Greater Greater Washington

Portland gets a "bike barometer"

Portland is the latest US city to get a "bike counter," which keeps track of cycle traffic at busy spots. Arlington has actually had bike counters for some time, though the Portland one adds something else: a visible display of how many people have ridden past.

At the start, Portland transportation director Tom Miller calls this "North America's first bike counter." Actually, Arlington, Virginia and some other places have had automated counters for some time. Arlington's track traffic on several trails, which let us better understand usage patterns, such as what happens in the winter or summer.

Those counters are small and nondescript boxes, so riders don't see anything. The data also is not available in real-time, just somewhat later; Arlington has expressed an interest in getting it out more quickly. All of this means it's great for policy analysis, but has less of an immediate psychological impact.

"I think it's going to guve us all a little jolt, as we go across, of excitement to see that we're one of thousands who go across the bridge," says commuter Leslie Carlson in the video.

Toronto bike advocate Yvonne Bambrick said, "I went by the counter last night, and I was cyclist 10,361. That is amazing! It just feels really empowering to know what's possible."

It would be interesting to know more about the relative costs of the "bike barometers" compared to the simpler boxes. Is it worth more to have a counter that brings a smile to people's faces? It may well be, if such counters give riders, walkers and, on bridges, drivers a greater awareness of how heavily used a particular trail or path really is.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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We have the small box counters on the Met Branch Trail as well. I believe they are maintained by Rails to Trails. There are 2 that I know of and it is how we get the data on how many people are using the trail. I do think the display of the numbers might be useful in some places in the city to remind everyone of the number of bikers that use a certain route.

by Sally on Aug 10, 2012 2:05 pm • linkreport

I like the idea of these counters. I think it's a psychological boost to riders and I think it might induce someone who is on the fence about riding to give it a try. If I drove by it everyday, but have been thinking about giving biking a try I might say "hey, there are a lot of other people doing it too..." and go for it. Additionally, I think it's a good reminder to motorists that others are using that space too.

by thump on Aug 10, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport

Waste of money. Cute idea, but just a waste of money, time, etc... I'd rather have bike lanes repainted, new signs, whatever.

by @SamuelMoore on Aug 10, 2012 2:15 pm • linkreport

I'm all in favor of receiving one these things free of charge from a local bike organization like Portland got from Bike Oregon. How about seeing if WABA would be willing to pony up for it and in return they can brand the bike counter and get some PR out of it? Or maybe partner with some LBSs like Revolution Cycles and let them advertise on the counter if they pay for it?

by Falls Church on Aug 10, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

I saw an unmarked brown metal box (on a post I think) on the W&OD trail recently and was wondering what it was - I assumed it was some sort of security camera. I think it was just south of I-66 near the Custis trail junction. Now I know what it was.

I tend to agree with Samuel Moore though - a somewhat silly use of money, which could be better used on actual infrastructure and not on giving bikers a psychological boost.

by Nick81 on Aug 10, 2012 7:02 pm • linkreport

There are two Portlands. I know which one you're talking about, but it's probably a good idea to specify.

by Nancy on Aug 12, 2012 2:24 am • linkreport

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