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Why Are San Diego State Researchers Counting Bicyclists?

SDSU Professor Sherry Ryan poses over an electronic loop, embedded in the street, that keeps track of the number of bikes which travel on that route.
Tom Fudge
SDSU Professor Sherry Ryan poses over an electronic loop, embedded in the street, that keeps track of the number of bikes which travel on that route.
Counting Bikes in San Diego
Why Are San Diego State Researchers Counting Bicyclists?
GUESTSSherry Ryan, Ph.D is a professor of city planning at San Diego State University. She manages the Bike Count program. Chris Kluth, Senior Active Transportation Planner SANDAG Howard LaGrange is an avid cyclist. He co-chairs Oceanside's Bike and Pedestrian Committee.

ST. JOHN: Bicycling is fun, and it's an important part of city planners' vision for our future. We have to cut our carbon footprint even as the population growing. So researching who is biking is worth investing in. And that's just what San Diego is doing. Here to tell us more about the most expensive bicycle count system in the nation is Sherry Ryan, professor of city planning. Thanks for being with us. RYAN: Thank you. ST. JOHN: And Chris Kluth, transportation planner for SANDAG. KLUTH: Thanks. ST. JOHN: And hour LaGrange who is an avid cyclist. He cochairs Oceanside's bike and pedestrian committee, and he pushed that city to incorporate bike infrastructure to the point where the city now markets itself as a biking destination. LAGRANGE: Thank you. ST. JOHN: You agree that biking is fun, right? [ LAUGHTER ] LAGRANGE: Biking is fun, also it's a great tourism aspect to the city too. ST. JOHN: Good! Sherry, what is the idea behind this bike count project? RYAN: Well, basically I'm a transportation planner, I teach city planning, and we don't have good data on cycling levels. Who's0 cycling, where they're cycling, how much they're cycling. So the idea behind the project is to collect good data on cycling levels at various locations around the region. ST. JOHN: How did you choose where to put these meters? RYAN: I was consulting project manager for SANDAG's region bike plan. And SANDAG has adopted in 2010, a regional bike network. With the hope of understanding trends overtime as SANDAG makes investments in these facilities, how does cycling increase, for example. ST. JOHN: Okay. So SANDAG has budgeted more than $2 million in its 40-year regional transportation plan for bike lanes and walking. How will SANDAG use this information from the bike count to work on this plan or have you already got the plan finalized? We know that plan is being finalized in the Courts. KLUTH: We're working on the implementation, focusing on the implementation of the bicycle and pedestrian facilities. In our regional bike plan, we have a network that's really identified corridors. Now we're going in and working with the community, working with people like Sherry to look at the data to tweak these corridors to see what's going to work best for each community, where we're going to get the most riders on a block by block level rather than looking at the regional level. ST. JOHN: And since that plan has been challenged in the Courts as not meeting the state's goals for reducing carbon footprints, does that mean it's impossible SANDAG might end up investing more in bike paths than it's already committed? Or different plans? What would you say? KLUTH: Well, we're leaving the litigation up to our attorneys. And my job right now is to focus on the implementation of the projects that we already know that we're doing. And to be finance, it's a pretty full plate right now. We have lots of projects in the planning and design phase already that we're implementing. So I have more than enough to work on in the next few years. ST. JOHN: Okay! So how would you say San Diego County stacks up as far as you're concerned as being a bicycle-friendly region? LAGRANGE: Well, considering the climate, it's ideal for cycling to begin with. We don't have the weather that the east coast has. You have a perfect climate situation. I think San Diego -- I've cycled since parens the 1950s. When I was first riding, I was so couraged to see anybody riding a bike. Now you see hundreds, thousands every weekend. ST. JOHN: You do. LAGRANGE: And what amazed me when I heard about Sherry's count is that we've done some manual counts in Oceanside on the city street, but we didn't ever do any week day counts. And I think it's about 300 per day; is that correct? ST. JOHN: Is Oceanside one of the high bicycling regions? RYAN: Absolutely. Our counter on Pacific street in Oceanside is showing some of the highest daily cycling. It peaked to 3,700 trips on one day in November ST. JOHN: Whoa! RYAN: On average there's been 500. LAGRANGE: Per day? RYAN: On a single street in Oceanside. KLUTH: And it's important to understand what time they're transiting. Are they commuters, recreational? And her data allows us to understand that better. With Chris talking about facilities, we all want to be sure we provide the facilities based on the demand. ST. JOHN: How Oceanside always been a bike-friendly community? LAGRANGE: Well, in 2007, the City Council decided that we wanted to promote cycling for transportation and recreation. I was part of that committee, and we worked on recreational cycling to begin with on the San Luis ray recreational trail, which is about a 12-mile trail from the coast to the San Luiz Rey mission. ST. JOHN: I've done it. It's wonderful because it's almost flat! LAGRANGE: Yes, and it's separated from traffic the entire way. Then we started thinking about commuter traffic, cyclists going to work and so on. So we really looked at trying to get people out and riding a bike, basically. I think we've done a pretty good job overall now. ST. JOHN: What is being done in Oceanside? A case study perhaps for other parts of the region? KLUTH: Oceanside is a great example of what you can achieve when you look at kind of a comprehensive program. Not just putting out bike lanes. It's educating people how to use them, reach think out to the schools and the community to let people know what's going on and getting their input to get the best facilities for that particular area. ST. JOHN: The count sounds good. But it really doesn't make much difference to us unless it has an impact. What might that be? KLUTH: Well, a lot of the preliminary data that Sherry has reenforces some of the common sense things that we thought. Like most people prefer to ride on streets that have less traffic and slower speeds. And the data bears that out. ST. JOHN: Do you want to comment on that? I think that's really important. RYAN: In the 28 locations that we have, we have some along class-1 bike paths, completely separated, class-2, and class-3 routes. We're showing strong preference on class-1, followed by higher preferences of cycling on class-3. But those are low volume roads. And then typically bike lanes. ST. JOHN: What is a bike lane? RYAN: A 5-foot Lane striped on a two or 4-lane roadway. So in the sample we have, they're higher volume roadways. So we're showing that people want to be separated from vehicular traffic. They want to be on a path on a high-volume roadway, or on a lane on a lie volume roadway. That's some of the things that we can begin to see with this data. The data is super critical for using in combination with other data to look at the health benefits, the air quality benefits of cycling. And it's just data that we've never had, we've never had the ability to translate into healthy, translate into air quality emissions. So I think that's the real exciting thing with in. ST. JOHN: Right! And it is true, isn't it, that agencies are always keen to use data to back up their investments. RYAN: Right. ST. JOHN: We're often talking about taxpayer money for many of these regional transportation changes. So Chris, is it a problem to plan for separate bike lanes? Presumably that has always been a challenge. But might this data change that? KLUTH: It's going to be a great tool to help us tell the story. And the exciting thing is, are the state of the practice as far as design and implementation as far as bike facilities, has come a million miles in the last four or five years. You can look thea other cities where they've come to similar conclusions in that, no, you can't put a class-1 bike path everywhere through the city. But there are also kinds of facilities where you can separate cyclists from vehicular traffic. ST. JOHN: How? KLUTH: Cycle tracks, protected bike ways. Move the bike lane inside of the parked cars, for example. You can look for opportunities where there may be express roadway width to you can reconfigure those, rebalance the needs for all different users on some roadways. ST. JOHN: That's obviously an important element, how to separate the bikes from the traffic. Did Oceanside do much to do that? LAGRANGE: Well, you're not going to be able to have a class-1 path everywhere that a cyclist wants to go. ST. JOHN: Right LAGRANGE: It's just impossible to do from an economic standpoint. So one of the things that Oceanside has done, we've really tried to provide education for cyclists so they can integrate safely with traffic. We teach traffic school 101 on a monthly basis, three hours in a class, and six hours on the road. That's a key element. Not just facilities itself, but the education too. ST. JOHN: Is that kids or adults as well? LAGRANGE: It's for adults, but we also do a program with schools. We do a -- basically two per month at the elementary schools for school education. And we do bike rodeos. We do the bike rodeos on Saturday because we find the parents come out a lot. And that gives you a chance to not only educate the children but also to have the parents understand how to ride safely with the children on the road too. ST. JOHN: Just before we go nothing further, I want you Chris, to clarify how important getting more people onto bikes is to San Diego. KLUTH: Well, as we build out, and we're not building -- I should say as we build up more, rather than building out, there'll be more people living closer together. And you can't build enough roadways to accommodate everyone in their own car. So we have to provide options. And that's what the SANDAG precipitation plan is, about building those options. Driving, taking the bus, walking or riding your bike so it has to fit in. LAGRANGE: Look at an elementary school during the peak hours, the number of traffic at the schools with parents letting off children that live maybe 6 blocks away. That's why we pushed on the schools, try to get the parents to understand that you can ride safely to school. You can do bike trains, you can have a parent actually lead the children to school. ST. JOHN: Sherry, according to what you've already learned, a vast majority of people who ride bicycles are male, right? RYAN: Yeah, yeah. That's something that we've been documenting through manual counts. And I've done a lot of manual counts, probably over 200 2-hour counts across the city. And it's consistently showing about 90% of cyclists are men. To me that means that women don't feel comfortable, are hat the facilities that are out there, the roadways that are out there, women don't feel comfortable that we have a system that's serving largely men. So that becomes a significant gender equity issue. We need a system where women feel comfortable, where children feel comfortable. And kind of tying together some of these themes, we use the bike count data to really make the case for reallocating part of the roadway or more of the roadway to nondriving uses, like walking, like transit, like cycling. ST. JOHN: One example is Northpark. What have you found about how people cycle there? RYAN: We have about three automate the counters in the vicinity there. One of the things that's interesting in Northpark that I'm trying to use the data for there is to estimate flows of cyclists across the community. And we've been able to actually take those three points, the three data points from the automated counters and estimate that there are about 1,000 average daily psyche lifts flowing back and forth through that community. And I'm very excited to try to translate that information into important measures like average daily minutes of cycling in that community, number of bike trips that are replacing car trips, so translate that into emission reduction, those kinds of things. ST. JOHN: Okay. So Chris, is SANDAG doing anything about this research in Northpark? KLUTH: We have three corridors going through Northpark right now that we have started the community planning process on. Most of those are proposed to be what we call bike boulevards or bike-friendly streets. They also -- it's important to note they also have lots of benefits for pedestrians. Lots of traffic calming, slowing cars down, and promoting through-put for bikes, while cutting down on the cut-through traffic from cars. So it just makes the whole neighborhood a better place to walk and bike. ST. JOHN: Howard, what do you think is the most important thing we need to do in order to make San Diego a more bike-friendly place? LAGRANGE: You know, in Oceanside, one of the things that we had the support of was the City Council and the mayor. This was an idea they had to form this committee to promote cycling for transportation and recreation. And so when we had the opportunity to talk about bicycle facilities, we already have the council and the mayor that's already on board. That helps tremendously in that respect. The other thing we've done a lot is start thinking about cycling as far as the tourism aspect for the city. I'm also on the tourism board for Oceanside. And we have a lot of people who come up from the LA area, Riverside area, who want to cycle down the coast and inland. So I'd say that's very important. ST. JOHN: And Chris, are from the regional perspective, do you think that other cities might start to come around? Are there some cities that are less in favor of bicycles that could really change their attitudes? KLUTH: I'd say that it's on the upswing in every community. There are some that are leading the way, getting further out than others. Carlsbad, Chula Vista, they have been doing a lot. Imperial beach. So not to leave anyone without, but they kind of got a jump start. So it's great to see some of the benefits coming around already. ST. JOHN: Very interesting. I'd like to thank our guests very much for coming in. RYAN: Thank you. KLUTH: Thank you. LAGRANGE: Thanks.

Bicycling is fun. It's also an important part of city planners' vision of our future. As a region, we have to cut our carbon footprint even as the population grows. So planners and government officials think researching who is biking where is worth the investment. That's just what San Diego is doing.

Researchers from San Diego State University's Active Transportation Research Center have undertaken the most extensive bicycle count system in the nation.

"Bike Count" began with a $16 million grant to the San Diego County Health Department. It paid for the installation of electronic sensors in 28 locations in San Diego County. There are monitors in 13 cities. Sixteen locations are in the city of San Diego.


The bike sensors have been in place now for about three months, and they tell us a lot about bike traffic volume in San Diego. The number of daily bike trips, on a given road, can range from 25 to 2,500.

Sherry Ryan, a professor of city planning at San Diego State University who manages the Bike Count program, told KPBS they are also using infrared sensors attached to street posts to count pedestrians.

She said their method for counting bikes, using a loop in the road that registers bikers, is innovative, and that their vendor is the only one that provides this service.

Chris Kluth, the senior active transportation planner for SANDAG, said the data will be used to plan the best places for bike facilities.

Both Kluth and Ryan said male cyclists are seen far more often than women, and Kluth added that women cyclists are more commonly seen in areas with more bikers overall.

Corrected: July 15, 2024 at 5:52 PM PDT
Claire Trageser contributed to this report.