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1 March 2017
Case Study: Using Permanent and Temporary Counters in Quebec City
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Quebec City is one of North America’s oldest cities and Canada’s 11th largest city with over 500,000 inhabitants. This picturesque city has no shortage of cycling tourism – there are 315 km of bike lanes to explore. In 2016, an official vision was created to encourage cycling as a practical and secure transportation option for visitors and residents alike. Part of this vision includes adapting the cycling network to the largest source of bike traffic – workers and students.

Jean-François Martel, Transportation Planning Advisor at the City of Quebec, shared with us findings from three permanent counters and two mobile counters tracking the numbers of cyclists who use key routes. As bike infrastructure is added or improved, permanent and mobile counters can provide the necessary data to perform before-and-after comparisons and communicate results.

Permanent and mobile counters work together to measure long term trends and make comparisons

Permanent counters can provide baselines and long-term trends. In Quebec City, they helped to confirm if predominantly commuters or recreational cyclists are using routes. One permanent counter on a dedicated bike path running along the Saint Charles river determined that morning traffic is on average very high, followed by steady traffic for the rest of the day. Without a sharp decline after the morning commute, it is likely both utilitarian and recreational cyclists use the path.

Counter site: St. Charles bike path in Quebec City

St. Charles bike path in Quebec City.

Continuous year-long data is also important for providing a baseline from which to compare future bike traffic once further developments or improvements are in place. A permanent counter measures bike traffic to and from a technology park, a busy place for young workers, that will experience future development. Peak commuter bike traffic is measured at this location.

Counter site on the way to a technology park.

Counting site on the way to a technology park.

How do mobile counters contribute? Mobile temporary counters are used to gather data over multiple locations and create comparisons between different sites. Ideally, data is recorded long enough to account for fluctuations in weather conditions. Permanent counters can in turn validate the data to account for any errors or abnormalities.

“Since we look at the use of twenty bike facilities over the year, and we only have two temporary counters, time is of the essence,” explains Jean-François Martel, “at the same time we needed to leave the counters at each site for two weeks to be able to tell the difference between a rainy day and a sunny day.” Permanent counters act as a control variable to test and extrapolate data taken over two week intervals by mobile counters.

Counts can justify projects that impact parking and vehicle traffic

Cycling infrastructure can impact the availability of parking, and to gain business and public support it’s essential to gather data that demonstrates the benefits and need for infrastructure. A permanent counter at an East-West corridor, Pere-Marquette Street, evaluates cycling infrastructure connecting workplaces on both ends of the city. Data showed there were three times the number of cyclists on Pere-Marquette, with dedicated cycling infrastructure, than on other parallel streets. The ability to compare other routes without infrastructure was made possible using mobile counters on streets parallel to Pere-Marquette.

Counter at Père-Marquette Street in Quebec City.

Père-Marquette Street in Quebec City.

Comparisons and long-term trends help to demonstrate the need to provide infrastructure for cyclists. Having objective figures to show the community was essential to proving the benefit of Pere-Marquette’s infrastructure. “Our concern was being able to have counts that could not be called into question,” adds Martel, “often, when it comes to cycling, there are a lot of perceptions and impressions.”

Before using automatic counters, Quebec City performed manual counts of pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles at large intersections for three hours in both the morning and afternoon. However, these counts at intersections were not accurate representations of how cycling infrastructure was used on a daily and continuous basis. Continuous counts offer a way to accurately measure and communicate progress. Key results are shared at press conferences.

Less than one year following the installation of counters, bike traffic data is now available to make comparisons geographically throughout the network. Pilot and new infrastructure will continue to be evaluated and improved as Quebec City moves forward with its cycling vision.

Want to learn more about permanent and temporary bike counters? Discover our solutions for active transportation.

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