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31 March 2020

Keeping the Wheels Moving on Data Collection and Analysis

Control what you can, has been the message throughout both the industry and from community leaders throughout these uncertain times. For engineers and planners, data collection plays a critical role in establishing ‘base’ conditions for transport planning and traffic impact assessments alike. Several reports in the past week have stated that pedestrian and vehicle activity has dropped to as low as 10-20% in cities where social distancing and non-essential travel bans have been implemented.

The Challenge

How do we currently collect data?

Two of the most common ways data is collected for use by transport planners and traffic engineers are:

  • Traffic classifier counts – these typically record the number, size and direction of vehicles over a given time period, usually for a minimum of 7-days
  • Turning movement counts – these are typically done by video, although can be done manually, to count the proportion of vehicles turning in each direction and approach at intersecting roads

A business as unusual approach.

Councils as the responsible authority will often require the preparation of a traffic impact assessment and / or a car parking demand assessment to accompany a town planning application. A typical approach for both of these activities includes the collection of baseline data, using the methods above. The reduced activity on our roads has significantly reduced the ability to gather current and accurate data to work with.

What are the other options available in this situation?

Data sharing and leveraging of industry networks

  • A number of data collection company’s (including both MATRIX and Trans Traffic Surveys) are making historic data available
  • Many Council traffic engineering and asset management teams collect their own traffic data to inform traffic studies or investigations of their own (including traffic, bicycle and pedestrian counts)

Our industry is excellent at sharing thoughts and ideas, but sometimes not so good at ‘sharing data’. In the new ‘data’ era, now is a great opportunity to collaborate with others, for the benefit of the community.

Open source data

  • VicRoads publish traffic data via ‘open source’ platforms online, available for public access.
  • A great viewing tool exists here.

Old vs historic data

  • Data typically gets ‘old’ once 2-3 years pass by, depending on the level of development or change in the surrounding area.
  • Where change has been minimal over a long period of time, historic data can still be considered to be ‘current’ and this is where adjustment, or factoring up based on growth or land use changes can be established to provide a picture of the base conditions. 

Parking surveys

  • Undertaking ‘spot counts’ using Nearmap in lieu of undertaking parking surveys at recognised peak times
  • Request the use of previous parking assessments undertaken by Council (e.g. precinct parking plans, town centre parking studies)

A point to remember

Many of the suggestions listed here are not ‘uncommon’ in current practices, and these are certainly not an exhaustive list of all the options available.

For new or experimental ways of analysing data which is different to the accepted ‘norm’, it is important to consult with Council and clients first, to establish if these methods will be accepted in the subsequent assessment of applications and supporting documentation.

Long term opportunities

As engineers, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to provide solutions to complex situations. The current situation will present many additional challenges, many of which we haven’t even thought of yet.

Nevertheless, this current situation provides us all with an opportunity to challenge the status-quo, by controlling what we can during these uncertain times, and moving out of our comfort zone when it comes to solving problems.

Like Council, State Government, consultants, architects and development managers alike, Ratio Consultants is working remotely and fully operational during the Covid-19 pandemic. Remember, we are all in this together, so whether it’s a new job or just to collaborate or chat about the situation in general, please don’t hesitate to contact us for phone, video or email chat.


Author: Ben Krastins, Senior Traffic Engineer

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