Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Shopping for Pedestrian Counts. CDA Compares Three Services.

When we work with clients, we are always thrilled when they have reliable pedestrian count data. This information makes it much easier for us to quickly understand what kinds of businesses an area can support, and when combined with market data, allows us to better understand the market forces that will result in thriving businesses.

Pedestrian counts (or "ped counts" for short) are perhaps one of the most valuable metrics for commercial district practitioners looking to attract quality retailers. Ped counts help us understand how people move through commercial districts and reveal actual peak hours and peak days, which can inform a variety of decisions, from business hours to the business location for different retailers.

Thanks to recent improvements in sensor technology, costs are decreasing and making pedestrian counts an increasingly attractive tool. Below is a comparison of three of the most popular suppliers in the market today, which we've summarized in a simple chart.

Motionloft is a US based data service provider specialized in pedestrian and vehicular counts. Its proprietary-owned sensor technology can track pedestrian and vehicular traffic in real-time. Sensors can be installed indoors or outdoors and require access to power and a clear line of sight. 

Reports include data summaries showing peak hours and days, and allow real interaction with the data (letting clients set parameters based on time, location, weather and direction of travel). Clients can choose between short-term (1 month) and long-term studies (1+years).  The cost per sensor for a 1 month study is $1,800 and $3,300 for a year study. The cost includes installation and calibration of the sensor(s), 24/7 access to data through the company’s online dashboard as well as reports in both pdf and excel formats.

Springboard is a British-based service provider specialized in pedestrian, vehicular and sales data. Counting devices monitor pedestrian and vehicular traffic in real-time, and are installed on buildings or lighting columns that provide access to power and a clear line of sight.

Data is delivered through reports, daily feeds and through Springboard Analyser, the company’s web-based analysis tool. Reports include data summaries showing peak hours and days, and allow some customization (based on time, location, weather and direction of travel). The cost for a 3yr study (the minimum recommended by the company) is $2,250 per sensor per year (without the cost of the 3G network, which is $600/yr). It is important to note that Springboard counters, depending on the location installed, have the capacity to track more than one intersection with the same counter. 

Eco Counter is an international provider of pedestrian and bicycles counting systems. Unlike the previous suppliers mentioned, the firm manufactures and sells counting equipment and accompanying data analysis software. The company offers two main sensors for counting pedestrians in urban environments: the Pyro Sensor and the Citix. The Pyro has two formats, the Pyro-Box or the Pyro in an urban post. The Pyro-Box Sensor comes in the form of a box that is installed at some pole or lighting column. It has the advantage that is can be moved (without the need for additional calibration). The Pyro in an urban post comes in the form of a metal short post that is affixed to the pavement. Both counters track pedestrian movement in both directions 24/7. Both Pyro models are battery operated and come with a 10-year battery life. They cost $3,500 and include installation, web-based analysis software with customization options, a public web-page for sharing the data as well as a widget that can be integrated to your district’s website.

The other model, recommended for high traffic areas, is the Citix. Citix is an overhead mounted counter that requires on-site power.  It counts pedestrian movement 24/7 in both directions, but the overhead feature makes it suitable for high traffic areas that require more precision.  Citix costs $5,000 and also includes installation, web-based analysis software with customization options, a public web-page for sharing the data as well as a widget that can be integrated to your district’s website.

How can you tell which service works best for your district? First, it depends on your traffic volume, district size and budget. Second, it also depends on your capacity to use the data strategically and ensure that the investment is worth the cost.

Motionloft is the only supplier with a short term option. Its 30-day study option can be used as a trial that allows you to test the waters and see how to use ped counts to measure overall trends in your district. This shorter option is also useful when you’re dealing with a very limited budget or when you need immediate information for a market demand update but you’re not ready for a long-term commitment. 

Springboard brings longer experience with ped count data and the counts are often part of a larger comprehensive set of services that includes retail sales and other metrics of district evaluation.  Also, Springboard sensors have the advantage of tracking more than one side of an intersection, which means that you’ll need fewer sensors for more complex and heavy trafficked areas. Larger districts with larger budgets such as Times Square Alliance and Grand Central Partnership have been using Springboard for ped counts quite successfully.  

Eco counter seems to be the most affordable option for long-term continuous counts. The cost of its cheapest sensors (the pyro) are similar to Motionloft’s 1-yr study and cheaper than Springboard’s 3-yr study. Plus, you can move them around and count different sections of your corridor without the need for recalibration. It is important to keep in mind that pyro sensors are only recommended for medium trafficked areas. Busier districts will have to get the more expensive equipment, called Citix. However, having your own sensors brings other issues, like assuming the risk of any equipment damage caused by vandalism or natural causes (hurricanes, etc.).  All things to consider...

We think that all three offer excellent service - but are different enough that the best fit will depend on your needs and capabilities. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Aerial Photography, aka "Downtown with Drones"

Looking for a great pic of your downtown - one that belongs on the cover of your next marketing piece or annual report? Why not consider a drone image? These days, more and more photographers are offering drone photography to their customers. This article on a Columbus, OH based firm might get you inspired to find a local firm taking drone pictures in your next of the woods.

Downtown Austin, TX
Downtown Calgary, Canada
Downtown Orlando, FL
Downtown Delaware, pic taken by Columbus-based Infinite Impact

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Can ridesharing help reinvigorate downtowns?

Last night I got some grief from a yellow taxi cab driver as I got into his cab at LaGuardia Airport. Tired from a long flight, I just wanted to get home. Instead I was told my choice of destination – a mere 10 minute cab ride from the airport– was too short to be worthwhile. Understandably, he wanted to pick up someone going a longer distance which would obviously result in a higher fare. I get it. He had been waiting for a ride for quite some time and here I go with a fare at least 25% of what he was expecting. From my perspective, I just wanted to get home without feeling guilty. He then helpfully suggested that I take the bus next time. 

When I relayed this experience on Facebook, I was surprised to see how many people responded with similar experiences. One neighbor suggested that she and her husband now call Uber - and they haven’t looked back since. At least an Uber driver knows what they are agreeing to before accepting the ride. All this got me to thinking...as Uber and other ridesharing services like Lyft start replacing traditional cabs, is the impact a good or bad thing for our downtown communities?

I started looking around for research on this topic and realized there wasn't much out there. Most of the analysis concerns the impact on labor markets and downtown congestion, but I was wondering instead about the impact on parking requirements and car ownship rates. If downtown living is made easier by ride sharing apps – meaning that downtown residents could choose to forgo a car entirely – or if downtown visitors choose Uber over their private cars resulting in lower parking demand – isn’t that a good thing for the future of downtown?

I immediately recalled an article in the New York Times that peaked my interest a little over a year ago entitled “How Uber is Changing Night Life in Los Angeles” (NYTimes, 10/31/14). The article found a growing group of urban residents eschewing their cars – either only on weekends or entirely – and being “suddenly free to drink, party and walk places.” One artist who lives in Venice indicated that Uber had made a visit to downtown Hollywood on a weeknight an option that it hadn’t been before, saying “The prospect of going to Hollywood on a weekend night, if I was invited to a party or an art event, it just wouldn’t happen. I would just stay home.” For downtown advocates like myself, this is music to the ears. 
Could ride sharing change the fundamental
dynamics of the downtown core? 
For many thriving downtown, the visitor is increasingly looking for entertainment and dining, so it stands to reason that removing the challenges of driving (who wants to sit in traffic?) and finding parking, not to mention avoiding driving home drunk, would make downtown more appealing. Not only that, but if ride sharing makes car ownership less likely, then what follows is an opportunity to increase density without added parking. This would also serve to make downtown housing more affordable to build. And once that happens, could changes in land use regulations and parking requirements be far behind?

Another potential area of impact – and this one is mostly for folks outside of the downtown core – is the potential for ride sharing to bridge the gap between trains and buses by helping people in far flung neighborhoods get their local bus or rail stops. This is called the “first-mile/last-mile” challenge. Right now Uber is working in Dallas and Atlanta and is in discussions with Seattle and Tampa, to help make better connections between public transit and car sharing apps. All good news.

Ride sharing is also helping during peak demand times – such as special events. For downtowns that host major events, ride sharing can make attendance easier – by reducing the need to drive and park. Ultimately, the driving and parking experience, if it is not a positive one, undermines the overall experience and deters attendance. Perhaps ride sharing can mitigate against those outcomes?

Another potential positive is the need for parking near train stations. Would this also mean less parking would be needed near train stations if folks can take an Uber? Having lived in suburban New York, near a regional commuter line, I can tell you that being able to take Uber to the train station would have made a real difference in my ability to get to and from the train line - which was my link to "the City". In my case, the parking in and around the station was limited to residential permit holders, making it nearly impossible to get a spot when I needed one. And when I did find one it was often a long, cold, dark walk. Uber would have been a game changer for me.

I don’t think I am alone. Steve Lopez, a reporter for the LA Times tried out driving for Uber and wrote a fun piece a few days ago. (“After driving for Uber, he's keeping his day job”, LA Times, 1/13/16). One of his riders, Robecca Collins, is quoted as saying "I go out a fair amount with friends, and no one really drives anymore because no one wants to find parking". She went on to offer that she plans to sell her car because she isn’t driving it much anymore. She also said she was tired of getting grief from taxi drivers who hassled her about using a credit card.

None of this means that Uber isn’t having significant - maybe even negative - impact on taxi drivers and other competitors, who frequently complain to me about the loss in riders and income. It also doesn't speak to the increase of cars on the road from Uber (which is what some folks have argued, “Uber’s Own Numbers Show It’s Making Traffic Worse”, Streetsblog NYC, 7/22/15). But it does give us some food for thought about how new technology is changing the way we live our lives, and perhaps making downtown living and density a more appealing alternative than ever before. Now THAT is something I can get behind.