Using automated active infrared counters to estimate footfall on urban park footpaths: behavioural stability and validity testing

Jack Benton, Declan J Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using infrared counters is a promising unobtrusive method of assessing footfall in urban parks. However, infrared counters are susceptible to reliability and validity issues, and there is limited guidance for their use. The aims of this study were to (1) determine how many weeks of automated active infrared count data would provide behaviourally stable estimates of urban park footfall for each meteorological season, and (2) determine the validity of automated active infrared count estimates of footfall in comparison to direct manual observation counts.

Three automated active infrared counters collected daily footfall counts for 365 days on three footpaths in an urban park within Northampton, England, between May 2021 – May 2022. Intraclass correlation coefficients were used to compare the behavioural stability of abbreviated data collection schedules with total median footfall within each meteorological season (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter). Public holidays, events, and extreme outliers were removed. Ten one-hour manual observations were conducted at the site of an infrared counter to determine the validity of the infrared counter.

At least four-weeks (28 days) of infrared counts are required to provide ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ (Intraclass correlation > 0.75, > 0.9, respectively) estimates of median daily footfall per meteorological season in an urban park. Infrared counters had, on average, -4.65 counts per hour (95% LoA -12.4, 3.14; Mean absolute percentage error 13.7%) lower counts compared to manual observation counts during one-hour observation periods (23.2 ± 15.6, 27.9 ± 18.9 counts per hour, respectively). Infrared counts explained 98% of the variance in manual observation counts. The number of groups during an observation period explained 78% of the variance in the difference between infrared and manual counts.

Abbreviated data collection schedules can still obtain estimates of urban park footfall. Automated active infrared counts are strongly associated with manual counts; however, they tend to underestimate footfall, often due to people in groups. Methodological and practical recommendations are provided.
Original languageEnglish
Article number49
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
Early online date25 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023


  • Counters
  • Greenspace
  • Methods
  • Natural Experiment
  • Physical Activity
  • Walking


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