Thursday, October 01, 2009

Bike count, "Walk and Ride to School Day" aim to increase ease and safety of people powered transportation

Bike count, "Walk and Ride to School Day" aim to increase ease and safety of people powered transportation

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Just before seven o’clock on the morning of September 9th I took my post at the southeast corner of State and Green Streets in Champaign. The heavy fog that had settled in overnight was beginning to lift, and a gentle breeze made it just a little too cool to be out in short sleeves. Across Green Street the Champaign Public Library and Edison Middle School both stood quiet yet.

Ten minutes later that I saw my first bicyclist, a guy in his late twenties wearing a bright yellow shirt and carrying a heavy backpack. He sailed through the intersection from the north with a slug of automobile traffic, and I made the first tally mark on my “Standard Bicycle Intersection Count Form.”

I was one of 24 volunteers participating that day in a bike count organized by the City of Champaign, the University of Illinois, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, and the C-U Safe Routes to Schools Project. Our count, which will feed into a larger effort, the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project, is geared toward generating baseline data on bicycling.

According to local count organizers, this data will be useful for multiple purposes. It will help guide decisions about changes needed to infrastructure--for example, where bike lanes would help bicyclists and motorists operate with less potential for conflict. It will also help to assess the impact of such changes, especially whether changes increase bicycling, decrease crashes and injuries, and/or increase safe behavior. It is also hoped that possessing consistent, reliable information on bicycling will better enable planners to incorporate appropriate infrastructure for non-motorized forms of transportation into the design and funding of roadway projects.

The overall numbers for the bicycle count I participated in are not yet available, but over the course of my two-hour shift I observed 72 riders, for an average of one every minute and forty seconds. Fifty-five of them were operating as vehicles on the street, while the other 17 rode on the sidewalk. I wasn’t keeping track of how many wore helmets for purposes of the count, but my impression was that about half did.

Given the way my attention is normally drawn to drivers and bicyclists who behave carelessly, I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded that most drivers and bicyclists really are focused on what they’re doing.

If you are interested in the question of how safe and easy it is to get around by bike or on foot in your own neighborhood, you might want to help children participate in “International Walk and Bike to School Day,” which is coming up next Wednesday, October 7th.

In part, the idea behind having a walk and bike to school day is to remind people of the benefits afforded by these modes of transportation, including everything from the lift that individual students get as a result of some physical activity, to the goods of decreased pollution and traffic congestion that can be enjoyed by everyone. [Photo from 2008 "Walk and Ride to School Day" at King School in Urbana, courtesy C-U Safe Routes to School Project.]

Organizers of “Walk and Bike to School Day” also invite parents and students to make note of any difficulties they encounter by means of a checklist. Information from these checklists can then be used to make it safer and easier for children to get to school by walking or biking.

Details about “Walk and Bike to School Day” are available on the Web site of the Champaign-Urbana Safe Routes to School Project at