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Electronic bicycle counter coming to Hawthorne Bridge

Posted by on May 21st, 2012 at 11:23 am

A bicycle counter similar to this one
will be installed on the Hawthorne
Bridge later this summer.
(Photo: Eco-Counter)

At long last, Portland is set to install an electronic bicycle counter. The new tool, which will be placed on the Hawthorne Bridge, will provide a daily and annual, ongoing count of the number of people who pass by on a bicycle..

The new counter will be an Eco-Totem made by Eco-Counter, a Montreal-based company. Funding for the project was supplied via a $20,000 grant from Cycle Oregon. The City of Portland, Bureau of Transportation applied for the grant last fall and Cycle Oregon ride director Jerry Norquist says it was approved in February.

According to Norquist, the grants committee of the Cycle Oregon board was “intrigued” by the idea. “It’s like when McDonalds put out signs saying they sold 1 million hamburgers,” Norquist said via phone this morning, “Except this is a much bigger deal, because it will show people they’re making a difference in transportation.”

We were first intrigued by bicycle counters back in March 2007 when we posted a story about a bike counter over a path in Italy. A few weeks later we reported on the effort by Michael Downes, a local citizen activist who had launched an effort to bring one to Portland. Downes eventually go too busy with work to make the project happen; but it turns out that PBOT bike coordinator Roger Geller never forgot about the idea.

Geller is the one who has spearheaded the project and it was his interest in the counter that led to the Cycle Oregon grant.

As for the Eco-Totem itself, Eco-Counter’s North American Sales Manager Jean-Francois Rheault, says (via email) that automatic counters are crucial to helping cities, “understand, decide on, and justify” cycling infrastructure. While the City of Portland’s bike counts (which are put together by Geller and his staff) are very well-known and respected around the world, Rheault says using an automated counter is, “taking data collection to the next level.”

Rheault says there are two key reasons why cities are installing counters:

First, it clearly shows to cyclists and all other modes that bicycle traffic represents a significant amount of traffic. As cycling takes very little space and is very quiet, it is always under estimated.

Secondly, when a city decide to install a bike counter with a public display, they basically send the following message to cyclists: “You count for us!” This becomes a powerful marketing tool.”

Rheault shared more about how the counter works:

“The display is connected to one or more sensors that send the information in real time. Sensors can be both a ZELT Inductive Loop or a Pneumatic Tubes both specifically designed to count bikes. The Hawthorne bridge currently has two Eco-Counter TUBES installed on both side of the bridge. The data are also sent, once a day, to a web-based display so anyone can see them.”

According to its specs, the counter uses LEDs which are highly visible at night and date, time and temperature displays are also an option.

Cycle Oregon’s Norquist says he hopes after this first counter is installed on the Hawthorne Bridge, other private partners will step up to fund more of them on busy cycle routes across the city.

Last week, the Seattle Times reported that the Cascade Bicycle Club has also received a grant for an Eco-Totem. Copenhagen, the city many consider the most bike-friendly in the world, has had bicycle counters installed since 2009.

I haven’t confirmed the exact date for installation of Portland’s counter, but sources say it will likely be up and running by August. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: For more info on automated bicycle counting in Portland, see this post by PBOT Signals Division Manager Peter Koonce.

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  • jeff May 21, 2012 at 11:30 am

    where exactly can we expect to be dodging this “pole” on the hawthorne bridge?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 21, 2012 at 11:32 am

      Good question Jeff. I hope to hear more from PBOT and will update the story when I do. My hunch is that it will be placed someone prior to the actual bridge deck, where space is at less of a premium.

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      • jeff May 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm

        best place I can think of is within the north and south side eastbank esplande pullouts on the east end.

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        • Indy May 21, 2012 at 1:31 pm

          When traveling West, there just isn’t very much room, bikes are speeding down that hill at 15+ mph, and it joins with the Esplanade path, so the counts may not be accurate if it is put too far East.

          I would hope they put this on the West end of the Westbound bike traffic and on the East end for the Eastbound traffic (before the respective joining to the Esplanade path).

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          • dan May 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm

            I think it could fit nicely in the fork in the path on the westbound sidewalk (where the corkscrew to the waterfront splits off). It could go right at the bottom of the fork, so we’re not losing sidewalk space.

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  • John R. May 21, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Very cool. I wonder if it will also impact behavior- sort of a city-wide motivator/indicator.

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  • Elliot May 21, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Thanks, Cycle Oregon! I’m sure the counter will become an awesome new landmark for the city. I can imagine Pedalpalooza rides kicking off from here every summer. This is a steal at $20,000, just the psychological benefit will be huge. Tourist attraction, for sure.

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    • Elliot May 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm

      Now that I think about it, this could be a really great tool for group rides. Just work the bike counter into the route of your ride and voila! An exact tally of your attendance, no estimates necessary.

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      • Indy May 21, 2012 at 1:33 pm

        I’d be curious to see if it could detect three bikes side-by-side, let alone hundreds of pairs of bikes side by side, and keep 100% accurate counts.

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        • JV May 21, 2012 at 2:13 pm

          Not to mention the drastic undercounting of people on tandem bikes or kids being carried in bakefiets! Though seriously – this is very cool and I got to see one in person in Amsterdam.

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  • TonyH May 21, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Bicycle counter? You can imagine my disappointment. I was picturing a “pedal-up” counter at a way cool bike culture cafe.

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  • OnTheRoad May 21, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Even though it’s paid for by bicyclists (through a Cycle Oregon grant), I can already hear the howls of protest from the fix-my-potholes-first contingent.

    I hope the city does a better roll-out than it did with the “sewer money for bike paths” misunderstanding.

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    • Elliot May 21, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      I don’t see AAA anywhere giving ODOT a $XX,000 grant to install a counter on I-5 that tracks how many metric tons of CO2 drivers have emitted each year…

      If someone tries to dredge up a “potholes first” argument, I’m pretty sure we have the ammo to fire back. Kudos again to Cycle Oregon, this is an amazing project!

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    • Chris I May 21, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      Oregonian headline: “PBOT To Install $20,000 Bike Counter on Hawthorne Bridge”

      And buried somewhere towards the end of the article will be a brief mention of the Cycle Oregon grant.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 21, 2012 at 12:15 pm

      Well that’d be easy to refute, since PBOT spends a lot of money analyzing and counting car traffic. We have very sophisticated auto traffic analysis tools and we have nothing even close for bikes. This is a drop in the bucket in comparison and it’s almost pathetic that in order to accurately count bicycle traffic we have to get a grant from a non-profit to do it.

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  • peejay May 21, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    1. How does it differentiate between bicycles and foot traffic? (Begin rant about how combining the two in the same territory is the car-world’s way of “combine-and-conquer”).

    2. The display should be MUCH BIGGER! It should be as big as those programmable highway signs they set up in construction zones and to display Amber alerts. The real audience for this is the collection of people sitting in big boxes to the left of the bike lane, not those already riding.

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    • Alex b May 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm

      The way it knows it’s a bike vs a human is metal. Every time a metal object passes over the loop it will count.

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  • Schrauf May 21, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    “The Hawthorne bridge currently has two Eco-Counter TUBES installed on both side of the bridge. The data are also sent, once a day, to a web-based display so anyone can see them.”

    Where are these web-based counts? Or is he speaking in future-tense, once the physical display is installed?

    I wonder how the counter differentiates between bikes and peds. Pressure per square inch? Bikes would generally apply much more pressure than shoes, but what if the tires are wide? Than it might be similar.

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    • Spiffy May 21, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      I had the same questions…

      it sounds like the count tubes are already installed… why? are they already counting? how long have they been there? and like you asked, is there already a web site we can see this on?

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  • El Biciclero May 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Careful placement will be key: place it where motorists can see it, and they will crash into it. Place it out of harm’s way and nobody will notice it.

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  • GlowBoy May 21, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    I agree placement will be critical. It has to be put somewhere that won’t get in cyclists’ or pedestrians’ way, but where it will be noticeable and readable by everyone — motorized and nonmotorized.

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  • Steve B May 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Thank you Cycle Oregon!

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  • Toby May 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    It’s an interesting project, if a tad spendy and not especially attractive in terms of design (we can hope ours are). The displays look a little dim to read while riding by – . To me it seems reasonable (and easy) that it should also be visible online somewhere… that would really ‘take data gathering to a whole new level’.

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  • harvey May 21, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Accountability! Awesome. I have been so suspicious of the BTA’s numbers as their counts are done at peak commuting times in the summer.

    The dropoff in ridership will be more noticeable in winter. This device will make the cycling population more accountable, which could hurt as well as help.

    Will our 3-6% of the population as cyclists be reduced to a real number of 1.5% in wintertime? How will that affect the political landscape of getting funding for projects?

    I guess I stand alone in the notion that this device could do far more harm than good.

    Keeping things muddy and a lack of accountability make it much easier to get funds.

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    • Elliot May 21, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      The counts you’re thinking of are done by PBOT, not the BTA.

      Also, PBOT already compares fall/winter counts on the Hawthorne Bridge to current and previous summer peaks. For example, daily ridership in December 2011 (4,401) was slightly more than half of the 2011 summer average (8,044). See http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?a=386265&c=44671, page 19. The accountability is already there.

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    • Indy May 21, 2012 at 1:36 pm

      You could also see the opposite: people that ride over the Hawthorne just to be “counted” and get more representation. Don’t be surprised to see people picking the Hawthorne even if it’s out of their way to get counted as one of those numbers.

      And also watch for the obvious abuse. You could just have people ride back and forth to bump up the numbers, for any number of personal reasons.

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      • CaptainKarma May 21, 2012 at 1:45 pm

        I did exactly that when I was eight.

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  • Andrew K May 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Great news, especially on a Monday!

    I ride the Hawthorne bridge twice a day and I will be looking forward to seeing this go in. I hope they announce the exact location of the install ahead of time so there can be a bit of public imput as far as the location goes.

    Space is a bit tight on the Hawhtorne after all.

    But seriously, this is very cool.

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  • CaptainKarma May 21, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Need to funnel the naked bike ride through there to end *that* debate.

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  • davemess May 21, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Also expect a pretty good drop in biking on the Hawthorne with the addition of the Max Bridge to the south. Granted that won’t be for a few years.

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    • GlowBoy May 21, 2012 at 9:50 pm

      Good point. I live south of the Ross island bridge, so with this new option my trips over the Hawthorne will drop considerably.

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  • John I. May 21, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    “The Hawthorne bridge currently has two Eco-Counter TUBES installed on both side of the bridge. The data are also sent, once a day, to a web-based display so anyone can see them.”
    Where are these web-based counts? Or is he speaking in future-tense, once the physical display is installed?

    I would like to know what to find this data as well… anyone?

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  • J-R May 21, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    It’s going to show that bicycling decreases in poor weather and with the advent of shorter days. That tends to be ignored by those who report the summer statistics and extrapolate them to the whole year.

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  • 9watts May 21, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Somebody should design one that cantilevers out and over the bike lane supported by a post off to the side/out of the travel lane.

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  • Todd Hudson May 21, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    So it only counts electric bikes?

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  • Matt May 21, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    I’d love to see one of these installed on the Springwater near the 3 bridges.

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  • dwainedibbly May 21, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    If I commuted from across the river, this would make me pick the Hawthorne for my crossing.

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  • Sue May 22, 2012 at 10:21 am

    No love for those of us that live and work on the east side. It seems like a lot of bike counts are only those crossing the bridges. I ride a 17 mile round trip everyday SE to N. Maybe I’ll start looping across.

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