Bellevue installs its first bike counters + First look at the data

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I-90 Trail bike/walk counter near SE 34th St.

520 Trail counter near NE 24th St.

520 Trail bike/walk counter near NE 24th St.

The City of Bellevue and WSDOT have installed the city’s first ever electronic bike counters to track hour-by-hour usage of the I-90 and 520 Trails.

As we’ve seen with Seattle’s counters (the oldest being the Fremont Bridge counter), having daily and hourly data gives a much more clear insight into actual bike use. Previously, the only data came from hand counts conducted by volunteers for a couple hours on a couple days each year. Needless to say, the hand counts have a big margin of error.

Increased data is vital to making the case for more and better bike infrastructure and is a great way to track changes in the number of bike trips over time. In reality, the data starts to get really interesting the second year when there is already a baseline of data to compare.

I’m particularly excited to see what happens to the 520 Trail counts when the trail finally connects to Seattle and when needed bike lane connections in Kirkland and Bellevue are completed.

As of now, there is no public website to track the bike data like there is in Seattle, but Bellevue Senior Transportation Planner Kevin McDonald said they “may develop some sort of public interface in the future.” Maybe Bellevue should host their own commute hackathon

More details from the City of Bellevue:

The City of Bellevue is a step closer to making pedestrians and bicyclists count more here, after installing automatic count systems on multi-use trails by Interstate 90 and State Route 520 this month.

The Washington State Department of Transportation and the city installed the count systems as part of a pilot project to assess various count technologies for non-motorized travel.

For the first time, Bellevue has a system that will count pedestrians and bicyclists accurately and efficiently through a detection sensor and data logging software. This advances Bellevue from manual count collection typically done by volunteers twice a year to a system counting 24 hours a day.

“We are pleased to be selected to participate in the state’s pilot study,” said Dave Berg, the city’s Transportation Director. “This study aligns with Bellevue’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Implementation Initiative, which promotes an accessible, well-connected network that enhances livability, supports economic vitality and serves the mobility needs of people of all ages and abilities. I think the data is essential to building a more complete and reliable citywide baseline for non-motorized travel patterns.”

The count system for the SR-520 location tracks the direction pedestrians and cyclists are going, and cost $4,500. The system for I-90 only counts pedestrians and cyclists, not recording their direction of travel. It cost $3,900. WSDOT paid for both systems. This project leverages emerging technologies (inductive loops and infrared systems) to gather and analyze data.

Bellevue’s Comprehensive Plan instructs city staff to develop procedures to monitor pedestrian and bicycle usage on an ongoing basis. The data collected through this project will help track Bellevue’s progress toward its goal of improving bicycling and walking conditions in the city.

The information also contributes to a larger effort statewide to improve decisions about where to invest transportation funds and how to improve safety. Data from these counts will be used to inform investments in bicycle and pedestrian facilities as well as educational programs statewide.

The pilot study will help Bellevue and WSDOT answer many question about when and where pedestrians and bicyclists walk or ride in Bellevue.

“This is a tremendous investment and an excellent tool to help us make smart decisions in the future,” Berg said. “It will definitely help us plan and justify investments, help us understand usage patterns and help evaluate long-term trends for Bellevue’s future. I’m looking forward to continuing this partnership with WSDOT.”

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19 Responses to Bellevue installs its first bike counters + First look at the data

  1. GlenBikes says:

    Heh, heh. I was one of the 5 people on the 520 trail on Sunday. It poured rain the whole day so not too surprising to see very low numbers.

  2. merlin says:

    Glen, I guess we didn’t pass the counter when you escorted me after the Cascade meeting. If I’d known I would have insisted on even MORE detour! Bellevue is … let’s say CHALLENGING … on a bike.

  3. Michelle says:

    I find it fascinating that Bellevue has the first (to my knowledge) bike counters on the Eastside. Thus far the city (aside from Planner McDonald – thank you, sir!) seems to have little interest in any transportation mode that’s not a car. Of course, with the state paying, it’s hard to say “no.” Are things changing? Can I hope to ride my bike in Bellevue in the near future?

    • Al Dimond says:

      Despite the Wallace/Freeman faction, Bellevue does have a couple key on-street bike improvements coming in the next few years. The 520 Trail’s “missing link”, mostly on Northup Way, will get on-street bike lanes and turn boxes for left turns. And 116th Ave NE will get bike lanes from NE 12th up to Northup. Those are mostly through-routes, but they’re pretty important ones.

      A few of the downtown Bellevue streets are better than others: NE 2nd St, Main Street west of Bellevue Way, 106th Ave, and 108th Ave, and Main Street are at least a lot better than streets like Bellevue Way and 112th. 100th Ave is my current favorite north-south route through downtown… it has surprisingly little traffic, at least when I’m on it. Unfortunately some of these streets aren’t very well connected to the more popular routes from farther out.

      I don’t know exactly whether it’s within the city limits, but the route between I-90 and downtown Bellevue through Beaux Arts Village (mostly on 104th Ave SE, then wiggling over to 100th using SE 10th and 8th Streets) is actually pretty enjoyable, if a little hilly. If you really like steep climbs Killarney Way has little traffic and nice views.

      • Michelle says:

        Fair enough, but those incremental improvements aren’t making enough of a change that I have any confidence that I’ll actually be able to get anywhere in Bellevue in the near future. Not only that, but I’m really disappointed at having to fight so hard for bike lanes on 116th Ave that end before the intersection with 12th St. Getting through that intersection would be huge for connectivity, but as currently designed, I won’t use those lanes. I am a pretty brave cyclist, but I ride with four kids on board and Bellevue is too much for me. There are many destinations in Bellevue that would be useful to me, but only a few that I’ve found safe routes for, and I have not yet heard of any plans that will actually help me.

        Thank you for the suggestions for downtown routes. Someday if I can get to downtown, I hope to use them!

  4. AP says:

    It’s too bad they put the 520 trail counter near 24th. I ride from near Bellevue downtown out to Microsoft but usually avoid the first segment of the trail. I’ll have to modify my commute route to be counted.

  5. Gary says:

    I hate to be the downer on those counts, but the I-90 Eastside counter looks WAAAAAY high vs what I see on my way in and out. Today for instance, during the 45 minutes riding in, I saw 10+ people coming at me, and rode with 3, passed by 1, passed 1. So that would be 20 people an hour during the morning commute. Which jibes with the wet tire tracks I see when I look at the trail itself. So figure at best, 6am to 9am is 3 x 20 = 60, and then 60 going home, with a dribble the rest of the day at 10 per hr, 9 – > 4, 7 x 10 = 70 + 120 = 190 to maybe 250 (trips) a day, not 600 to 700 that this graph is showing on a weekday.

    I wish that there were that many folks riding, but it’s not what I see.

    I’ve lost the link to the West side data, but it would be interesting to see if the two sets jive.

    • Al Dimond says:

      If someone is riding close to your speed and starts just a few minutes ahead of or behind you, you won’t see that person at all. You would see a decent fraction of the people riding the opposite direction in your hour. If traffic is strongly directional and you’re riding in the more popular direction you could miss a majority of the traffic.

      • Gary says:

        Yes I know that, but looking at wet tire tracks on the dry spots of the roadway gives me a good indication of the number of riders in the last hour passing either direction.

        And we have the West side of I-90 counters, at least the data for February is out, and if my eyes don’t decieve me, the number of riders I have been seeing in the last 30 days hasn’t changed much.

        https://data.seattle.gov/Transportation/MTS-Trail-west-of-I-90-Bridge/u38e-ybnc

      • Al Dimond says:

        That data shows several weekdays this past February with counts over 500 and one over 600. Far more than 250.

      • Al Dimond says:

        (To get daily counts click the “Filter” button, then “Sort & Roll-Up”, then the “Roll-Ups & Drill-Downs” checkbox; group by “Date” with grouping function “Day” and roll up the two directional bike counts with function “Sum”. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get recent daily counts into a graph or show a sum of the two directional bike counts. Bike counters are sometimes inaccurate; I’d need something more specific to believe the counter is totally off.)

      • Gary says:

        Ok, Here’s the “annual” count via a human in 2012,, https://www.bellevuewa.gov/pdf/Transportation/PBC_FinalCountReport_2012.pdf

        Average weekday volume at “H” location which is the I-90 Enite, just under 200, which fits my observational data.

        I contend that both of the I-90 loop counters are horked. That if we had a visual counter we’d see that it’s double counting, perhaps, once for each wheel.

        The thing is riding across the bridge gives me about a 2 mile view of the riders. This morning I saw one rider going with me, and one rider coming at me over the distance, that’s 10 minutes for 3 riders…. 3 x 6 = 18 which jives with my estimate of 20 riders an hour. (both directions)

      • Gary says:

        Ok, I just got the number for the guy responsible for these counters, Ken Lakey of WDOT, (360) 570-2374 and talked to him. He said they’d run another check on the new counters. Nice guy for sure wants to help. And we want accurate numbers otherwise we just get more complaints about “I never see anyone on these trails.” and have nothing to respond to it.

      • Al Dimond says:

        It’s possible that both counters are “horked”. I wouldn’t put a lot of faith in estimating bike traffic by tire tracks, though.

        I don’t think bike counts matter politically. So maybe 6,000 people bike across the Fremont Bridge some day when the weather is nice. 20,000 cars cross every day, and the Fremont Bridge captures many cyclists whose driving or transit routes would use the Ballard, Aurora, or I-5 bridges. The case for building a robust, comprehensive cycling network is clearly not present volumes.

      • Gary says:

        I agree, that a few hundred bicyclists here or there won’t make a difference. But unless we measure it, we can’t tell what adjustments we’ve made actually help. The annual counts always seem to me to be taken during months of least cycling as if to say, “no one rides, see we did count them, and so no money should be spent on bicycle facilities.”

        With Seattle, we’ve lucked out in that adding bicycle lanes is the cheapest improvement to the transportation problem. That’s really the only reason we are finally gettting some traction. If the Fed’s were still funding highways, we’d see more lanes on I-5, but since they aren’t, we get bike lanes.

        (We wouldn’t have the Alaska Way tunnel without the state paying for it.)

  6. Franz Loewenherz says:

    Great conversation. As project manager for Bellevue’s ped-bike plan, I just wanted to thank Michelle, Al and the other commentators for their observations. As a younger city (Bellevue incorporated in 1953) originally built to accommodate automobiles, there is no question we face challenges in our efforts to make Bellevue a great place to walk and bike. Although much progress is being made [projects include the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trail (http://goo.gl/M23IFG), Northup Way (http://goo.gl/E9qcIM) and 116th Ave NE http://goo.gl/aS1xTK)], additional improvements are needed. In response, our City Council last month launched the Pedestrian and Bicycle Implementation Initiative [http://goo.gl/JnIaM9], designed to advance projects and programs identified in the city’s 2009 Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation Plan [http://goo.gl/irJ6RV]. The bike counters mentioned in Tom’s original blog post are just one example of those projects. If you want more information about our initiative, feel free to contact me directly at 425-452-4077. Thanks again for your interest. — Franz Loewenherz, Senior Transportation Planner, City of Bellevue.

  7. David says:

    As a +25 year resident of Bellevue and commuter/racer I can tell you that the Eastside’s efforts at bike friendly improvements are pathetic at best. Virtually every road project has completely ignored bicycle improvements other than East Lake Sammamish. I can’t begin to list all the road projects throughout Bellevue, Medina, Redmond, Woodinville, etc that have made zero concessions to improving safety and convenience for cycling. Roads are restriped with no shoulders let alone bike lanes. Lots of lip service paid but no improvements other than dedicated trails. Trails are nice but we should have roads that are safe for all. I know many people that work in downtown Bellevue but the complete lack of reasonable, safe routes deters them from commuting by bike. So that’s my rant. Maybe 25 years from now they will have made some progress.

    • Gary says:

      Maybe Kemper Freeman’s kids will have a conversion moment and then the politics of roads and bicycles will change. But you might have to wait until 50 years for his grandkids to assume the landholding and the power to make it happen.

      Look how long it took to get back the access to Medinan Bower Bay. Originally the ferry dock, and then sold off. Kirkland has been far more progressive on walking and bicycling. Maybe the sight of all those dollars going North will move Bellevue to adjust.

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