Texas A&M technology being used to make Houston better for walkers, bikers

HOUSTON – As a whole, we’ve been studying and counting cars on our roads for more than 70 years, but data on cyclists and pedestrians is limited.

We know a lot about where cars and trucks are going, but The Texas Department of Transportation and other agencies don’t have the same amount of information for bicyclists and pedestrians.

TxDOT has teamed up with Texas A&M Transportation Institute researchers to evaluate the best pedestrian bicycle monitoring technology to get an accurate pulse of those who walk or bike on our Texas roadways.

Through their research, data has shown, on a good day in Memorial Park, there are sometimes up to 6,000 people walking around.

According to Texas A&M, pedestrians and cyclists are about 5-10% of the total traffic stream we see in Texas.

The process in collecting the numbers behind this data is something we as a state are just tapping into.

“This is a fairly new area in traffic monitoring in terms of monitoring bicyclists and pedestrians, and it uses some newer technologies,” P.E. Senior Research Engineer Shawn Turner said.

The technology used are posts about three or four feet high that have infrared cameras that detect body heat when people walk by, and there’s a device cut into the concrete that detects metal on bikes.

Over 500 locations around town have been studied with this technology, helping engineers determine the following things:

“You build side walks or maybe you don’t build sidewalks, or you build a bike lane, or maybe you have an argument of, ‘Gee should we really build a bike lane here? I don’t think anybody is gonna come,’” said Turner.

Some of these research spots include Hobby Airport, Memorial City Mall, and up and down Interstate 10, but these areas were only studied for a two-week time period.

“It’s just a snapshot, but then we can use the permanent counters to help expand that data,” said Benz.

But now, in partnership with the Houston Galveston Council, there are several permanent posts to monitor this kind of traffic around town, including places like the Memorial Park Conservancy area, tracking data 24/7.

Researchers at Texas A&M really want to emphasize that agencies are just now starting to do this type of monitoring for cyclists and pedestrians, compared to the 60 or 70 years engineers have studied cars. So this information is imperative to help identify pedestrians and cyclists make their presence count when it comes to transportation planning.

About the Author:

Traffic expert and What’s Driving Houston reporter, proud Latina, lover of animals, food and our beautiful planet.