If you build it — oh wait…they’re already here!

Last Saturday I joined a group of volunteers to help Lancaster Bikes! (The Coalition for a Bicycle Friendly Lancaster) perform bike counts at various locations across Lancaster City. A bike count is pretty much what it sounds like…someone stands at a certain location and tallies the number of bicyclists that travel by. We used a methodology supported by the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project sponsored by the Institute of Traffic Engineers among others. It may not sound all that exciting but it’s an important step towards proper planning for future bicycle infrastructure. My assignment was at the intersection of North Mulberry and North Lemon Streets where I counted one bike about every 4 minutes!

You see, Lancaster City has committed to encouraging residents to bike more…it’s good for our health, the environment and it just might help reduce traffic congestion. This means that we will likely see a bike lane or two in the near future as well as “sharrow” or shared lane markings as shown in the photo above. This marking alerts motorists that bicyclists will be on the street and helps to remind them to give bicyclists at least four feet of space when passing (it’s a PA state law!) These markings also help guide bicyclists as to where they should ride within the lane and reminds them not to ride too close to parked cars (a driver’s side door that’s quickly opened is a huge hazard for cyclists).

Planners need to be strategic in determining where these bike friendly lanes and markings are placed, so understanding the existing bike traffic patterns is crucial. For example, my counts showed that most cyclists heavily used Lemon Street. College students and visitors to the Lemon Street Market were primary users.

If the bicycle counts are significantly higher at one location than at other streets, then it might make sense to concentrate funds for improvements along the more heavily traveled street. Or planners might find a better route that would be safer for cyclists and concentrate efforts on improving that alternate route, so proper interpretation and application of the data is also important for planners and engineers. This initial bike count data can also aid in evaluating how successful the bicycle friendly improvements are. This will help ensure that funds are being spent in the most effective way and that the City is getting the most bang for its buck.

So next time you’re out and about, keep an eye open for those cyclists among us…and if you’re on a bike, give a friendly waive to the folks on the corner with clipboards in their hands!

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