Effective planning for walking requires an understanding of pedestrian movement and activity (or lack of activity). Measuring pedestrian activity allows us to assess current demand, provide a basis for assessing future demand and to inform on-going investment and maintenance activities. It is important to measure not just the number of pedestrians, but the types and whether they are walking through or dwelling in a place.

For example:

  • A gender imbalance (fewer than 50% female) may suggest that the personal security of a place is poor
  • An age imbalance may suggest that the place is not inclusive of the needs of children or older people
  • An absence of people, particularly those with disabilities, may suggest that safe, obvious step-free choices are not present. 

Ensuring an area reflects the characteristics of a walkable pedestrian network can address these imbalances.

PNG: Pedestrian network characteristics

Why measure

Reasons to measure pedestrians may include:

  • collecting baseline information for development of a strategy or plan
  • monitoring a network/route/location
  • planning for and/or measuring success of an intervention.

Measuring pedestrian activity can also be useful for sectors other than transport, for example, many city centres count pedestrians as a proxy indicator of economic activity or to investigate links between walking and/or health, or to measure the liveability of an area.

What to measure

Depending on the reason for measuring, a variety of metrics can be captured, for example:

  • How many people are walking?
  • Who is walking? (assuming age group and gender through observation, or by asking people as part of the counting)
  • What proportion of people are using mobility aids? (as a proxy indicator of accessibility)
  • Why people are walking
  • How people are using a facility or space
  • Walking speeds and their variation
  • Dwell times: how long people are spending in a defined space

All of these measures can be assessed through a manual observation survey. Surveyors can count pedestrians at specific locations in-person or by reviewing video footage. Information about why people are walking, including where they are walking from and to, can be captured by intercept surveys. In an intercept survey, surveyors interview pedestrians about who they are and characteristics of their trip.

Measuring the proportion of people using mobility aids can be done manually and be supplemented with interviews.  A pilot study was undertaken in Hamilton and the methodology can be found in the resulting report.

Measuring accessible journeys: a tool to enable participation(external link)

A pedestrian survey undertaken on a length of street can establish where people prefer to walk, where they cross the street and how frequently crossing facilities are used.

Example project that examined crossing locations of pedestrians on Oriental Parade, Wellington (external link)

When to measure

Volumes of pedestrians vary by time of day, week and year; and in different weather conditions. Depending on the measurement purpose, surveys may be most appropriate at peak times (eg when deciding on the extent of pedestrian facilities at a new or improved intersection) or outside of peak times, eg in a city centre environment where most pedestrians might be active in the middle of the day. Some survey times will depend on the immediately surrounding land use, such as school start and finish times, or shift change times near a hospital. In some locations, for example, in a city centre or retail area, weekends may be busier and therefore should be surveyed as well.

The more data that is collected, the more robust the results are likely to be, but as a minimum, two-hour surveys of pedestrian activity across each of morning, midday and afternoon/evening peak hours is a good starting point. In locations with fewer than 100 pedestrians per hour, longer surveys may be required to achieve a robust result.

To analyse the effectiveness of an intervention, several hundred pedestrian observations are likely to be required before and after the intervention is installed. If the behaviour of a particular sub-group of pedestrians is of interest (eg school-aged children, or people who use mobility aids) then as a minimum, 50 pedestrians in each sub-group of interest should be counted. Planners can then estimate the length of survey time likely to be required, depending on how many pedestrians are observed in the initial surveys.

The ideal time of year to monitor walking in a general sense and to compare year to year is when weather conditions are favourable – this usually means the summer months. For year to year comparisons, it is important to avoid short term, special events which are likely to skew the data showing unexpectedly high pedestrian flows. It is good practice to collect data at the same time each year, as long as weather conditions are comparable.

In some cases it may be desirable to count when special events are happening to identify peak pedestrian volumes to design for, for example, after a sports event.

Pedestrian flows can fluctuate significantly owing to weather, school/public holidays, sporting events and seasonal factors such as daylight hours and tourism activities. All factors that may influence the results should be noted when the survey is carried out and included when interpreting historic data. For this reason, consideration should be given to the survey method as a means to understand long-term trends.

Where to measure

Pedestrian surveys should take place to understand current demand (for situations where a project location is yet to be defined), or where there is likely to be new investment that affects pedestrian travel. Depending on the nature of the problem or project, some monitoring activities may require a number of surveys carried out simultaneously in different locations to provide reliable and useful data. These approaches are known as ‘site-specific’ for surveys in the scheme’s immediate vicinity and ‘areawide’ for those on the immediate approach to, or within, the area.

If your survey is counting pedestrians then the counts are undertaken as either linear counts or cordon counts. Linear counts consider the number of people passing a specified point or line. These counts are most appropriate where people are walking along a defined path or restricted to a limited area, meaning most of them will pass the designated location. This could include locations such as along a footpath, or across a road. Pedestrians are typically counted crossing the point/line in each or all directions.

Cordon counts consider the number of people entering (or exiting) an area. They are most appropriate for locations where one or more defined entrance/exit points provide access to the area. Cordon count locations might include a school or sports facility. As an example, the annual Auckland Transport Active Mode survey includes cordon counts so they can monitor people entering the city on foot and that is compared year upon year.

Auckland Transport active mode survey(external link)

Another way of collecting pedestrian origin or destination data is through interviews or questionnaires.

How to measure

Emerging technologies for pedestrian data collection include crowd-sourced data and WiFi/Bluetooth surveys. Crowd-sourced data can include voluntary feedback systems for pedestrians to identify faults or uncomfortable locations on their routes (eg, the Snap Send Solve app by Christchurch City Council). WiFi and bluetooth technologies can be used to count pedestrians, including anonymised origin/destination surveys. They can be costly to install but are likely to yield more data than manual surveys, so are most useful for long-term pedestrian count locations, and to track pedestrian movement patterns.

The table below shows some common techniques (see also Austroads Guide to Traffic Management Part 3 for examples of counting technologies and approaches).

Christchurch City Council – Snap Send Solve app(external link)

Austroads Guide to Traffic Management Part 3(external link)

Table: Measuring methods

Technique Characteristics
Interviews and questionnaires
On-street surveys
  • Can collect origin and destination data that enable trip length and route to be determined, as well as demonstrating how walking relates to other modes.
  • Can also be used to gather information on perceptions of the walking environment by those actually using the facilities.
Household surveys Useful to obtain general and background information on walking trips.
Travel diaries
Pedestrian counts
Manual pedestrian counts

Collect a range of data for pedestrian flows, such as:

  • pedestrian ages
  • group size
  • mobility impairments
  • conflicts with vehicles or other pedestrians
  • crossing location
  • delays experienced
  • path taken across the road
  • uncertainty in crossing (abortive crossing attempts).

Need to have enough staff to cope with anticipated pedestrian numbers and avoid fatigue/loss of accuracy.

Surveys can be videotaped and reviewed later, but this increases costs.

Automatic video imaging
  • Walking activity is videotaped and subsequently processed using computer software.
  • Can provide good data when extended monitoring is required.
  • Generally, less flexible and more expensive than manual methods.
Infrared sensors (through-beam or retro-reflective)
  • Create an invisible beam that pedestrians break as they walk past.
  • Pedestrians have to be in single file, which occurs infrequently.
  • Can provide good data when extended monitoring is required.
  • Generally, more expensive than manual methods.
Infrared sensors (diff use-reflective)
  • Capture pedestrian targets and trace their path.
  • Very flexible and can produce data on walking speed, routes and sudden deviations (indicating conflicts).
  • Can provide good data when extended monitoring is required.
  • Generally, more expensive than manual methods.

As well as counting, there are other sources of data that can provide insights into walking. This includes census data collected by Statistics NZ that can be examined by statistical area.

Useful census data includes:

  • age structure
  • household access to a motor vehicle
  • deprivation
  • gender.

Statistics NZ table viewer (external link)

Other useful data sources include household travel surveys, user satisfaction surveys (such as Council Residents Surveys, that may include questions such as satisfaction with footpaths), public transport passenger data, and signals operation data (pedestrian crossing activation). All of these have strengths and limitations which should be considered in conjunction with the purpose of collecting the data.

Pedestrian data within other surveys

Pedestrian counts and surveys can sometimes be easily included within other surveys, such as manual classified vehicle counts. While this is a straightforward and cost-effective way of gathering information, it does have drawbacks, such as:

  • the survey locations and timing may not be appropriate for observing representative pedestrian flows and patterns
  • the surveys may only identify the main mode of travel, rather than all modes
  • the surveys may be targeted at groups that do not have typical walking behaviour
  • when surveyors get busy, they tend to miss pedestrians.

As a result, this technique should only be used in addition to, not in place of, properly arranged and programmed pedestrian counts.

Further guidance

Two useful guides that give further detail on measuring pedestrian activity and participation surveys are Measuring Walking (Victoria Walks, 2013) and Using Public Life Tools: The Complete Guide (Gehl, 2017).

Measuring walking – a guide for councils(external link)

Using Public Life Tools: the complete guide(external link)

The Planning for Walking Toolkit (Transport for London, 2020) also provides guidance on different techniques to understand pedestrian movements.

The Planning for Walking Toolkit(external link)

Also see Austroads Guide to Traffic Management Part 3 and supporting webinar for more information, Measuring pedestrians – survey and audit methods.

Austroads – Measuring pedestrians – survey and audit methods(external link)