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Los Angeles bike and pedestrian count kicks off

Volunteers with UCLA, the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition and Los Angeles Walks will be hitting the streets Wednesday and Saturday to count bikes and pedestrians.

The survey has been conducted every other year since 2009 to provide policymakers with information on how cyclists and walkers use the streets.

While many local governments measure car traffic, they don't always collect data on biking and walking, which leaves major questions unanswered, according to Herbie Huff, who researches bike issues at UCLA's Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

"How effective are bike lanes? Are more people riding today than they were a year ago or two years ago? Where is it dangerous to walk?" she said. "Without this data we don't know."

Answers to questions like these are growing more pressing as the city of Los Angeles moves ahead with the Mobility Plan 2035, which aims to add hundreds of miles of bike lanes in the city and, under the concurrent Vision Zero initiative, reduce traffic fatalities to zero within 10 years.

"Collecting this data about how many people are biking and walking is fundamental to those [planning] efforts," said Eric Bruins, policy director with the L.A. County Bike Coalition. 

He said in order for officials to know which streets and intersections to focus on for safety improvements, they must know not just where bicycle crashes occur, but the amount of traffic at the time. 

Bruins hopes as biking and walking become bigger parts of public policy discussions in cities around the region, local officials will begin to conduct their own surveys. 

The U.S. Census Bureau collects information about the number of people who bike to work (1.2 percent in Los Angeles), but that figure doesn't include those who bike to a train or bus and then travel to work or those who take non-work trips. 

Hundreds of volunteers will be stationed at 180 locations, conducting the manual counts and marking down information like gender, special needs, the direction people are traveling and their use of sidewalks or bike lanes.

Previous reports have shown a higher number of people bike on streets with bike lanes, with a lower than average number biking on the sidewalk or against traffic — one of the top causes of bike collisions with cars.