Columbia looks to better track runners walkers and cyclists

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COLUMBIA - Tracking foot traffic in Columbia might be near impossible right now, but that information could be invaluable to the city. 

Matthew Gerike is the Geospatial Services Manager for the city, and he works for the Geospatial Information Services (GIS) office. 

His office uses advanced software to produce useful maps and statistics for the city. 

Gerike said interpreting that data in the right way is what will help the city encourage more non-motorized transportation, like biking and walking.

"The more folks you have using trails to travel through parts of town and commuting means less demand for traffic on the roads. That leads to improved safety and lessens the environmental impact on the community," Gerike said. 

Ten years ago, Columbia was one of four cities in the country picked for a special pilot program aimed at getting people to walk and bike more. 

With the more than $25 million grant used up, and various infrastrucure projects complete, getting residents to get out and use the improved trail and bike routes is the next step. 

Ted Curtis serves as the Bike/Ped Coordinator for GetAbout Columbia, a city program that oversaw the use of the federal grant. 

"Columbia has always been really good from a walking standpoint, but we put money into fixing intersections and making it safer. We added a lot of bike infrastructure, bike lanes, and markings," Curtis said. 

Curtis said residents can find bike maps in almost every city building. 

"There's a non-profit organization called PedNet that's also very actively involved in getting bikes out and promoting biking," Curtis said. You can find its webpage here. "Our parks department does guided rides and instruction and things like that." 

Gerike's office worked with Curtis and GetAbout Columbia on studies that used trail cameras to count trail users and give a better set of data than traditional census-style counts. 

"That study was still giving us information on just one location at a time," Gerike said. 

The GIS office is also working with an analytics company called Ulytec to find more advanced ways of tracking foot traffic. 

"What they are trying to do is come up with a new system to help track sidewalk traffic. They did some tests downtown during the True/False festival to analyze foot traffic trends that special events bring to the city," Gerike said. 

While most of this research is happening behind the scenes, Gerike said his office's work is helpful to almost every city department.