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Commute Seattle will install bike counter display on 2nd Ave

Mock-up of the display sign
Mock-up of the display sign

Downtown Seattle will get its first live-updated bike counter display soon thanks to Commute Seattle.

Located on 2nd Ave between Madison and Marion Streets, the counter will tick away daily and annual totals as people bike by. As we’ve seen with existing counter displays on the Fremont and Spokane St Bridges, it’s a fun way to show off how many people are biking and give a little boost of encouragement to people by saying, quite literally, “You count.”

The other major benefit of the counters is data, but that’s less of an issue in this case because the city already has tubes at this location ticking away quietly. In fact, the counter has measured more than 237,000 bike trips January through October of this year: 157,000 southbound and 81,000 northbound.

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Location and shape of the counter, from the Transpo Committee presentation
Location and shape of the counter, from the Transpo Committee presentation

According to a presentation to the City Council Transportation Committee Tuesday (PDF), Commute Seattle will gift the counter to the city and hopes to have it installed in early 2016. It will utilize the same counting technology as the Fremont and West Seattle counters, but the display itself will be more sleek and simple. Basically, it will look more like a standard street sign and less like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001apes-thumb-510x245-39088Speaking of bike counters, Spokane is killing it this year. Counts across the lower West Seattle Bridge are up seven percent over 2014.

But Fremont appears down from last year. This seems very odd given the strong start to the year (February and March were way up, then the rest have been down) and the very warm summer. I’ve asked SDOT if there is a technical issue (is it undercounting now or was it overcounting last year?) or if they think bike trips really are down this year. It seems fishy, but I don’t want to dismiss it just because it doesn’t fit the bike advocacy narrative. If bike trips really are down, then we need to deal with that. But I suspect a technical issue is more likely. I will update when I learn more.

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22 responses to “Commute Seattle will install bike counter display on 2nd Ave”

  1. Andres Salomon

    Actually, June 2014 -> 2015 saw a slight increase in Fremont Bridge trips (110,907 to 113,717).

    Aug/Sept was bridge painting, so I’d expect counts to go down significantly; they went down, but not as much as I’d feared.

    I do wonder how if decreased counts over the bridge is at all related to closed bike lanes causing people to switch to other modes. For example, I was still biking downtown in 2014. I stopped after too many close calls. I did the ride downtown for Cranksgiving and saw just how many Dexter bike lane closures there were for construction (at least 3!). That might not stop the hardcore commuter, but for people who are going downtown only occasionally, have a decent transit option, or don’t mind driving, that could make them reconsider biking downtown (and thus over the bridge).

  2. Molly

    Yay! I love riding over that counter in the 2nd ave bike lane. I am curious how it counts the trail a bike, and if one has to be a certain weight to trigger. Does the 8 year old I ride with trigger it?

  3. merlin

    We know the bike counter doesn’t count people who use the general travel lanes – while the bridge was being painted there may have been more people choosing that option. But I doubt that would account for the entire dip. I know I continue to go out of my way to be counted on the Fremont Bridge!

  4. William

    I am sorry but if our city was making sensible choices about prioritizing transportation funding they would not be wasting funding on a frivolous projects like this. This does not help one iota to make bicycle transportation around the city easier or safer.

    1. Bb

      It was a gift, and the infrastructure already in place.

      I think it’s fun guessing what number I am going to be.

      1. William

        But the city will pay for installation and maintenance which will in the long run end up being the bulk of the cost.

        I personally would happily forego the fun of guessing what number I will be past a bike counter for not having to guess if I will be the next bike accident statistic caused by poorly maintained roads and inadequate bike infrastructure

      2. Doug

        Chill, buddy.

        These counters have a negligee effect on bicycle safety spending.

      3. JAT

        Doug, do you use chamois cream with that effect?

        I do sometimes wonder if the non-pro-bike folks ever look at the numbers to bolster their claims that cycling is a fringe transportation mode. Crossing the West Seattle bridge on a sunny summer afternoon and seeing the number at around 150 make cycling seem pretty insignificant.

    2. (Another) Tom

      I wouldn’t be so certain it doesn’t do anything to help with bicycle safety. Just spitballing here but potential benefits could include,

      People realizing that there are actually a lot of cyclists using the bike lanes thereby reducing opposition to better infrastructure. (A common refrain when a new bike lane is proposed: “I’m against it because there is a bike lane on my commute for two blocks and I rarely see a cyclist on it anyway.”)

      A more direct positive impact could be the driver headed into downtown that notices the counter and remembers to look before making that right turn / flinging the door open into a passing cyclist.

      A potential new cyclist realizing that “a lot of other people manage this, I can too.” Studies have shown that more cyclists = increased safety. Drivers become more accustomed to sharing the road with cyclists and have a greater chance that someone close to them is a cyclist so they stop viewing all cyclists as “the other” which leads to the aggressive, dangerous behavior they would never find acceptable in other situations.

    3. Lisa

      It doesn’t directly make bicycling easier or safer- but good data helps immensely with securing funding and making the case for better infrastructure.

    4. Thanks for covering Tom! We’re excited to get this counter on 2nd Avenue. I wanted to respond to the comment about cost the the city. Commute Seattle is picking up the full cost of the bike counter (the display, installation, and feed to SDOT’s website) at no cost to the city. SDOT has agreed to maintain the feed and display on their website. Bike counters and other amenities like this convey an important message to cyclists and drivers that activity is occurring on the street and to share information about usage. Without partnerships with CS and CBC for the bike counters, the city probably wouldn’t be able to install any time soon as their priority is on building out the network. Being counted and celebrating biking through these amenities though is a form of education, enforcement, and encouragement to all types of roadway users. Happy to answer any other questions, but at least wanted to share that the display and installation is paid for by Commute Seattle.

  5. Southeasterner

    As a daily bike commuter I have contributed to the decline on the Fremont Bridge. I used to cross on the sidewalk (which is counted) but moved to the car lanes. I think the bridge is largely a victim of its own success and many cyclists have moved to the car lanes to avoid the ped/bike congestion on the sidewalks.

  6. RTK

    Interesting that southbound trips nearly double northbound trips. I always take a lane going southbound, and I’ve read here that many others do the same. Almost always use 2nd now when heading northbound. The southbound total is nearly double the northbound total, maybe it is something unique about the cross streets near the counter.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I think that A: Fewer people are taking the lane than is perhaps representative in these comments (the vast majority of people are willing to wait if that means a less stressful trip) and B: The northbound connections are dismal. If the lane were extended through Belltown, connecting to Lenora, Blanchard, etc, I think you’d see a lot more use. But as it is, you have to navigate Pike to get anywhere. In that case, you might as well stick with 4th, 3rd or Western, depending on where you’re going.

      The northbound connection is the most “pilot” part of this whole project. It really needs to be improved ASAP, both as an extension further north on 2nd and on Pike for the east-west connections.

      1. Jason L

        It should go all the way to Bell!

      2. ODB

        Tom, if as you say “fewer people are taking the lane than is perhaps representative in these comments,” then that doesn’t explain the disparity in south- v. northbound trips–actually the opposite. People taking the lane are going southbound, so taking the lane reduces the number of measured southbound trips, and this tends to mitigate the degree by which southbound trips outnumber northbound trips (as measured in the path). In other words, if no one were taking the lane, the disparity would be exactly as extreme as the numbers suggest. The more people that take the lane, the more the actual north/south disparity exceeds the disparity as measured in the path.

        In short, the measured disparity already captures all of the cautious/fearful riders who don’t want to take the lane (and the excluded “bold” riders in the lane make the disparity worse). None of this supports the proposition that cautious/fearful riders are more prevalent than we realize, although I know this is a favorite theme of yours.

    2. Josh

      Worth asking whether they’ve verified the north/south split, I know other counters around the city have errors because they’re actually measuring lane position, not direction of travel — a bike using the oncoming lane to pass a slower rider is counted as going the opposite direction, as is a rider cutting the inside of a turn.

  7. R

    Somebody at SDOT just installed a temporary counter (the kind with air hoses that you run over) on the West sidewalk of the Ballard Bridge. Anybody know what is up with this?

  8. Matthew

    I have noticed since about April that the counter on the Fremont bridge does not always increment when I ride past it. It is easy to see (southbound) and I always look at it. Since about April, it seems that about once in ten times it does not change.

  9. Gary

    I use 4th Ave going North and 5th ave going South. The connection at the South end to Jackson is worse than the three blocks of South bound traffic on fifth. And North bound 2nd the lights are timed poorly.

    So while these visible counters are interesting they don’t catch all of us commuters.

  10. Nickz

    As @Southeasterner says above, it may very well be due to bikers using the general purpose lanes during bridge painting and continuing to do so afterwards. I suspect it might also be some people discovering the Locks route – I know a few people who are very car-phobic and would rather take the time to go downtown using the Locks and Myrtle Edwards combo, which is very low car. I think the trail on the south side of the canal needs some PR, since you can get to Myrtle Edwards much easier than the locks (unless you live in Ballard).

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