City Hall

O'Brien: City Should Count Bike Traffic, Not Just Cars

By Erica C. Barnett February 28, 2012

Bike counter in Copenhagen.

City Council member Mike O'Brien said this morning that as the city updates its bicycle master plan, it should consider spending money to actually count the number of cyclists using various routes and roads, rather than relying entirely on volunteers (as it has in the past) or a person watching camera footage of bike lanes (as it currently does).

"We don't ask drivers to get out and count cars; we put serious amounts of investment into that," O'Brien said at the council's transportation committee this morning. "We want to have as robust data [for cycling] as we do for other modes of transportation."

"We have a city budget for doing traffic counts, and some of that budget, I think, should be used for multimodal traffic counts."

One possibility O'Brien's office is exploring is installing bike-counting equipment on bridges across the Ship Canal. His office says the city transportation department is working with the Cascade Bicycle Club to come up with funding for an "auto-counter" similar to those in cities like Malmo, Sweden and Copenhagen.

The city would use the more accurate count information to direct bike-planning resources. However, O'Brien cautioned this morning, "If we're simply looking at user data, we might fund cycling in areas where cycling exists, [instead of] making investments even when there aren't riders there yet because we know there's a huge potential there," creating a self-fulfilling cycle of investments in well-served areas.

Bicycle Alliance advocacy director Blake Trask told PubliCola the bike plan, like the Pedestrian Master Plan, will "focus on underserved communities," and pointed out that the city has built several big new pedestrian projects in the Rainier Valley and far North Seattle.

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