Greater Greater Washington

Bicycling


"Bikeometer" shows cyclists are significant

Yesterday Arlington unveiled the region's first "bikeometer," a high-tech device that counts how many cyclists pass by, and displays the daily and yearly totals for anyone to see.

By publicly displaying the data, the bikeometer helps illustrate that a lot of people really do use bikes to get around.


Arlington bikeometer. The numbers aren't visible in the photo due to the camera scanning frequency. Photo by the author.

The bikeometer is on the Custis Trail in Rosslyn, near the Key Bridge. It's a busy crossroads for cycling traffic headed into DC from Virginia. Older bike counts have shown thousands of cyclists per day at the location.

As of about 11:30 am yesterday, after only a couple of hours running, the display already showed 768 cyclists.

The device is technically called an Eco-TOTEM. It reads an underground wire, which counts bikes rolling over the trail above and sends the data to a digital display.

Arlington's bikeometer is the first such device in the eastern US, although they're common on the west coast and in Europe.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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Pretty neat. It'd miss me personally since I usually take the western sidewalk on the key bridge, but I like the concept. I'd love to see more of these.

by alex on Apr 2, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

Should have placed a cop there to direct traffic rather than wasting money on this.

by charlie on Apr 2, 2014 12:49 pm • linkreport

768 cyclists compared to how many motor vehicles?

by Pete on Apr 2, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

768 reasons to fix that awful intersection.

by jeff on Apr 2, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

@Pete: None. Zero. There are no motor vehicles on the Custis Trail. There are no motor vehicles on the Key Bridge sidewalk. Why? Should there be?

by Steven H on Apr 2, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

cop = over $100k per year, every year.

the machine = several thousand to purchase and install the machine, operating costs in the hundreds per year?

by Michael Perkins on Apr 2, 2014 2:02 pm • linkreport

According to the company's website, the sensor is an inductive loop - similar to what is used for cars at traffic lights, for counters, etc. I'm guessing this loop is tuned for bicycles. At least I hope so since the inductive loops in my building's parking garage and at a nearby traffic light do not pick up my aluminum-frame bicycle. Another potential problem is carbon fiber (or bamboo!) framed bikes. There is very little metal there.

by Inductor on Apr 2, 2014 2:04 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins -- it is called the cost / BENEFIT ration. Not just costs.

by charlie on Apr 2, 2014 2:18 pm • linkreport

The inductive loops at intersections in Montgomery County always sense me on my aluminum bike. Of course, the double burrito lunches may have something to do with that.

by Crickey7 on Apr 2, 2014 2:32 pm • linkreport

charlie: "Should have placed a cop there to direct traffic rather than wasting money on this."

Sigh. I know it's the Internet and all but it's constantly discouraging to see how people react with about 4 seconds thought and spew forth comments that display zero understanding or insight.

To equate the costs or purpose of this machine and a live person directing traffic doesn't even begin to make sense.

charlie, you can do better. I'm (nearly) certain of it.

by Kevin on Apr 2, 2014 2:43 pm • linkreport

Besides, the cop and the bikeometer have completely different benefits anyway.

by drumz on Apr 2, 2014 2:59 pm • linkreport

In other bike news, the G St NE bike lane striping has begun this week.

by dcmike on Apr 2, 2014 4:03 pm • linkreport

I have never seen (noticed?) these before, even though I've lived in the Netherlands for 24 years. Interesting concept.

by Chris on Apr 2, 2014 6:14 pm • linkreport

Since it wasn't explained in the article could someone explain in the comments exactly what are the benefits of the bike-o-meter? I mean it's cool and all but there are probably much cheaper ways to get the occasional bike count for planning purposes. You don't need a dedicated machine on a concrete platform with a public-friendly display and totem-pole design for that purpose. I assume it's primary purpose is to serve as a motivational tool for cyclists?

Also, 768 bikes is great and sounds like a lot. But, it would be interesting to know how many motor vehicles travel in one lane of traffic on the adjoining road during the same time period, for comparative purposes. Maybe we need a Polluting-Totem on 29 to find out?

by Falls Church on Apr 2, 2014 10:56 pm • linkreport

Also, while it would cost a lot more, the cost/benefit definitely favors a traffic cop over an Eco-Totem. If the cop saves one life in 5 years of rush hour duty at the "intersection from hell", it's totally and completely worth it.

by Falls Church on Apr 2, 2014 11:07 pm • linkreport

Another waste of taxpayer money.

by Pen on Apr 3, 2014 3:29 am • linkreport

Yes, let's consider:

A: Arlington County wants to encourage biking. This helps illustrate how popular it already is. Its good marketing

B:despite this, people view bike infrastructureas waste or unnecessary. This helps show that people do use the infrastructure.

C. The post says this cost $32k, that's not that much.

D.Re: the complaints about how this is misplaced and what's needed is a traffic cop. The bike counter and the cop have completely different purposes and needs. We can have both and they won't be at cross purposes with each other. Or people can point to the numbers and say that it shows the need for a permanent fix for the intersection.

by drumz on Apr 3, 2014 8:33 am • linkreport

Arlington County wants to encourage biking. This helps illustrate how popular it already is. Its good marketing

I'm all for good marketing and winning the war of public opinion but is anyone other than cyclists really going to see this counter? I guess peds will see it too but it's still preaching to the choir.

There's a saying in marketing -- 50% of all marketing works. But, you don't know which 50%. The question is which 50% the Eco-Totem is part of.

The post says this cost $32k, that's not that much.

Not much compared to what? Compared to the tiny bike infrastructure budget it may not be so insignificant. You could probably buy a CaBi station for that money and having lots of red bikes everywhere is also good marketing for cycling.

by Falls Church on Apr 3, 2014 9:03 am • linkreport

@Pen: "Another waste of taxpayer money."

1) You can't even pave 1 lane-mile of road for what this costs, so in terms of money, even if you consider it wasted, it's certainly not wasting much.

2) Why is it that some people who see something that doesn't directly pertain to them consider that thing to be a waste? That sort of selfish, me-only world view must be incredibly difficult to live within.

In addition to whatever data the county can get from this, it creates awareness that there are a lot of cyclists out there. If that helps the occasional motorist pay more attention, it's worth it. I ride by there every day and had no idea so many cyclists go by. Motorist probably have no idea either.

There is also the intangible benefit that cool things make an area attractive and make people want to live and recreate there. This is the sort of thing that makes areas popular and livable.

by DE on Apr 3, 2014 9:05 am • linkreport

Well it'll still help cyclists/official provide a rebuttal when someone says "why do we have these bike lanes anyway? I only see at most a couple people using them".

It's instant open data, I think that's pretty cool.

You're right that the money could always be used for something else but I think its reasonable to believe that no potential CABI station is harmed by this because I don't think CABI is in a precarious position in Arlington.

So we have at worst, a neutral effect from all this. If that's all it is then maybe it makes sense not to install more counters (if that's even the plan) but at the moment I think its fine to try it out and see what happens.

by drumz on Apr 3, 2014 9:36 am • linkreport

One thing I like about this (for purely selfish reasons, but hey, I'm a taxpayer too so I can enjoy what my taxes were spent on if I want) is that it helps me feel part of a larger group of cyclists. When I bike in in the mornings, I usually only see a couple of cyclists because it's pretty early, so I tend to think that aren't that many of us out there. But the two times I've gone by this in the mornings so far have shown me that by about 6:45, around 45 cyclists have already been by.

by DE on Apr 3, 2014 9:38 am • linkreport

at the moment I think its fine to try it out and see what happens.

I'm guessing absolutely nothing happens. But, we'll see.

As for open data, Arlington already has automated bike counters and the data is already open:

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/8909/cold-weather-lack-of-plowing-affects-bike-commuting/

Crowdsourcing data is also a more innovative way to accomplish a worthy goal than always thinking you have to buy some infrastructure to accomplish a task:

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/2199/arlington-wants-your-help-counting-bikes-and-pedestrians/

If that helps the occasional motorist pay more attention, it's worth it.

I'd rather motorists pay attention to what's in front of them. There's already too much craziness at this intersection to create another distraction for drivers.

by Falls Church on Apr 3, 2014 10:09 am • linkreport

A constant, regular, stream of data, all times of day, all weathers, all seasons, all days of the week, is going to be far more valuable for analytic purposes than sporadic counts. That is why we use automated systems to count motor vehicles, not cops, and not volunteers.

Maybe adding a cop there would be justified from a BCA POV. Or maybe not. In any case it hasn't happened, and I don't know of a groundswell for it, so I doubt its a meaningful alternative.

Note also - a constant stream of data from this location, could well be used to normalize hand counts/crowd sourcing at other locations in the region (though first that methodology would need validation).

Note that absence of good data is a constant issue for cycling policy, whether its understanding safety issues without good exposure data, or understanding potential demand for infra, or usage generally.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 3, 2014 10:35 am • linkreport

Falls Church: I think it's really far enough away from the intersection itself that it won't cause much of a distraction. It would only be readable for drivers after they pass through the intersection.

by DE on Apr 3, 2014 10:39 am • linkreport

Maybe adding a cop there would be justified from a BCA POV. Or maybe not. In any case it hasn't happened, and I don't know of a groundswell for it

Let's start the groundswell.

A constant, regular, stream of data, all times of day, all weathers, all seasons, all days of the week, is going to be far more valuable for analytic purposes than sporadic counts.

That's exactly what Arlington's existing automated bike counters already provide. Also, the periodic study with volunteers provides much richer data than what an automated counter can provide -- e.g., number of cyclists wearing helmets, demographic data, etc.

a constant stream of data from this location, could well be used to normalize hand counts/crowd sourcing at other locations in the region

Is anyone normalizing data from the Eco-Totem? Here's an example of what Arlington's Bike Planner does with data from the existing counters:

we're not quite ready to release the raw data as it is. There are a few adjustment factors that need to be incorporated. According to David Patton, "The adjustment factor(s) have to do with the limits of the technology. The counting robots aren't perfect. If two pedestrians pass the sensor at the same time, it may only “see” and count one body. Bikes with trailers confuse the machinery. Clumps of cyclists passing the sensors aren’t always classified by the machine(s) correctly. The way to deal with that is to compare the automated results with manual counts done at the same time and place." We currently have manually counted data that is being sorted through.

The Eco-Totem doesn't even provide pedestrian counts which Arlington's existing counters provide. It's not clear whether the totem provides the time of day for each count like existing counters and whether the same calibration methodology used for existing counters can be applied to the totem. The totem doesn't sound like a scientific planning tool.

by Falls Church on Apr 3, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

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