Independent bicyclist counts must precede talk of installing bike lanes

Independent bicyclist counts must precede talk of installing bike lanes

By Kathryn Papp, Alexandria

Out of sheer curiosity, I counted bicycles while observing the behavior of pedestrians and motorists at the intersection of Royal and Cameron streets on September 4 between 5 and 7 p.m.

The day and time corresponds with those used by the city and its data collection volunteers from the bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee. I did this in order to provide a blind count of the flows, i.e. one uninfluenced by prior alerts. Here is what I found:

A total of 43 bicycles passed through the intersection of Royal and Cameron streets. Thirty-two bicyclists, mostly going south, used Royal Street. The majority — 27 — did not stop at the stop sign.

On Cameron Street I counted 11 bicyclists, and 10 did not stop for the sign. All except one headed west. One person using Royal Street made a complete stop, recognized the drivers, and proceeded. Most experts consider this best practice for bicyclists. There was one Capital Bikeshare rider going north.

All cars, and there were many using this busy intersection, stopped and honored the protocol for proceeding through a four-way stop sign. Two SUVs made u-turns in order to get parking spaces. People and their pets came out at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. There were no runners.

It will be interesting to compare these counts with those of the city and the advisory committee, which in their search for volunteers published the places, dates and times for the count. In standard research practice, this would be expected to inflate the count, and is a regular way of evaluating the effectiveness of advertising.

Before making any decisions regarding installing bike lanes along Old Town’s streets, electronic counts must be done. It would be best to do them very close to the advisory committee’s counts in order to validate both — with and without prior notification of the large, regional advocacy audience.

Valid research outcomes make for better decisions.