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Monday appears to smash Fremont Bridge bike counter record – UPDATE: Probably not

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 8.21.00 AM

If Monday’s bike numbers hold up, this year’s bike boom in Seattle could surprise even the most optimistic bike advocates in town.

Seattle’s already steadily-growing bike numbers apparently spiked through the roof Monday, smashing a bike count record on the Fremont Bridge that was set June 4 last year, when an impressive people biked 5,121 trips on the bridge.

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A whopping 6,623* bike trips were measured on the bridge Monday (*see UPDATE below). This not only dwarfs the previous record, but it’s also a huge increase over 2014’s second-bikiest day: 4,394 trips measured last Friday. That means a day in April this year has already surpassed last year’s Bike-to-Work Day and every day last summer.

In fact, the surge in numbers is so big that I’m hesitant to trust it until we have a few more data points for verification. I have also asked SDOT if they can verify the counter is working properly. Because if it is true, then Seattle might not be ready for the bike boom about to hit it.

On a typical work day in the early spring, somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 people bike across the Fremont Bridge. This seems to represent the current base level for people who will bike year-round and through nearly any weather.

While the Fremont Bridge is just one data point in the city, it is a good high-use choke point to use a barometer of the city’s general bikey trends. So when looking at the data, the raw numbers say less than year-over-year growth.

History has shown that the numbers on the bridge spike as weather warms. Last year, the Fremont Bridge counter measured 50 percent more trips in May than in April. With two days left to measure, April 2014 has already seen 15 percent more trips than all of April 2013. If weather forecasts hold up, that could increase to 25 percent by Thursday.

Total bike trip counts are up nine percent compared to the same time in 2013, but that represents a slow-down compared to the 17-20 percent increase measured in late 2013.

But the “meager” nine percent increase could be skewed to the low end due to unusually heavy rains this winter and early spring. Analysis has shown that a morning rain will suppress a day’s bike counts. If any of you are into crunching data, you could analyze the number of rainy weekday mornings in 2014 compared to 2013 to test this theory. If you do, let us know what you find in the comments below.

Even if Monday’s number proves to be a fluke (for example, someone hung out on the bridge moving a wheel back and forth over the counter for an hour), the growth trend is steady and real. If Monday’s actual count was closer to the 4,000 counts seen many times in recent weeks, that would represent more than a 20 percent increase in April year-over-year. The city would be wise to plan for this level of growth in cycling, which means several thousand more people cycling regularly than did so last year.

And if the past year is an example, when the warm weather surge dies back down in the winter, the new base level of year-round biking folks will be higher than it was this winter. This will create a stronger base for an even bigger warm weather surge next year, and on and on and on.

UPDATE: The bike counter on the lower West Seattle Bridge did not see the same spike, though it did measure a number close to its own record set in early April.

UPDATE x2: SDOT also suspects that something is fishy with the 6,623 figure. From Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang: “We checked the daily count resolution and there is an unusually high spike in the morning hour.  We’re checking on the counter.  We suspect daily count is closer to 5,000.”

UPDATE x3: More details on the issue, from SDOT:

We had four one hour spikes, April 23, 25, 28, and 29. All during either the 8 or 9am hour and only on the east side of the bridge. These spikes amounted to 1000 to 2000+ extra counts. We have not been able to determine the exact cause, particularly since the counter operated fine all other hours.  We have validated the correct operation since Wednesday when we placed tubes counters on the bridge.

Today I replaced the battery and transducer for the east detector loops. It appeared to be working fine both before and after the work. We will continue to monitor the counts for another week to confirm correct operation and then turn on our count site again. We will adjust the data with errors based on typical volumes and the volumes of surrounding hours.

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58 responses to “Monday appears to smash Fremont Bridge bike counter record – UPDATE: Probably not”

  1. Squirrel

    The counter was over 1200 @ 9:00 am and @ 5200 at 5:15 pm. As many bikes as I saw on the Burke and the Ship Canal Trail, the record breaking number is not unreasonable. It was alot more than I thought it was going to be. We might actually get a million trips by the end of 2014. Also wish that they would reset the total count at the beginning of the year.

  2. Peri Hartman

    Could be true. I crossed the Aurora bridge yesterday evening (on the sidewalk) and when I merged with Fremont Ave on the north side, there were more cyclists than usual. It was enough more that I noticed it. I presume some of them crossed the Fremont bridge.

  3. Mike

    This morning at about 8 there was a SDOT truck parked by the counter. It looks like your request for verification was answered pretty quickly.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Ha! That was actually before I asked. I wonder if they saw the same number and went: Um, is that thing broken? Because if not, wow.

      Another interesting factoid: Only 5 days have ever broken the 5,000 mark to date. Makes me cautious to believe Seattle just leaped over the 5,000s entirely and went straight to 6,000. But even if the number were closer to 4,000, the trend says we’re gonna smash last year’s numbers.

  4. mhaze

    This morning, the Fremont Bridge counter was over 1200 at around 8:15.

    The locker room at work this morning, while I was in there, had five guys trying to find room to set their stuff down. Normally it’s me and maybe one other. It seems like Seattle is getting a jump on Bike to Work Week.

    1. Matt

      It was 3700 when I crossed around 10am.

    2. Kirk

      I think biking is going to explode this summer. It really seems that already there are a lot more bicycle drivers on my daily commute. The buzz at work is strong for more people biking in. SDOT is going to have to get on it in short order to design and build real transportation solutions for bicycle drivers. With accelerated growth, the **20 year** bicycle master plan is going to look dated real fast. The people that actually pay the taxes for the roads are going to want them to function for transportation, which is going to be increasingly bicycle oriented.

      1. Skylar

        I agree, and one of the silver linings of the KC Metro funding fiasco is that it will push more urban dwelling people into walking/biking. That’s not a good reason not to vote for the upcoming property tax levy though.

  5. JB

    Yeah, but Seattle is rainy! And hilly. And … rainy. And, and, and. And if you build it, people will use it.

    Seriously, we know that rain doesn’t have to be a big deal if you plan ahead and have the gear for it. In the interest of broadening the appeal of cycling as much as possible, I would like to see a couple of “Trondheim Bike Lifts” installed at some strategic locations in the city, like up Capitol Hill and Queen Anne. And some bicycle priority streets going downhill so we could enjoy our hard-earned momentum on a smooth, unbroken roll from say Broadway all the way down to the waterfront. Looking forward to more grannies on bicycles, and to the day when these increasing numbers translate to the political capital to pull off some projects like that.

    1. Peri Hartman

      Trodheim bike lifts: maybe there is a use for the QA counterbalance mechanism, after all :)

    2. Charles B

      As far as Capitol Hill goes, I’d be happy if we just had the cycle track from Broadway extend all the way down 10th.

      Bike lifts wouldn’t be bad though…

      I am still pretty disappointed that the new Greenwood updates will keep bike lanes in the car door zone. :(

  6. Chuck Ayers


    1. Gary Anderson

      Well put!

  7. Matthew Snyder

    It’s trivially easy for one cyclist to register, say, 50-100 trips in one minute by slowly rocking a wheel across the sensor while waiting for the bridge to re-open to traffic, and I’ve seen this happen several times. On a nice day, you might expect heavier pleasure boat traffic, more bridge openings, and thus more opportunity to trick the counter. I’m not saying this is what happened, but I’ve been extremely reluctant to trust the data from this counter because of just how easy it is to confuse it.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Doing that enough to throw off the data this much sure would take dedication. I’d say the numbers are a solid 2,000 higher than I would have guessed. So if you can trick it once a second, that’s over a half hour of someone sitting there tricking the thing. Not beyond the realm of imagination, but a pretty strange thing to do.

      1. Jen

        While it’s turned out that this isn’t the case, I guess it would be something to do while waiting for one of those sloooooooooooowwwww construction barges bound for the 520 bridge to cross.

        It would be great if the counter were back in operation for bike to work month.

    2. Leif Espelund

      Just to be clear, the installed bike counter doesn’t use wheel sensors. It has cameras with software that knows who is a cyclist vs. a pedestrian. Now, you could ride in circles by going past it and then turning around to go past the other direction (it counts both ways), but that seems like a lot of work.

  8. Jeff Dubrule

    Even though I’m one of those year-rounders, I had an extra jump in my pedal, as I’d spent Sunday replacing a worn chain, putting on new wheels & tires, and installing security-skewers, so I don’t have to carry a cable around to go with my U-lock.

    Was gonna wait a week, but DarkSky convinced me that it was going to be nice this week. So far, so good!

  9. While I was walking down to work yesterday I saw a group ride of some kind coming up the hill. Some Fremont employers have pretty active group ride and bike month programs, so maybe there was some of that going on.

  10. Tom Fucoloro

    Just updated the post with this from SDOT Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang: “We checked the daily count resolution and there is an unusually high spike in the morning hour. We’re checking on the counter. We suspect daily count is closer to 5,000.”

  11. Matthew

    Check back Saturday; with the weather this week, I expect we will see big numbers for the rest of the week. I picked the worst time to get sick. Hopefully I will be riding again tomorrow; I enjoy riding with other cyclists. I especially like it when I can chat with other cyclists during the commute. You can’t do that in a car.

    1. Mark B

      ” I especially like it when I can chat with other cyclists during the commute. You can’t do that in a car.”

      Yes you can, and you don’t have to be 2 or 3 abreast to do so. It’s called a carpool.

      1. That involves too much coordination for a lot of commuters; when cycling, some folks can just happen to pass by each other and chat, similar to when walking.

      2. RTK

        I believe he was referring to the same thing I enjoy. Just a few random pleasantries or something to share with someone riding along, instead of the isolation the vast majority of vehicle drivers face sitting in a car all by themselves. I do feel more in touch with other people and the world in general while I’m commuting by bike.

  12. I saw a count of 203 cyclists at 02:55 (the one in the morning) on the Fremont Bridge last Wednesday and thought it was a bit odd.

  13. Jeff Dubrule

    Aaand we’re “down for maintenance” until further notice.

  14. Squirrel

    I went over Fremont @11:45 this morning and was # 4000 on the nose. Either the detector is consistently off or there were alot of riders this morning.

  15. Peter Than

    This morning, as I was nearing the Fremont counter, the counter was ticking up steadily though no one was crossing on other West or East sides of the bridge. I thought to myself that it was broken.

  16. Kevin

    I saw the counter tick continuously this morning around 9.30am. It was increasing by at least 2 per second as I was crossing the bridge with only one other bicyclist.

  17. Lars

    The improvements in cycling infrastructure is paying off for safer riding in Seattle. Feeling safer riding increases rider numbers and makes drivers more aware of cyclists. Seattle’s involvement in bike advocacy is second to none. Give all of yourselves a pat on the back and keep on ticking.

  18. Eric

    The total was at 4,300 when I crossed Tuesday evening at 5:00 and then I had to go down Dexter after crossing. There was a sea of bikers coming north. I was surprised by the large number on Monday but also wonder if the increased development and density north of the bridge and number of tech employers in Fremont is adding to the quick growth.

  19. Kirk

    So maybe not 6,000, but the numbers are growing, and 6,000 will be a common number soon enough. Designers of the Westlake Bikeway take note – the design MUST accomodate these commuters crossing the Fremont Bridge, whose numbers are growing rapidly, or the project will be another fail for Westlake. Plan for the future. Automobile parking is not the answer.

  20. SGG

    I ride through the West Seattle counter and have noticed that it seems to finally be working. There were some serious problems with the technology for months after they installed it. I think these real time counters are a great way for us to monitor bicycling. It’s fun to see the impact of special events and such too, such as the Seahawks parade day. More importantly, it demonstrates how important some of these locations that are real bottlenecks are for bicyclists. Clearly the Fremont bridge is the king. I know all westside bicycles must go through the Spokane counter. Other locations should be considered where everyone passes through.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I agree, the Spokane counter seems to be working well. It feels like it skips you at first, but that’s just the delay between going over the sensor and it appearing on the board

    2. Jake

      They changed the location of the sensors several months ago, and the counter became much more consistent.

  21. Kirk

    I was trying to find the data for the new bike counters, which are supposedly capturing since February and posting monthly. Where can I find this? The SDOT site only has the Fremont and Spokane counters listed…

      1. Gary

        For instance, on March 3, a Monday, way more people rode home than rode to work… (afternoon hours are significatly higher than the morning.)

        Anyway I’m still new to using this charting tool, so I need to do some more work on it. But if I were you, I’d roll the 4 counts together, for apples to apples comparison, but then I’m not sure about that either.

      2. Gary

        And on March 18, (MTS) it recorded 28 people walking West at 6pm, there is NO WAY that there were 28 folks out on that bridge that day, let alone at 6pm on a cold Monday evening.

      3. Kirk

        Gary thanks! I often ride southbound to downtown on 15th NW/Elliott in the mornings (uncounted), and then take the more leisurly route up the water back to Ballard in the evening through Myrtle Edwards Park (counted). Other trails may have these types of useage patterns.

      4. Josh

        This came up when the I-90 counter data were first released.

        The “direction” for cyclists is apparently driven by which side of the trail you’re on, not actually by which direction you’re traveling.

        Since the pair of detector loops are in an S-curve with good sight lines, many eastbound cyclists cut the inside of the curve and roll over the “westbound” loop.

        I would give the total cyclist count much more credibility than the direction split.

      5. Gary

        What bugs me the most is the pedestrain counts. Those don’t ever seem to jive with “what I see” when I cross the bridge.

        Also, if most people ride over those loops the way I do, I would expect to see higher Eastbound counts in the evening, and lower Westbound counts in the morning, which is the opposite of what’s in the charts. But.. as you say, I don’t really care whether the directional count is correct as much as whether the total counts are correct. And those pedestrian numbers make me think that none of the counts are correct.

      6. Josh

        Now that April data are up, take a look at the evening of April 30 on I-90. Hundreds of pedestrians went East and never came back West. It’s plausible that cyclists may be taking a loop around the lake for the return trip, maybe a few pedestrians walk one way and take the bus back, but hour after hour, 55 east/11 west, 63 east/13 west, 66 east/14 west… where are all the extra pedestrians going?

  22. weaksauce

    With this record number of bikers crossing the bridge everyday it would be nice to see a walk sign with flashing lights or a crosswalk with lights on the street to help protect the bikers from traffic turning right.

    When you are heading South on Fremont ave you have to cross over Florentia St. The cars are suppose to yield, but they frequently just roll through the intersection and don’t yield. If there was a beam that a biker or walker broke that would light up the crosswalk that would be awesome!

    1. JB

      I was in Port Orchard the other day and saw for the first time a crosswalk that was marked by in-pavement lighting – it was pretty neat! But Fremont Bridge and the area immediately south of it needs a far more thorough treatment than that to make it safe and comfortable for people on foot and on bikes. Vastly more space in the right-of-way must be re-assigned to non-motorized uses, and the sooner the politicians and engineers get busy on that, the better off Seattle will be.

      1. Peri Hartman

        Yes, more space for bike traffic!

        In preparation for the future, we need new terminology to describe the upcoming bicycle traffic jams! Maybe cyclejam or, to borrow from dutch, fietseropstopping. (my translation is probably wrong :)

      2. RTK

        Too bad the counter went down. I saw a nutty volume of commuters today.

        Peri is right, the BGT was reaching cyclejam level between the Fremont Bride and U district this evening.

      3. weaksauce

        Given the number of bikes that are in that area on a daily basis, I think it would be hard to argue against some upgrades to make it safer for non-motorized transportation(including pedestrians). I did see wsdot putting those ” long black rubber tubes” in a few places yesterday morning to probably count the number of cyclist. There is one on each side of the bridge and one if front of PCC.

        Its a bummer to see the projects like the tunnel just eating money when a few million could vastly improve the infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclist. Maybe one day we will live in a city that prioritizes the safety of its citizens.

      4. JB

        No one much argues against these things, they are just far too comfortable letting another year go by while they launch another study and pat themselves on the back for silly non-measures like sharrows and the 2nd Avenue bike lane. Meanwhile thousands of people miss out on the fun and health, environmental and financial benefits of cycling and walking etc.

  23. Richard

    For what it’s worth, the counter was a little over 5,000 and did not appear to be false counting when I passed through it last night at about 10.

  24. Bob Hall

    Anybody notice the new tube counters on the Fremont bridge this morning? It will be interesting to see how well the counts correlate between the tube counters and the original counter. Cheers to SDOT for installing that so quickly, especially in time for Bike to Work month!

    1. Law Abider

      Saw those this morning. Wonder if they’ll be able to use the comparative counts to nip the phantom “double counting” in the bud.

      1. There were there when I rode in at around 03:00 this morning, so they’ve likely been counting since last night.

  25. […] week, too: another Greenway on the way, the soon-to-open extension of the Broadway Bikeway, and the Fremont Bridge breaking records. Of course, WSDOT is still trying to kill cyclists near SR […]

  26. […] Fremont Bridge bike counter is back up and running after getting a little ahead of itself late last month due to a […]

  27. The Spokane St bridge counter was actually installed in June 2013 and took some months to get sensors and counting squared away. Record count until this April was 1,286 on July 23, 2013, broken three days in a row in April and again yesterday at 1,847. That’s 44% over last year’s mid summer high!

    We posted a screenshot on FB on May 1 that shows the count back to last June.


  28. […] more towards midday. I removed data from a few days with suspicious looking spikes, which have been acknowledged as erroneous, but one spike remained – 11pm to midnight on July 4, 2013. It would appear as though several […]

  29. […] these anomalous readings and the correspondence between a local blogger and a city employee at the Seattle Bike Blog. I won’t repeat it here, but suffice it to say measuring things can be […]

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