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Who was that guy with the clipboard? Bike count season is in full swing

Posted by on September 14th, 2009 at 2:54 pm

bike count survey

Riders take a trails survey on the Hawthorne Bridge just before rush hour.
(Photo © Elly Blue)

It’s bike counting season again, and for the second year in a row there are two concurrent counts going on in Portland.

Last Thursday, riding east over the Hawthorne Bridge around 4:30pm, I stopped to take a short survey about regional trail use. The volunteer handing out the surveys, Jack, said that this process was part of a bike count, and that he was about to start counting for two hours.

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I called up David Amiton, the transportation planning intern for the City of Portland who is coordinating this year’s bike counting, to find out more about this year’s process.

Amiton says that there are two concurrent bike counts in Portland this year — the city’s annual summer bike counts, and for the second year in a row, a separate count as part of the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project (we wrote about the project last year here).

The city’s counts have expanded significantly every year, and now encompass 165 locations where volunteers count on a non-holiday Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday of their choosing in a given three month period.

bike count survey

Counting bikes on the Hawthorne.
(Photo © Elly Blue)

The national count (which I ran into) was conducted last week only, and included a number of cities in the region, including Portland and Vancouver, Washington. This count focuses on trails (including multi-use paths such as the Hawthorne Bridge sidewalks), and counts all users, including those traveling on foot, by bicycle, by skateboard, or other mode. This program also has an optional survey, completed separately from the actual counting, where users are asked about the origin and destination of their trip and their experience and preferences on the trail.

The tallies from both counts contribute significantly to the pool of bicycle data available to the city. Existing bicycle data, which you can find on PBOT’s website, also includes information from the city’s pneumatic counters on bridges, the annual City Auditor’s survey, which asks Portlanders about their primary and secondary commute vehicle (18% say bikes), and the U.S. Census.

Amiton is coordinating the city’s annual count, and is co-coordinating the national count in conjunction with Metro. The city includes some of the national count data in its annual count where appropriate, Amiton said. The real value of the national count, however, he said, is that the data will be included in federal transportation modeling — which often does not take bicycle and pedestrian trips into account.

“These models inform policy, funding for projects, design, project capacity, things like that,” Amiton said. “So if you don’t include bikes and pedestrians in the models, down the road it becomes harder to justify funding for bike and pedestrian facilities.”

The city will be done with its summer counts on September 30th, and the numbers are slated to be released by early November. The national numbers may take a while longer to process.

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  • Neil
    Neil September 14, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    I wonder if they take into account those of us who ride in early and leave early as well.

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  • bikieboy September 14, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    that guy with the clipboard? that’s smilin’ jack newlevant.

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  • John Lascurettes September 14, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Neil, my understanding is that they count when they expect the rider numbers to be at their maximum throughput. I think they’re looking for a rate more than anything. The higher numbers go toward helping campaign for bike projects around town, making the argument that the demand is there.

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  • Neil
    Neil September 14, 2009 at 7:38 pm


    Thanks for the clarification. While rate is a fine indicator, I’d think that actual volume would be more persuasive. Oh well. Hopefully with the commute challenge going on, that will boost the numbers.

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  • steve September 14, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    They should do a second count in February.

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  • bikesalot September 14, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    They did the count on the Fanno Creek Trail near Tigard last week, starting at 5 pm. They said the traffic tended to peak around 6 pm – well after I usually pass through. That is OK – fewer dog leashes to worry about…..

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  • Kt September 15, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Wow, I wish I had known about the count in Tigard down on the trail. I only go through there in the morning part of my commute, though.

    Guess that’s one more thing to talk about at the upcoming Tigard BAC meeting! 🙂

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  • Mark September 15, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I was counting on Fanno Creek last week. Count was Tu/Wed/Th and Fri/Sat

    The numbers I saw were about 140-150 in a 2 hour period. Essentially 1 a minute. Maybe a dozen commuters. One commuted from Tigard to Hills airport area

    It was fun. Everybody was happy to take the survey (mostly)

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  • Michael M. September 15, 2009 at 10:58 am

    I did my count (for the city) in July, and then mostly forgot all about it, until the past few weeks when I noticed I was being counted by two different counters in two different locations. I guess a lot of the volunteers were waiting for the Bike Commute Challenge to start … or, ya know, maybe they’re just procrastinators. 🙂

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  • Rebecca C September 15, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    I wish they would re-do the counts in two weeks when PSU is back in session. There are hundreds of folks who bike-commute to PSU for class (we have a BIG problem with rack-lack on campus — it’s really hard to find rack space if you get to school after around 9:30 in the AM). They probably missed a lot of regular commuters by doing the bridge counts during intersession. (I bike to PSU 5 days/week year-round when class is in session and only twice a week when we don’t have school).

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  • […] Nashville to Portland, and various points over, under, around and through. And next week L.A. will have its first count, […]

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  • Daniel (teknotus) Johnson September 16, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Are they doing the Thurman bridge? I swear about 1/3 of all traffic is bikes yet the cars are less considerate of me than they were when I worked in Beaverton.

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  • Refunk September 16, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Hey, Y’all:

    PBOT still has some bike counts left and the month is running out! If you’ve already done one or more, couldn’t you just knock off an extra to help out?

    I’m doing Interstate and Greeley next week; I printed out the survey form with a plagiarized image of Brett as the background on it to remind me of why…

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