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Bike counter coming very soon to the lower West Seattle Bridge

Image from West Seattle Bike Connections
Image from West Seattle Bike Connections

Yesterday was the busiest day yet recorded by the Fremont Bridge bike counter. 5,121 bike trips were made across the bridge, and there are no signs that we’re anywhere near our max yet.

As the Fremont Bridge travelers are just starting to hit their stride, the city is preparing to unveil its second bike counter—this time on the lower West Seattle Bridge.

Users probably noticed the ominous monolith sheathed in plastic on the east end of the bridge. Once it is unveiled, it will start collecting valuable real-time West Seattle bike travel data and, of course, displaying the number of people who bike across the bridge each day.

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No official launch date has been announced yet, though SDOT plans to have it ready to go by the end of next week (though technical issues delayed the launch of the Fremont counter in October).

Funding for the counter is from Cascade Bicycle Club and the Mark & Susan Torrance Foundation, same as the Fremont Counter.

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28 responses to “Bike counter coming very soon to the lower West Seattle Bridge”

  1. That’s cool and so’s the one at Fremont, but how about counting the number of bikes on the Ballard Bridge? If we can show how popular that terrible spot already is, it can help us make the case for the real solution to that crossing that is so desperately needed, no?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      That’s a good point. Of course, one problem might be that there’s no room on the bridge to put it anywhere, let alone bike across it :-)

      It would be cool if we could somehow crunch some data and figure out how many more people would bike across the Ballard Bridge if it were safe and comfortable for all users. There must be a way to estimate this based on Census data, bike commute rates in other neighborhoods, etc…

      1. Estimated data would be good, but solid counts would be great.

        You make a great point about space but there are those unused steps at the South end of the bridge. I don’t know the technology of the counters and how they get the bikes on East and West sidewalks in Fremont, but those unused steps would be a great spot for such a thing if the counting worked.

      2. Matthew

        Presumably you don’t actually need the whole monolith thing if you just want to collect data, right? You could just install the (presumably small and unobtrusive) sensor technology with the data transmitted to a remote location. At least I assume that would be possible. I figured the giant black tower thing mostly served to broadcast the count to the passers by.

        That said, I agree with Al that these things aren’t all that useful today. We already have a huge list of projects we know we need to be tackling regardless of what the Fremont counter tells us. We already know the Ballard bridge sucks — I’m not convinced that knowing a bike count on the bridge is a useful extra bit of information given that it’s clear we need to entirely rethink the bike infrastructure there.

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        I think they are very useful for determining how people use bikes. I’m not sure they were ever intended to be put in in advance of an advocacy effort focused on these particular locations. Rather, when discussing biking in general, we’ll have this never-before-seen data about usage patterns to draw from.

        My favorite data so far is actually looking at the low points. While the number of people cycling certainly balloons on nice days, it was great to see that even on the worst, rainiest and chilliest days of winter, there were still hundreds of people biking across the bridge. And in the nastiest weeks still had days where 1,700+ people biked across the bridge. If that’s the low-water mark, then I think that’s a strong rebuttal to people who throw out weather as a reason why we shouldn’t invest in cycling.

    2. Gary

      If you really wanted to know the number of bikes that would use the Ballard bridge, you’d just shut it down to car traffic, or limit it to one lane so that bicycles could safely cross in the right hand lane for like a couple of weeks. That would give people time to adjust, ie realize that driving really really sucked and that it was possible to ride a bike. (Leave one lane open each way for freight and buses only.)

      I suppose you could drive a truck into it ….. anyone know of a Canadian truck driver in need of ‘work’?… just kidding.

      Of course the howls of protest would be heard all the way to Olympia…

    3. I’m extremely skeptical that data from bike counters is very useful at this stage of development in our cycling network. We largely know where the gaps and deficiencies in the network are.

      I think the main point of the counters is a visible show of support. It shows cyclists that many other people bike in the same place, that the city knows we’re there and supports us. In the best case, acknowledging cyclists, giving us an additional feeling of belonging and camaraderie, making us a little more self-aware for a moment (aware of our impact, as we see a number tick up in response to our action), might encourage more pro-social behavior. The obvious message: “You’re part of a community.” And the subtle implication: “Now act like it.”

      My theory is that the city isn’t installing counters on our best cycling facilities (i.e. U Bridge, BGT), or where there’s a clearly established order of behavior, and instead installing counters near places where it wants to encourage cycling despite somewhat adverse conditions and encourage thoughtful, responsible cycling. On the Fremont Bridge pedestrian interactions are a particular concern; the counter reminds both pedestrians and cyclists that bikes belong and hopefully encourages slower, more respectful cycling in the shared space. East of the West Seattle Bridge heading toward downtown cyclists have lots of difficult, dangerous road crossings coming up; the counter perhaps reminds cyclists that they belong, that the city is committed to supporting cyclists in the corridor, and that they should be responsible.

      So the city would be unlikely to install a counter on the Ballard Bridge because I don’t think it actually wants to encourage cycling on it in its current form (neither on the bridge itself, nor on the surrounding roads). Similarly I think the city would have to make a much more serious commitment to cycling routes connecting to the 1st Ave S Bridge, Airport Way Bridge, or SODO Trail before a symbolic gesture like a counter would make sense there.

      1. Gary

        My theory is that the city doesn’t want to count bicyclists. Otherwise it would have to change the spending ratio from roads for cars to roads for bicyclists. There is a huge amount of money spent on things like the Viaduct/Tunnel replacement. If instead of seeing a growth in driving there was a growth in bicycling, expensive things like that would be harder to sell to the tax paying public. The asphalt/concrete/gasoline lobby is a huge force in how a city gets built, bicyclists, bike shops, not so much.

        And my reasoning comes from when they do the quarterly bike counts, the Fall one is done before the UW is in session so that they won’t count all those students who ride a bicycle to class.

      2. To be fair, the State and WSDOMA kinda sorta forced the DBT down our throats. Bad example. If you think they do the quarterly bike counts wrong, let the people in charge know about it!

      3. Gary

        “let the people know that they are doing bicycle counts wrong…”

        Seriously? You think that someone whose job it is to count bicycles doesn’t know when bicyclists ride and where they go? This isn’t rocket science, it’s politics. And some who is paid not to know something can “not know it” for a long time. That’s why these bicycle counters are so good, they force the data out in front. And since they are put up by a donation from someone who appears to want to encourage money being spent on bicycles they can’t be so easily ignored.

        While there have been plenty of things that went wrong under Mayor McGinn’s term, that this sort of bicycle counter gets done can be attributed to the influence his office exherts on SDOT. One more reason to vote for Mike again in the next election.

  2. Gary

    Here’s a link to a suggestion for a bike path Under I think Nickerson from the Ballard bridge.


    scroll down to the bottom of the page for the photos, but it looks totally do-able.

  3. A

    Any wagers? 200? 300? bikes out of WS each day?

      1. Gary

        Hey the May 2012 count was probably closer to 450!
        at E Marginal Way S and S Hanford St

      2. Well, in that count they got 450 from WS but only 1500 at Fremont/34th. The bike counter at Fremont/34th is registering 3 times that count on high days. So maybe we’d expect more like 1000 on a pretty good weekday, 1500 on the really great days when the Fremont Bridge sees 5000 crossings.

      3. Gary

        Hmm, so by exterpolating can we assume that ALL the past bike counts are 1/3 of reality? It will be interesting to see the numbers this new bicycle counter spits out.

  4. Doug

    I was riding north on the Elliot Bay Trail last night and noticed what loomed like a bike-counting loop that was freshly installed. Anyone know anything about this? I think there may have have been a sign, but I was in a hurry and couldn’t stop.

    1. Gary

      Did you spot one of these plastic wrapped monoliths? Or were you near an intersection? (for a light changer loop?)

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Or was it a plastic tube thingy they sometimes use for counts?

      2. Doug

        No, I just saw the figure-eight wire loops in the trail. They looked pretty similar to the ones at the Fremont bridge.

      3. Gary

        Ok Tom, time to call your contact at Cascade Bike club to see if they have another bike counter in the works. You’d think that there would have to be a permit filed with the city as well that should be available via a “FOI” request.

        Where are these wire cuts?

      4. Tom Fucoloro

        I did! Cascade says they are not aware of any other counters. BUT, they have looked into installing counters without the totems. Less fun, but at least you get the data (and, of course, they’re cheaper).

  5. SA

    Great location for one of these! Can’t wait to see it in action.

  6. Travis

    Exciting news.

    However, looking at the picture I notice the chosen location will miss my trips entirely, and any others who ride to and from West Seattle on the Duwamish trail.

    Why not put the counter on the west side of the bridge, just before the trail splits toward the Duwamish, and thus catch virtually all West Seattle commuters (northbound, southbound, eastbound, and westbound)?

    1. I would put up a separate counter for your trips, quite frankly… maybe even three separate counters. I’m sure there are people who use the Duwamish to commute downtown, and all three (or four, counting the Delridge connector-to-nothing) legs have their own pitfalls.

  7. AlkiBkr

    West Seattle Bike Connections counted 592 between 6 and 9 am at our station at the intersection of the WS bridge and the West Duwamish Trail on Bike to Work Day 2013. I agree with Travis about the location of the counter. I made this suggestion when I first heard about the counter but was told they wanted to capture the traffic to “downtown”. At least it will also capture southbound traffic from West Seattle to the east side of the Duwamish, Georgetown, etc. I do think the site they chose will provide good visibility to motorists on the bridge demonstrating there is a viable alternative to driving on and off the peninsula.

  8. SA

    I haven’t ridden by it since last week when it wasn’t in action yet, but I like this idea because it not only records data, but publicizes the data! There are a ton of bikers using this route, and the beauty of this is it counts all day, every day, not just 6-9am when the annual SDOT counts do it.

  9. […] second bike counter launched with very little fanfare on a rainy Thursday afternoon at the east end of the lower West […]

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