A new report measures construction activity in major cities and predicts the  health of the U. S. construction industry based on the number of fixed cranes on North American jobsites.

The North American RLB Crane Index, a biannual report by consultant Rider Levett Bucknall, surveys activity in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle. Other cities, including Washington D.C., will be added in future editions. According to the first issue of the index, the residential market—specifically condominium and apartment developments—continues to lead the U.S. construction recovery. The commercial, health care, hospitality and education sectors also have started to see increases in crane activity.

“Unlike other forms of data, cranes are observable and recognizable  icons of major construction activity. Therefore, they are an extremely  useful measure of the changing pace of the construction industry,” says  Julian Anderson, president of Rider Levett Bucknall North America.

Rider Levett Bucknall’s local offices gather data and information for the index via surveys and other proprietary collection methods,  including physically counting all fixed cranes appearing on each city’s skyline. This count is performed twice yearly and provides the baseline data for the index. For the inaugural North American edition, crane  counts were taken in each city on Aug, 1, 2014 (baseline count) and  again on Nov. 1, 2014.

A few trends stand out in the survey.
  • Denver’s market shows approximately 92 percent of cranes are active on residential and mixed-use residential projects.
  • Honolulu’s residential cranes are leading the count at nearly 53 percent.
  • New York’s construction market is gaining strength and is being  driven by increased demand for higher quality, multifamily residential developments. 
  • Seattle is experiencing a large increase of activity, with 50 percent of cranes on residential projects.
  • In Phoenix and San Francisco, commercial and mixed-use projects have the most cranes active.
“Our findings indicate that residential developments are driving  growth across the United States,” Anderson says. “We expect that this  growth—which includes redevelopment, renovation and expansion  projects—will continue to increase throughout 2015.”