D.C. group chooses ABQ for trail monitoring project

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A group from Washington D.C. has its sights on Albuquerque’s urban trails. With the group’s help, Albuquerque has two new trail monitoring systems aimed to shed new light on how people use the trails month to month, the economic benefits of trails, and as new projects come in, how that effects the trails.

You can’t tell at first glance, but a wooden post stationed on a trail near the Erna Ferguson is equipped with top-of-the-line trail counting technology. Inside, is an infrared sensor.

“When a body goes past it, the light and the heat, it triggers a count,” says Mid-Region Council of Governments Transportation Planner Julie Luna.

It’s one piece of a three-part system used to count how many pedestrians and bicyclists use the trail.

“There’s some copper wire looped around in a specific pattern here in the asphalt,” explains Luna. “When a bicyclist goes past this area, the infrared counter will count them as well as the inductive loop and it will count them as a bicyclist. If a pedestrian goes past, this counter will not pick up anything and it’ll trigger a pedestrian count. And then, all of this is connected to a brain bucket, and the brains of the system are in a little irrigation box and they’re stored here they’re downloaded every evening into a server where we can get the trail counts for the following day,” she says.

The sophisticated gear is part of a new initiative by Washington D.C. group Rails to Trails Conservancy’s project T-MAP which collects data from 12 different areas throughout the country. Albuquerque is one of them.

The data collected will be used in studies about the impact of trails based on location and seasons. The group has teamed up with the Mid-Region Council of Governments to bring two new monitoring stations here.

“Better knowledge of how many people are on the trails will, I think it will elevate their importance,” says Luna.

Luna says that could mean more funding for trails.

Luna says the group picked Albuquerque because it’s already on the map when it comes to permanent trail counters, with seven throughout the city. Plus, she says Albuquerque is becoming more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.

“We have a very good understanding of how many automobiles use our roadways, but we have a very poor understanding of our trails,” Luna explains.

Luna says hard numbers for the year from these counters will help MRCOG make trail connections better and give people more opportunities to use alternative transportation.

Already, Luna says the trail monitor has shed new light on the trail off San Mateo near the Erna Ferguson Library. She says they were expecting it was more of a recreational trail with high weekend numbers and few during the middle of the day. Yet, the numbers they’ve seen since they installed the monitor on May 13 indicates spikes in the morning and evening commute.

The other new monitor is on Paseo del Norte near the Journal Center Rail Runner Station.

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