Dave Meslin organized a bike count a couple days ago to find out if the John Street Corridor EA's 2% bike mode share claim was correct or not. I joined the effort. What we found out, and suspected, was that it was quite unlikely that 2% could be accurate. The EA claimed that cycling rates on John Street were a steady 2%, morning, afternoon, weekday and weekend. For our count during a 2 hour period from 7:30 to 9:30 am, the bike mode share was much higher (32% for southbound bike traffic at John and Richmond; 50% bike mode share for southbound bike traffic at John and Queen; and 38% bike mode share for both north and southbound at John and Queen). A lot higher.
In the Star today Vaughan responded that “The reality is that the traffic counts that were done by the professionals were done to the standards that are acceptable to the city’s engineering department. They are what they are and I’m not going to get into a quibble if he (Meslin) stood there for an hour one morning and saw 20 cyclists."
Really? So why are our own counts corroborated by the City's Transportation Services separate bike counts (which also don't seem to have been taken into account by the EA from what we can tell)? In this pdf you can see that the number of cyclists fluctuates quite a bit over the day; it's highly unlikely that these numbers would equal 2% bike mode share at every hour in the day. To maintain 2% car and pedestrian traffic would have to fluctuate at the same rate from a low of 50 cars + peds an hour to a high of 6900 an hour! Or by the day it comes to 73,500 cars + pedestrians to 1500 bikes. That's just really hard to believe for such a minor street.
Stephen Schijns, the city’s head of infrastructure planning, said the study’s cycling figures were established through counts conducted at various seasons and times of day. He said the consistent 2 per cent figure was the result of averaging the numbers during the professional survey.
“It’s certainly not a plugged-in number,” Schijns said. “It could have perhaps been explained a little better.”
I believe that it's common for planners to estimate the capacity needed on a street by measuring its peak traffic, not an average over seasons or times of day. The US Federal Highway Administration measures road capacity using "peak lanes" (number of through lanes used in the peak period in the peak direction). It would make sense to me that in measuring the road capacity on John Street that they account for the peak traffic by mode. They need to measure the peak bike traffic, peak pedestrian traffic and peak car traffic. Only then can we approach a better way to "balance" the transportation modes for a street.
At any rate, it's unclear why they found it useful to obscure all regular fluctuations in the traffic volumes. It's no secret that bicycle traffic increases dramatically every sprint and dies down every late fall. The same could be said for pedestrian traffic. But I haven't heard anyone argue that we shouldn't put in sidewalks because they are not used as much in the depths of winter.
I understand that traffic engineering in general hasn't been the most attentive to the needs of cyclists and pedestrians, because it has tended to focus almost exclusively on peak automobile traffic and trying to optimize road capacity based on that number. The City of Toronto cycling department has already attempted to remedy that by conducting their downtown screenline count last fall. This project follows the protocol of the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Project (NBPP) of the Institute of Transportation Engineers in the U.S., which works towards providing consistent counting methods and analysis for cyclists and pedestrians.
How will that methodology be expanded to all transportation planning in the City?
On John Street we have an opportunity to shape the way we do urban planning and accommodate pedestrians and cyclists properly. So I think it would be great if Schijns would provide the raw data to the public, provide the reasoning for averaging out the seasons rather than focusing on the peak periods, and explain if their methodology complied with the NBPP.