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Cities Require More Data to Improve Micromobility Projects

Highly detailed data around cycling and pedestrian activity has not always been easy to come by. Public officials and micromobility advocates stress the need for better data to make the case for more and better infrastructure.

Better micromobility plans and infrastructure start with better data, offering new insights into road safety, traffic intensity, mode shift and equity.

“Compared to five years ago, we have a lot of data now, which is good,” said Jackie DeWolfe, director of sustainable mobility at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).

DeWolfe, on a June 28 panel discussion hosted by StreetLight Data, went on to say public-sector organizations can still use more data related to safety in areas like crash data or near-miss data.

“We’re not caught up yet,” said DeWolfe, referring to the gap between cycling data and vehicle data.

Transportation technology companies like StreetLight Data are increasingly sharpening their data-gathering and analysis skills, offering up information related to not only the number of transportation modes in movement on a given street at any given time, but a deeper understanding of the nature of these trips, the demographics of the users and other details seen as crucial as cities attempt to remake their transportation systems to operate more equitably and more sustainably.

“Active transportation is definitely a hot topic throughout the country,” said Jeff Peel, account executive at StreetLight Data, in some of his comments on the panel.

“Many of our clients have some data. But not for every location, and every time that they need it,” Peel continued.

High-level data gives officials the confidence they need in their decision-making to justify the investments they’re making, he added. “Whether it’s bike lanes or sidewalk extensions.”

Better data is helping to make the case for improved funding for micromobility infrastructure, and the public policy needed to put it in place, said Bill Nesper, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, an organization of some 200,000 members and supporters.

When it comes to data — the gathering and the analysis — “We’re not there yet. We need to be doing a lot more to be accurate,” said Nesper. “We don’t treat people riding bikes the same way we do for automobile traffic."

The COVID-19 pandemic upended commuter patterns, flattening peak travel times and often increasing biking. Remnants of the shift remain as large segments of the population continue to work from home. Which means the old data from before the pandemic, and even the old ways of collecting transportation data, has changed, say observers.

“We saw early on that our customers really wanted to monitor and track those changes. They wanted to gather data in ways that they hadn’t before,” said Peel.

“They were also hoping to respond to, and sort of facilitate, these active mode trips in a real up-to-date sort of way," he added.

And the passage of a major infrastructure overhaul package by Congress means there will be more transportation funding available, and more opportunities for cities and states to make the case that a bike lane project, street redesign or other mobility change is deserving of funds. Those grant applications will be evaluated across a number of metrics, raising the need for detailed, accurate mobility data.

Federal funding earmarked for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is often tied to vulnerable road-user safety assessments, said Nesper, from the League of American Bicyclists. “Having this kind of data is going to be a really big part of making those assessments as clear as possible."

“We all know that if you aren’t counting, it doesn’t count,” he quipped.
Government Technology is a sister site to Governing. Both are divisions of e.Republic.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.
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