Becoming the best cycling city in America

In 2011, City of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel set out a bold vision with three guiding principles:

  1. Provide a bicycle accommodation within a half-mile of every Chicago resident
  2. Provide a greater number of bike ways
  3. Increase the amount of infrastructure where ridership is high, while establishing a strong backbone of infrastructure

Achieving this bold vision would require major change, and major changes require actionable, accurate data. Research showed that bicycling was the fastest growing form of commuting in Chicago, but also revealed that up to 60 percent of riders were concerned about the safety of riding in traffic.

To make informed decisions about cycling infrastructure improvements that would address citizen concerns, the City of Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) asked Fish Transportation Group (FTG) to provide accurate and verifiable multimodal traffic data.

Between March 2012 and October 2014, using a fleet of Miovision Scouts (portable data collection units), FTG collected multimodal traffic counts at more than 500 locations across Chicago, including 100 locations within the busy downtown core. By gathering multimodal traffic data to better understand how the city’s infrastructure was being used by all road users, FTG was able to help Chicago make more data-driven decisions that contributed to some very impressive results:

I felt that not only would the data be more accurate, but it would be safer for us that we’re not in the middle of the road trying to nail down a tube. Now we can collect data throughout the year without worrying about street sweepers or snowplows.

Cindy Fish, Owner/Principal, Fish Transportation Group

Recognizing problems with traditional data collection methods

During the first season of data collection, FTG used a city-owned combination of infrared data collectors for pedestrian counts and pneumatic tubes for bicycles. However, FTG identified some major gaps in data collection using these traditional tools:

  • Lack of verifiability: Neither infrared collectors nor tubes include any capability to audit or verify the counts.
  • Unreliable counts: Tubes are notoriously unreliable, often suffering from chronic overcounting and acute undercounting (due to breakages).
  • Insufficient coverage: Using the city-owned infrastructure limited the collection locations; to provide the data foundation required by the city’s cycling initiative, FTG needed broader coverage.

FTG was also aware of the safety issues associated with pneumatic tubes and was eager for a safer alternative. Starting in 2012, FTG and CDOT fully transitioned to using Miovision Scouts to gather reliable pedestrian and cyclist counts in Chicago.

Using video-based collection to overcome data gaps

The Scout offered FTG a cost-effective, safer, and more accurate alternative to the problematic traditional approaches they had previously used. Using the Scouts also allowed FTG to work within the city’s tight budget and rapidly collect data from a large number of locations.

With verifiable multimodal data, FTG’s use of the Miovision Scout has contributed to the steady progress towards a bike-friendly network within the City of Chicago. The rich traffic data collected has also helped the city quickly achieve some important service and safety milestones, including climbing Bicycling Magazine’s bi-annual ranking of the top cycle cities in the United States:

  • In 2012, Chicago ranked fifth
  • By 2014, Chicago had risen to second
  • In 2016, Chicago took the title as the “Best City in America for Cycling”