2010. The initiative is a collaborative, statewide effort to support bike and pedestrian traffic monitoring by local, regional, and state organizations.
Recently, the project team completed an implementation study—the second of three MnDOT-funded projects related to the initiative—specifically designed to engage local agencies. The goal was to demonstrate the feasibility of using both permanent and portable sensors to collect bicycle and pedestrian traffic data in several Minnesota cities, suburbs, and small towns.
“If we want to institutionalize counting and monitoring across the state, local agencies need to know it’s not something that’s only important for large cities like Minneapolis,” says principal investigator Greg Lindsey, professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and current MnDOT scholar-in-residence. “We have to be on the ground in these places, illustrating that it’s relevant to the decisions they’re making.”
To that end, the team installed commercially available sensors—including inductive loops, passive infrared, pneumatic tubes, and radio beams—to collect traffic counts in several Minnesota cities. Overall findings indicate that all of the sensors produced reasonably accurate measurements—and that participating agencies found value in the collected data.
Findings and case studies from the study have already been incorporated into the draft Bicycle and Pedestrian Data Collection Manual, a new MnDOT guidance document being used in statewide training workshops. Also as a result of the study, MnDOT plans to include commitments to bike and pedestrian traffic monitoring in its forthcoming statewide bicycle and pedestrian plans. In addition, MnDOT is investing in a network of permanent traffic monitoring sites around the state as well as in portable equipment that will be available to local agencies.