What number are you? Fremont Bridge starts counting people on bikes

This first bike to be counted carried two people.

The city, Cascade Bicycle Club and the Mark & Susan Torrance Foundation celebrated the launch of the Fremont Bridge bicycle counter Thursday. The first bike across the sensor was a Madsen carrying two smiling people, the first of what will likely be over 1 million bikes counted by this time next year.

You can track the counts online via the city’s website (results are uploaded at the end of each day). The counter display is located on the west side of the bridge facing southbound traffic, but it counts people on both sides of the bridge. It displays a live daily tally as well as a year-long total.

City and Cascade representatives said they hoped it would be the first of many such counters in key locations throughout the city, providing valuable 24/7 count data of equal quality to data already collected for general traffic.

“We have good enough data for cars, but we need to have comparable data for bicycling,” said SDOT Director Peter Hahn.

“Seattle is now the second city in the U.S. to have a counter with a visual display,” said Cascade Executive Director Chuck Ayers. “Hopefully we’ll have our third before Portland has its second,” he joked. Portland launched a nearly identical counter earlier this year.

Speakers were also eager to discuss the planned Westlake cycle track from the Fremont Bridge to South Lake Union Park, which was recently recommended for funding. Once completed, “we anticipate the numbers will increase very rapidly,” said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who pointed out that there is 150 feet of city-owned right-of-way on Westlake. “At least we can dedicate 12 feet of that for a bicycle track,” he said.

In essence, the bike counter is a symbol that bicycles are a significant and serious mode of transportation. It collects useful data, but it also normalizes bicycling. It’s hard to feel like an outcast when you see that you’re the 3,000th person to bike across the Fremont Bridge so far today.

It’s also surprisingly fun. Watching the number tick up as you roll across the sensor is actually cooler than it sounds. In a weird way, it puts your little bike trip in perspective as part of the whole city’s daily life. Cascade started a Facebook page where you can post photos posing with your number (yours truly is up there already).

And with mainstream Seattle residents cycling to get around, we need mainstream levels of investment in cycling infrastructure.

“We need Seattle to keep pace with the bike movement happening around the world, and that only happens with infrastructure,” said Ayers.

Here’s the city’s press release about the counter:

Today the Cascade Bicycle Club and the Seattle Department of Transportation unveiled the new bicycle counter totem now installed at the north end of the Fremont Bridge. The totem, which is more than seven feet tall, has a digital display of the number of bicyclists that have crossed that day, and a graphic indication of the number of cyclists since the beginning of the year.

Chuck Ayers, Executive Director of the Cascade Bicycle Club explained, “The location on the Fremont Bridge is ideal because this is the busiest bridge for bike traffic in the city and the state, and there is a good mix of commute and recreational trips through the area. We are delighted to help bring a bike counter to Seattle to show that bicycling counts here.”

The new device, called an Eco-Totem, will count bicyclists 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This data will supplement the spot counts already being taken three times each quarter at 50 locations around the city. Analysis of the data from both sources will help identify with greater accuracy the various factors, such as weather, nearby construction projects, or holidays, that influence people’s decisions to make their trips by bicycle. The data will be downloaded once a day, so the first data will be available on the Web site on Friday morning, with a link provided from SDOT’s site: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/bikecounter.htm.

Both the Cascade Bicycle Club and the City of Seattle are working to increase the number of trips made by bicycle for environmental and health benefits in addition to managing traffic congestion and parking as the city continues to grow.  SDOT Director Peter Hahn said, “Our goal as stated in the 2007 Seattle Bicycle Master Plan has been to triple the number of bicyclists between 2007 and 2017. This new bike counter will help promote bicycling and will let us better measure the progress we’re making.”

The Cascade Bicycle Club acquired the Eco-Totem and gave it to the city. The funding, $30,000 for purchase, installation, and first year’s maintenance was provided by the Mark and Susan Torrance Foundation.

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17 Responses to What number are you? Fremont Bridge starts counting people on bikes

  1. Matthew says:

    It’s great that these data are publicly available. One nice improvement would be to have a way to visualize the data hourly or on some kind of finer scale than just daily totals. Just as knowing “peak demand” is important for, say, bus transit planning, having some sense of the peak demand for bike facilities is important if this system is going to eventually replace manual counts during morning/evening commute hours.

  2. Pingback: What number are you? Fremont Bridge starts … – Seattle Bike Blog | Bicycle News Gator

  3. sb says:

    So is there no breakdown between northbound and southbound numbers?

  4. Al Dimond says:

    If the city only installs counters in places that are good enough for cycling today, it pretty much can’t measure important improvements. This counter will justify a Westlake Cycletrack with increased counts, but if we made improvements in the places that need them most it won’t budge (in many of these places bike traffic isn’t very high due to difficult routes, so they aren’t likely locations for a bike counter). If we made improvements on Eastlake or the Ballard Bridge the count would probably go down! Would the city install bike counters on even worse facilities like those in preparation to measure their impact?

    • Al Dimond says:

      … anyway, I don’t think improvements to infrastructure that cuts off one part of Seattle from another for cyclists (and often pedestrians, too) should wait on that kind of analysis. We already know what the worst spots are, and we don’t need detailed analysis to know fixing them is worth doing.

    • Gary says:

      Alternatively the city could make alternate routes worse, the counts would go up and they could use that to justify making even more bad decisions!

      Oh the glory of the unintended consequence.

  5. McGoohan says:

    I am not a number. I am a free man!

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