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Are the City's John Street traffic counts accurate?

Posted by Derek Flack / June 15, 2011

traffic counts John Street TorontoOver on his blog, Mez Dispenser, Dave Meslin has a pretty fascinating post regarding the City of Toronto's cycling counts on John Street. Compiled as part of the John Street Corridor Improvement Study, the City's data indicates that, on average, a (relatively) steady two per cent of traffic on John Street comes in the form of cyclists. That seems bizarre when one considers the degree to which the vehicular and pedestrian traffic fluctuates.

So, working under the assumption that the City's data is erroneous — or, worse, fabricated — Meslin and a small team of traffic counters took to the street to prepare something of a counter study, the results of which indicate a sizable discrepancy. Here are Meslin's counts:

  • 32% - Average for cyclists over two hours, southbound at Richmond.
  • 37% - Highest level of cyclists during a 15 minute period at Richmond.
  • 50% - Average for bikes over 90 minutes, southbound, north of Queen.
  • 774 - Southbound rush-hour cyclists in the Entertainment District

According to a tweet from BikingToronto, the City's figure of two per cent can be rounded from anywhere between 1.5% and 2.4%, and is arrived at over a four hour study period, which is a different method than the one used by Meslin and his team. Be that as it may (and it is a good point), the discrepancy uncovered strikes me as worthy of explanation and further review on the part of the City.

Check out the whole post here, and read the City of Toronto's John Street transportation assessment (PDF) here.

Correction: An earlier version of this post featured a lead graphic that had Meslin's vehicular and pedestrian counts reversed.



AV / June 15, 2011 at 03:50 pm
The city fudged the numbers and never expected anyone to call them on it. Consider me shocked.
Bubba / June 15, 2011 at 04:00 pm
looked at the cities study, kinda strange that their numbers are so consistent for bike users without any highs or lows.
You would think it would vary from morning to mid-day to evening.
dave meslin / June 15, 2011 at 04:03 pm

Thanks for sharing our data. IMPORTANT: The graphic you have up there right now is wrong. We mistakenly switched the car and pedestrian numbers. (haha. we were so focused on the bike data....)

Please use this version: http://meslin.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/comparison2.jpg

Bongo / June 15, 2011 at 04:12 pm
I wish the main illustration of the article would at least have a big "John St." in it. I spent a few moments thinking the illustration was for all of Toronto until I actually read some text. Call me lazy if you want.
Biker / June 15, 2011 at 04:22 pm
Although I haven't read the city's study thoroughly, I can think of lots of easy explanations for the numbers. At night, or in the winter, cycling traffic is going to be much much lower than a nice sunny day in spring. Get a nice slick of ice and snow on the ground and it's possible to go days without SEEING a cyclist in Toronto.

And keep in mind that there are a LOT of walkers at certain hours of the day. Hordes. Piles. Mobs. Cyclists can be large in absolute numbers and still dwarfed by commuting hordes that are an order of magnitude larger still. The numbers would be more useful with absolute numbers of travellers rather than percentages.

The fact that the city has 2% bike traffic for all sorts of different times does seem suspicious though. Bravo for the investigation work, Dave.
Herb replying to a comment from Biker / June 15, 2011 at 05:17 pm
On Mez's site you can see the raw data, Biker. I was there for the count. At my station at John and Queen the absolute numbers of bikes and pedestrians was about the same: cars = 298, bikes = 492, and pedestrians = 516. The numbers weren't that much different further south on John.

Traffic engineers like to use the peak demand as a way of determining the capacity of a road: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/hpmsmanl/appn.cfm

It would be nice if Toronto planners would be consistent in measuring peak bike demand as well, which happens to be between June and September and not October and after.
youRlazy replying to a comment from Bongo / June 15, 2011 at 08:20 pm
i guess the title of the article wasn't much help either, eh?
Steve / June 16, 2011 at 04:15 pm
John St between Grange Park and Richmond is a disaster during rush hour. We need to remove cars from the equation here, they can easily take an alternate route and with the pedestrian traffic across Queen and John, cars just get in the way of the many, many bikes blazing through this corridor.
Mark / June 16, 2011 at 05:39 pm
So when was this "four hour study period?" I have had first-hand experience of the city selecting its study period to correspond to the answer they want to get (mine experience was the St. Clair ROW study, in which they measured traffic volume during the lowest traffic day of the year aside from Christmas morning).

Not surprised the city fudges the numbers when it comes to demonstrating that biking is minimal.
the lemur replying to a comment from Steve / June 16, 2011 at 06:29 pm
Right now, John is closed between Queen and Richmond, so cars are forced to take an alternative route, which seems to be mostly Richmond and Peter. That's pretty much where they'll end up if John is closed or restricted for cars on a permanent basis.
Antony / June 16, 2011 at 06:45 pm

The City's Manager of Infrastructure Planning has disowned the 2% figure, saying they weren't "satisfied that that was an accurate representation of things".

They promise to publish the figures and methodology of an October 2010 re-count.
クリスチャンルブタン facebook / July 13, 2013 at 04:30 am
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