Why we count: to make cyclists visible

Since taking on the task of organizing volunteers to quantify bicycle traffic twice a year, we occasionally hear from our most menacing critics: the ones who want results now.

There’s a place for impatience in making public policy — city and county officials should feel like there’s a bit of a hurry to fix broken things. By it’s very nature, however, our effort is an exercise in patience and persistence. Nobody every measured anything once and came up with results that were useful or even reliable. You measure again and again, in slightly different ways, from slightly different angles, and gradually a clear picture emerges.

Speaking of again and again, we are currently signing up volunteers to help with the counts coming up from September 11-15, our third effort since taking over the project from the ACHD. Those who ride on weekends should take note that this is the first time we’ll be sampling on a Saturday — something which should make weekend road cyclists and mountain bikers much more visible in our data.

Despite my plea for patience, a few tantalizing factoids have started to percolate up out of the data. You may have seen the work of Mati Kalwill, a resident of Buenos Aires who decided that cycling advocates need a big global goal. So he set one: That 51% of trips worldwide be made by bicycle by 2030. It’s the core aim of his new inspiring new organization Bikestorming.

This isn’t such a remote aspiration for Boiseans who live in residential-scale neighborhoods with a pretty population of people who bike and walk to get around. It was certainly on the mind of the good folks at the North End Neighborhood Association (NEMA) when they created a cheeky banner ad for their web site declaring the North End to be “Home to Boise’s highest cruiser-to-car ratio.”

NEMA cruiser bike banner adFun, but ultimately silly, right? Not quite. There’s more truth in the boast than even NEMA may have realized, and the data we’ve been collecting is beginning to verify at least portions of that claim. Although neighborhood-wide generalizations are a dead-end, several streets in Boise appear to have higher usage by bikes than cars, and a few even flirt with a ratio of two bikes for every one car. Shocker: Many of them are outside the North End!

The caveat for our fancy math goes like this: The numbers below are estimates extrapolated from samples — in our case, but also in the case of those published by the ACHD. Theirs are based on those familiar pneumatic tubes laid across a street; our are based on hash marks made on a form by our volunteer observers. Each relies on some commonly accepted formulas from reputable organizations to convert the samples into reasonably accurate estimates of how things are on a normal day. There are lots of variables, but the more data we gather the more accurate our estimates will become.

So here they are, the street segments in Boise where bikes rule, expressed as a percentage of total estimated traffic flow made on bicycles:

8th south of Bannock 70.8%
two bikes per car 66.7%
Union east of 6th 66.0%
8th north of Main 64.7%
Union west of 6th 62.0%
8th north of the greenbelt 60.7%
10th north of Franklin 58.0%
8th north of River 57.4%
18th south of Ressigue 55.9%
8th south of River 54.1%
23rd north of Ellis 53.6%
6th south of O’Farrell 51.3%
18th north of Ressigue 50.7%
one bike per car 50.0%
Franklin west of 10th 49.9%
Ellis east of 23rd 49.5%
6th north of O’Farrell 49.4%
Franklin St west of 15th 49.0%
3rd south of Myrtle 47.9%
Ellis east of 26th 47.0%
Franklin St east of 15th 46.9%
Marigold east of Glenwood 46.2%
Ellis west of 26th 45.6%
Ellis west of 23rd 45.5%
Union east of 8th 41.5%
6th north of Union 39.4%
Franklin St east of 10th 39.1%
Franklin west of 8th 37.5%
Leadville north of Boise 37.0%
9th north of Union 34.2%
Ressigue west of 18th 33.8%
Hill east of Horseshue Bend 33.5%
Franklin east of 8th 33.4%
one bike per two cars 33.3%
Leadville south of Highland 33.2%
Leadville south of Boise 31.6%
Leadville north of Highland 31.5%
8th north of Bannock 30.9%
6th south of Union 30.2%
O’Farrell east of 6th 28.3%
Hill west of Horseshoe Bend 27.1%
3rd north of Myrtle 26.5%
Bannock east of 10th 25.7%
O’Farrell west of 6th 25.5%
one bike per three cars 25.0%

A more detailed breakdown of this math will be included in a white paper report of our results and conclusions, with a tentative publication date in January 2013. As we gather new data and input data from counting done before 2011, those numbers and many of the street segments listed will change. Our organization aspires to be transparent, so anyone who wants to take a closer look at our data before that just send a request.

In the meantime, the results are so encouraging that we’re putting together a program that will allow us to identify and measure even more quiet Boise neighborhood streets where bikes appear in large numbers. Do you live on a corner in a neighborhood with a strong bike and pedestrian character? Contact us, and maybe you can be among the first to help us test out our new idea. (Warning: You may have to hang out on your porch.)

We also have rough summary of our work in the form of a Powerpoint presentation, and I’m ready to share our methods, conclusions and goals with any audience willing to sit for it. I’ll be presenting at the Boise Bicycle Project this Friday, 6:00-7:00 p.m., as part of their regular Friday speaker series.

– Rick Overton, chairman, Ada Bike Alliance

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