“Traffic just keeps getting worse!”
This is a phrase that we hear a lot at Forward Pinellas because one of our primary responsibilities is to plan for a transportation system throughout our county that works for everyone. With nearly 1 million residents and almost 7 million overnight visitors in 2019 alone, getting people around regardless of how they travel is an ongoing consideration in all our efforts. To effectively plan and fund needed transportation, we need to understand where people are going, when they’re going there, and how they’re getting there.
Counting Vehicles On Our Roadways
One way we gather data is by counting vehicles on our roadways. Forward Pinellas has been counting vehicles for many years, monitoring more than 120 different locations on a regular basis so that we can get a picture of current traffic levels and monitor trends over time. We have more than 15 years of traffic count data that we use to help understand existing and future traffic patterns in the county.
Using Data To Create A Safer Pinellas
Counting traffic doesn’t just give us a picture of how many cars are passing through a point at a particular time of the day. By knowing how many vehicles are traveling on our various roadways throughout Pinellas County, we can plan future projects and customize solutions to help meet the needs of everyone, even people who are biking, walking or taking the bus. Roadways with high numbers of vehicles, for example, don’t necessarily need more capacity for cars, but may need extra attention paid to the safety of those walking and biking in the area.
“Having accurate and up to date data on the ways people use our roadways is critical for planning for the future transportation system in Pinellas County,” said Forward Pinellas Executive Director Whit Blanton.
Collecting The Data
Knowing that some locations can see wide variations in vehicle counts due to special events, seasonal conditions (i.e. Spring Break), and holidays, we usually only collect counts on what could be considered a “typical day.” Counts are collected over a three-day period, usually Tuesday through Thursday, and then averaged to ensure that any atypical fluctuations do not interfere with the data we publish. In addition to that, we also adjust the counts we collect to account for other seasonal fluctuations, like during the cooler months when part time residents temporarily relocate to our area and utilize our roadways. We also gather counts that our local and state government partners collect, bringing all the information together in one location and providing access to that data to anyone who would like it.
To share this information more easily with our partners and the public, Forward Pinellas annually publishes a map that identifies all the count locations in the county and the average daily number of vehicles that pass through each location. This map is available on our website and in hard-copy format to anyone that would like a copy.
Is Traffic Really Getting Worse?
After having collected this data for more than 20 years, we are able to spot trends that help us plan for the future. For example, the observation that ‘traffic just keeps getting worse’ is actually not consistent with the counts we’re collecting. The interstate system has certainly experienced a steady increase in the number of vehicles driving on it each day. But other roadways, including US Highway 19, have seen traffic numbers fluctuate over the years. Though some years have more traffic than others, overall, the traffic is not really increasing. This is partially due to the fact that in the last 30 years we have done an excellent job in Pinellas County at building roads. We have built out a roadway network that offers options when congestion is high or incidents occur that could impede traffic. If you experience traffic congestion on one roadway, there are usually at least a few other options you can choose to drive on to reach your destination. Building out our roadway network has allowed us to keep our roadways from becoming too congested even as we experience significant growth in our population and in our tourism market. However, as we reach a point where we can no longer build new roadways without seriously affecting our existing development, we are investing in other ways to handle the demand for travel. This includes adding technological solutions, such as the timing of traffic signals and the laying of fiber optic cable to allow the traffic signals to adapt to changing traffic demands. In addition, it’s essential that we build new, dedicated spaces for people to walk and bike, and invest in increased transit services that ensure we can provide access to mobility to all our residents and visitors.