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Portland makes bikes count on the Hawthorne Bridge

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 8th, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Bike counter unveiling-6
Let the counting begin!
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

From now on, people crossing the Hawthorne Bridge by bike will count. Literally. A new bike counter (a.k.a. the bicycle barometer) — the first of its kind in the United States — went live at midnight last night and at this morning's press conference the number was already well over 2,000.

The event was a chance for the City of Portland to unveil the new counter; but the moment really belonged to Cycle Oregon, the local non-profit that gave the City $20,000 to make it a reality. (The idea for the counter came from PBOT Bike Coordinator Roger Geller. Read more background in our archives.)

Jonathan Nicholas, the former columnist for The Oregonian who co-founded Cycle Oregon, was on hand this morning. As usual, his words cut through the clutter and I think they're worth sharing verbatim:

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Cycle Oregon co-founder (and VP of Communications for ODS Health) Jonathan Nicholas.

"The first thing I want to make clear today is that this bike counter is not part of a spandex revolution. The last thing our city needs is more middle-aged men in tight pants. What our city needs is more young men and women with decent paychecks. This bike counter is really part of job creation in our city.

It's no secret that health care costs are threatening to cripple our urban economy and they're really inhibiting job creation. We have to find a way for urban dwellers to live more active lifestyles and therefore be healthier. One key part of that is making it easier and safer for people to walk and cycle around our city and one key to making those sort of investments is having accurate, real-time data on which you can base those investments. This counter is all about that.

We're delighted of course that it's the first... But this is much more than a game; much more than about beating Seattle — although it's always nice to beat Seattle to anything. This is a gift. It's our 25th anniversary and so much of our work that we've done through the years has been about rural Oregon. All the money generated through the Cycle Oregon Fun goes back to community developments grants in rural Oregon. But we understand very much that the success we've achieved through these year is because so many of the men and women from the city have come out and ridden around Oregon with us.

So here on our 25th anniversary we wanted to sort of give a birthday present back to the citizens of Portland to thank them for all of that support. And so this bike counter is from Cycle Oregon to the City of Portland and we look forward to partnering on many more such ventures in the future."

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PBOT Director Tom Miller.

The counter has been placed on the northern side of the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge, right where the path splits off onto Waterfront Park and into downtown. Standing at about eight feet high, it features an illuminated tally of "Cyclists today" and a vertical chart of "Cyclists this year" (that goes up to 2,000,000).

The counter works via four sets of air hoses strung across the Hawthorne Bridge path (see images below). There are two sets of two hoses placed about 10-15 feet apart on both sides of the bridge. According to PBOT data collection expert Tom Jensen, when someone on a bicycle rolls over the hoses, their weight depresses the hose, which creates a pulse that is converted into a radio signal that beams wirelessly to the counter.

PBOT bike coordinator Roger Geller said they're using air hoses instead of induction loops (commonly used to trigger traffic signals) because the hoses are more accurate.

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Bike counter unveiling-8

Jensen said that while no system is perfect, they've rigged the hoses and counter specifically to only register bicycle trips (not walkers, skateboarders, and so on). The system has been set up to only register a trip if it senses a pulse at a certain timing sequence (which is why there are two sets of hoses to run over). The pulse must also have a certain strength. If the pulse isn't strong enough and if the timing is off, the counter won't register the trip. Also, if there is something blocking the counter, the radio frequency signal could be blocked (which happened briefly this morning as people stood in front of it).

PBOT's annual bike counts have been using similar hoses for many years, so they don't expect the number shown on the new counter to be much different. If that holds true, we can expect well over 8,000 trips registered per day (and we'll burst the counter's 2 million trip high water mark in just eight months).

There has been some confusion (party my fault) as to whether or not this is the first bike counter in all of North America. There was some chatter at the event today that — while other counters exist in Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto, Canada — this was the first one to have a public display (even PBOT's official press release states: "Portland’s bike counter is the first of its kind in North America"). However, Ottawa resident Alex deVries shared with me via Twitter that not only do they have a counter, the numbers are beamed to a web site and there's also an illuminated display on the street.

PBOT says they're considering uploading the data to a website, but it's not available yet. (UPDATE: Eco-Counter, the company we bought the counter from, has published a website with the data.)

But, as Jonathan Nicholas said, this isn't about who's first. It's also not just about the data (PBOT already has access to high-quality bridge bike count data). In many ways, this is about Portland promoting bicycling in a very public way. The running tally is a validation that bicycle trips make up a major portion of Hawthorne Bridge traffic (currently about 20 percent of the total). And while many of us already knew that; now many others will too. This type of positive reinforcement for a behavior the city wants to encourage is a key part of what makes cycling in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen (where we got the idea in the first place) such a big deal.

Yes, I'd rather have a big press conference to unveil a new separated bikeway that connects the Hawthorne Bridge to the South Park Blocks; but this definitely a cool thing and I'm proud and grateful that Roger Geller, PBOT, and Cycle Oregon made it happen for us.

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Comments
  • John Lascurettes August 8, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Hmm. So I assume the "timing" adjustment on the hoses represents a range of speeds – not everyone rides the same speed.

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  • Zaphod August 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Thank you Cycle Oregon!

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  • Andrew K August 8, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    I work in the World Trade Center so I took a quick walk over to the Hawthorne Bridge to check it out on my lunch break. Nearly every single bike rider was looking at it with a smile on their face, several people pointed in delight, and I even saw two guys take a cell phone shot of themselves standing next to it. That was at about 11:30am while I stood there for about five minutes.

    How can we raise money for more of these? When you think about it, $20,000 isn't all that much and the benefits are HUGE; both in terms of encouragement and in terms of raw data one can use to advocate for better infrastructure. I mean heck, people who wanted to spend twenty minutes at a lunch with Mitt Romney or President Obama shelled out more than $20,000 each!!

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    • Sunny August 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

      Seems kind of expensive for a couple air hoses and a pulse counter.

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      • Dan Kaufman August 8, 2012 at 3:35 pm

        It's more than just a couple air hoses and a counter. Both sides of the bridge are counted and the information is passed in real time to the Kiosk and to the city. The Kiosk is very slick and counts the daily totals and yearly. I am not sure what it should cost to build outdoor device like that to last but 20k seems reasonable. It's an incredible gift that will have lasting value and meaning. Thank you, Cycle Oregon!

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        • Sunny August 8, 2012 at 4:26 pm

          If they could be built cheaper but no less durable, they could be placed all over the city.

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          • Robert Spurlock August 8, 2012 at 4:52 pm

            $5K for an EcoCounter without a display. Planners still get good data but the downside is that it's not visible to the public.

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          • q`Tzal August 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm

            It is still fairly expensive to make things vandal and theft proof.

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          • PlanBike (Jody Brooks) August 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm

            What do you guys think of crowdsourcing bike counts?

            I am working with my local bike coalitions to get the non-racer set to run Strava on their smartphones. We then chart rides via their API.

            The data is high in detail and the cost is virtually nothing to anyone with a smartphone.

            The trick is getting more commute segments identified on their website. I've found a few for the bay area, LA and Chicago, but I didn't find any for Portland. If you know of any, please let me know.

            Here's my blog post about all this: http://www.planbike.com/2012/07/donate-your-data-make-every-ride-vote_30.html

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 8, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      Hey Andrew,

      I agree. Like the new "America's Bike Capital" mural, this will become yet another bike-related Kodak moment Portland monument. I also think we can expect to see more of these popping up. It's not about raising $20,000 though.. I think there are other businesses/orgs who see the wisdom of investing $20K for a bike counter with their logo on it.

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      • Andrew K August 8, 2012 at 1:00 pm

        Oh I totally agree the ideal model would be to get more of these donated by a local business. I could easily see something like this with a Bike Gallery logo on the bottom or heck, even a McMenamins, Voodoo Donuts, or Stumptown Coffee, PGE, NW Natural, Nike, etc. etc. etc.

        I've mentioned before that I think a good model for these would be similar to the Solar Trash cans you see sprinkled downtown. Every one of them is sponsered by a different business. I even think a bike counter would be an easier sell with this model. People want their business associated with active healthly lifestyles.

        The question becomes who is pushing for it? I know from experience that it is relatively easy to get a larger company to sign a $20,000 check, especially when said company can write it off as "donated" and even more especially when there is an easy to prove visual benefit (X number of people will see it per day). However someone needs to approach these companies with the ask and do the leg work.

        Don't mind me though. I'm just excited and pleased and therefore I'm rambling.

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        • Terry D August 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm

          McMinamin's should sponsor one just for their part in torpedoing the SW avenue bufferred bike lanes.....

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  • Sunny August 8, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Riding in circles(donuts) competition on the Hawthorne bridge! First meet was this morning at 1:00am and there were 22 participants(we expect more tonight). Kids bikes have a better turning radius so keep that in mind if you go. Keep updated on the shift list!

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    • Racer X August 8, 2012 at 1:53 pm

      The Donut Century Ride!

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  • Patrick August 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    "Yes, I'd rather have a big press conference to unveil a new separated bikeway that connects the Hawthorne Bridge to the South Park Blocks"

    ...And a bikeway connecting goose hollow to hawthorn bridge! We got Jefferson going west but nothing coming back east!

    Any one agree with me?

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    • Tim Davis August 8, 2012 at 1:52 pm

      TOTALLY agreed, Patrick!! That would be an incredibly wonderful thing to celebrate. All progress is good, however. Next fix: making the "buffered" (make that: totally confusing-to-auto-traffic painted stripes) bike lanes on SW Stark truly separated and appealing to any cyclist from 8 to 80 (like the REAL cycle track in Madison: do a Google streetview of 1100 University Ave in Madison).

      And who is "Sunny?" What a combination downer and bizarre--sheesh.

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      • Sunny August 8, 2012 at 4:35 pm

        It's always Sunny in Philadelphia

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    • Brian August 8, 2012 at 2:25 pm

      How about one street for bikes only that runs East and West all the way through downtown? Is it really that intrusive to find just one and commit it to bikes only? It is for this reason alone that I stay on the East side of the river while riding with my two year old. Sucks. We would have ridden up to the concert in Washington Park from the East side last night if one existed.

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      • Terry D August 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm

        Yamhill-Morrison. Make the one-way couplet bikes only. There is almost no parking to loose, in the areas where there are parking facilities or needed truck load areas one way single block access can be provided. On the east end it would connect up directly to the Morrison Bridge MUP. In Goose Hollow there would have to be some creative Lane reconfigurations, but it could easily work, at least going past the stadium to 20th, the future Greenway in the Master Plans.

        Further south we need to dedicate the outside lanes of Main/Madison to bike/buses only all the way to Park, the future Greenway in the Master Plans.

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    • Nathan Alan August 8, 2012 at 7:25 pm

      I ride pretty regularly to & through Goose Hollow and the lack of a bike lane going east has never occurred to me. It'd make sense I suppose, though I'm pretty comfortable on Columbia myself.

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  • Rob August 8, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    I recently rode in Copenhagen past the counter on the Norrebro Bridge. I was the 7,074th bicyclist to pass the counter that day. So empowering. Good luck to Portland!

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  • Richard Allan August 8, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Can the City change the "cyclists this year" scale to max out at 4 million? Let's at least give ourselves a challenge!

    I like the design, with the image of the bridge and "Hawthorne Bridge, Portland, OR" at the top of the counter. As photos of it circulate around the internet, there will never be any doubt where it is located.

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    • matt picio August 8, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      That's a good point - I just heard tonight from one of the county transportation staff that we should max out the 2,000,000 mark in about 8 months of bridge traffic.

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      • matt picio August 8, 2012 at 8:01 pm

        Oh, and of course Jonathan mentioned that in the story - my fault for reading too quickly.

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  • kittens August 8, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    super cool. too bad there is not a display for eastbound traffic, since by the time people are riding the PM commute, the counter would read back much more impressive numbers than those in the AM

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  • CaptainKarma August 8, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    A live webcam shot is so vital! A simple readout would be ok too, but a webcam might also be able to incorporate whether the bridge is up or down, or jammed or blocked, to help with your daily commute decisions.

    And I sure miss the CleverCam view of Hawthorne traffic. It always inspired me to see everybody ride in all weather, and kept CleverCycles imprinted in my subconscious. Good marketing, it was.

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  • thefuture August 8, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you Cycle Oregon and all involved. Things like this really help win hearts and minds, and I like Jonathan Nichols' emphasis on how supporting bikes helps support business in Portland. I really think that point cannot be made enough.

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    • Tim Davis August 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      Bravo, thefuture--so well put!!

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  • Doug Rosser August 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    As a middle-aged man in spandex, I resent some of those remarks :-)

    I will be extending my commute by approximately 1.5 miles in the morning so I can ride by this counter every day.

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    • spare_wheel August 8, 2012 at 5:22 pm

      They should put up a camera. IMO, this will be a target for vandalism.

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  • Indy August 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Why is the high-end of the counter set to a number that will be exhausted yearly? That seems like a major oversight.

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    • Psyfalcon August 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm

      They might be planning for a slow down during the winter months? Bike counts and today's count are during nicer weather.

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  • Ben August 8, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    I bet $10 some drunk motorist is going to run that thing down within the next 6 months.

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    • SilkySlim August 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm

      Ummmm, have you every crossed the Hawthorne Bridge?? You think someone who manages to make it the length of the bridge in the rather narrow right hand lane will somehow then immediately leap the pretty serious curb (18"? 2 ft?) and cut hard to the right? Has this ever gotten even close to happening before??

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  • Dweendaddy August 9, 2012 at 8:20 am

    Isn't it a bit of inflation to have the counter count both sides of the street? If most people that bike past it pass both ways, the "number of cyclists" would, in reality, be half of what is "counted." I guess the planners know that, but for PR purposes, the bigger the number, the more impressive it looks!

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    • Todd Boulanger August 9, 2012 at 8:35 am

      That is how traffic engineers measure use of any roadway...be it cars, pedestrians, trucks, or horses passing by...they do not care generally if someone drives by once, twice, or three times unless they are trying to reduce congestion, parking turn over or some [negative] effect of the traffic itself.

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      • Todd Boulanger August 9, 2012 at 8:47 am

        To carry on my thoughts...the point I think you are making is measuring the number of users or potential market.

        This issue always seems to be a point of discussion for transit projects but not for new highways (no one says there are only 50% of users vs the total vehicle trips). An interesting inequity of public awareness or public discussion.

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  • Todd Boulanger August 9, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Perhaps as a part of the Bike Commute Challenge...there could be a focused bike commute into downtown pass the counter on a target date...to push the counter up to a new 'record'.

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  • Joe August 9, 2012 at 9:02 am

    anyone know who was talking photos around rush hr time yesterday?
    BTW this is awesome

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  • GlowBoy August 9, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Do not assume that everyone biking over the Hawthorne is making a round trip over the same bridge. I often use the Hawthorne to go to work in the morning, and come back via the Ross Island. Or do a loop where I ride the Steel one direction and the Hawthorne the other way.

    If someone does go over the bridge both directions in the same day, it should count as two trips over the bridge. That's how the vehicle counts are always done.

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  • 54andcloudy August 9, 2012 at 10:45 am

    It's fitting to see Jonathan Nicholas at the podium. He has had a transformative role in the growth of Oregon's cycling culture and in the wider perception of the state as a cycling destination.

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  • Erik August 9, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    How about one on the new Trimet bridge.
    This is supposed to be a primary crossing for alternative transportation modes. Certainly they could squeeze 20K out of the millions already being spent? And we could have a complete history from a bridge's inception.
    Plus it would be valuable data for how the new bridge affects (effects?) the Hawthorne for bike traffic. Jonathan, you have contacts at trimet, give them a ring.

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  • Billy August 10, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Jonathan Nicholas - "The first thing I want to make clear today is that this bike counter is not part of a spandex revolution. The last thing our city needs is more middle-aged men in tight pants. ..."

    And thus, the Portland cycling community's hatred and degradation of imperfect people on bicycles continues. This town is so great for cyclists - healthy looking, slim, young cyclists at least. There is no room in this community for fat people on bicycles, old people on bicycles, or anybody else on bicycles that doesn't fit the ideal image put forward by the BTA, Cycle Oregon and many others. You don't believe me? OK, just TRY to get decent service in any bike shop in this city if you weigh more than 120 lbs and don't have calves of steel. The very people that could benefit MOST from the fantastic health aspects of cycling are marginalized, degraded, and generally looked upon as something disgusting and wrong.

    And Mr. Jonathan Nicholas, as a cycling community spokesperson, just publicly confirmed the discriminatory attitude. Shame.

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  • CharonPDX August 10, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Does anyone know if the data will be available via plain text somewhere? The website linked only shows it in a Flash interface. I'd like to be able to pull the data via a script daily.

    And, Billy, Jonathan is right, we don't need more middle-aged men in spandex. But there are *PLENTY* of "not perfect" people who ride in Portland, ESPECIALLY from inner East Portland across the Hawthorne Bridge. I took his point to mean that we're SPECIFICALLY trying to use this to cater *TO* the "not perfect" people. The point of this is to encourage MORE people to ride, not to get the hyper-competitive, $4000-bike-riding-spandex-wearing-athletes going.

    I am in my mid '30s (not quite middle age yet,) and weigh over 200 pounds. Yet I ride my bike 6.5 miles to work, over a hill (Capitol Highway to Barbur Blvd,) every day. I do *NOT* wear spandex. And the BTA *ALSO* advocates for "everyman" cyclists!

    A few weeks ago, I volunteered at one of the BTA's evening commute service stations in outer SW Portland. The BTA gentleman there (whose name I forget,) was AMAZED that most of the commuters that passed by WERE the stereotype (expensive road bikes, spandex.) When I volunteered at one at the foot of the Hawthorne Bridge a few months ago, you see that BY FAR the "not perfect" people coming across outnumber the stereotypes.

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