Let’s Count on Bike Counters to Promote Cycling

A bicycle counter in Copenhagen, one of the busiest bike cities in the world.

A bicycle counter in Copenhagen, one of the busiest bike cities in the world.

I don’t know about you, but so far, May has been a thrilling Bike Month for California. The events, competitions, and outreach throughout the state has given bicycling a lot of exposure, especially during last week’s Bike Week. In recent years, there has been an increase in participation, notably on cities’ Bike to Work Day.

When San Francisco had its Bike to Work Day earlier this month, they introduced its first digital bicycle counter on the busiest bike street in the city–Market Street. The results were astounding: 3,231 cyclists in a day, not counting those who chose to ride outside the lane.

According to manual bike counts by SFMTA, that accounted for 76% of traffic during rush hour, the highest percentage ever recorded ever since they began the count in 1998.

Record-breaking aside, I was most impressed with the digital bike counter. I believe this serves two major purposes. One, it serves as another innovative tool for tracking quantitative bike stats. The counter allows a greater insight for city planners to track bicycle usage on the street 24/7 365, without the need for manual counters.

Second, the bike counter can serve as a cycling promoter in itself. It is installed in plain sight for all to see: cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists alike. The counters give cyclists a sense of pride because they are contributing to the numbers presented on the screen. The bar gauging the annual riders to date becomes a “micro-game” in community teamwork in trying to reach the top marker of one million riders. Bicycling less would be like quitting the team.

Pedestrians and motorists who pass by the counters can get the urge to “join the team” in reaching the highest number. Every new bicyclist means one less motorist on the road. And we all know what less vehicles on the road means: reduced congestion, increased safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, and higher air quality. Copenhagen uses digital bike counters on their lanes, and they are one of the busiest bicycling cities in the world. Coincidence? I think not.

The bicycle counters remind me of the approach that environmentally-conscious companies are implementing right into the design of their buildings. Rather than hiding this information, these companies implement digital signage visualizations that give a realtime readout of their energy usage. Once again, this strategy promotes sustainability awareness by making this data available for all to see. Employers are able to scale back according to the current readouts, and passerby’s can see the eco-friendliness (or not) of the building.

I’m sure these bike counters are only the beginning of what technology can do to promote bicycling. Implementing these innovative tools will help see that future Bike Weeks in the years to come are just as successful.

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One thought on “Let’s Count on Bike Counters to Promote Cycling

  1. We installed one last fall on the western span of the Fremont Bridge. I’m not sure why it’s only on that span, but I like watching the numbers grow over time.

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