One of the most underestimated tools for bike advocacy is the bike counter. They come in all kinds of sizes and shapes. Here in Ottawa, we currently have eight bike counters. Few people know about them but it has helped tremendously in proving that there are much more cycling movements than people think. As the old adagio goes in Dutch: “Meten = Weten”. (measuring = knowledge). The counters are all underground in little water tight containers, hidden in the pavement or the bushes along bike paths.
Former Citizens for Safe Cycling president Krstulich has really pushed for those hidden counters. Telus, Citizens for Safe Cycling, City of Ottawa and NCC paid for the original four counters. They were placed at the south end of the Alexandra bridge, along the canal and along the Ottawa river near the War museum just before the abandoned railway bridge. When I presented about Cycling in Ottawa in Charleston, SC last year, one of the items they were most in awe with were the counters.
The counters consist of a loop in the asphalt; they work more or less the same like the loops at traffic lights. My wife and her friends always thought those loops work on weight (as if there is a giant balance built underneath the pavement), but it detects the metal of your bike. They are sensitive enough that they won’t count cars. They might count a wheel chair but statistically that is neglectable.
The data are stored in the counter and can be collected through Bluetooth once in a while. Two counters, built in Laurier near Metcalfe, have a modem which sends the data to a server, which in turn puts the data on line. (I am skipping a few steps here for clarity). Four other counters on Laurier (at Bay and Lyon both directions) count too, but don’t submit the data to the web site.
Last year a counter was added on Somerset (west bound). The data for the Laurier/Metcalfe counters is usually available after midnight, the other data can be retrieved from the City of Ottawa’s open data catalogue, which you can find here, updated every three months.
Sadly, people have opinions on cycling that are based on subjective observations (“no one cycles here“, “the bike routes are never used“). These counters take all the guess work away.
Did you know that:
- 5611 bike trips were counted on July 1st, 2011 on the Ottawa River Pathway
- only 4093 trips were counted on that same day on Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge
- we need a two page permit to step off the path to actually read the counters
- a total of over 580,000 bike trips were counted on Laurier near Metcalfe between July 11, 2011 and February 10, 2013. (The totals are even higher on Laurier as not everyone passes that stretch of Laurier).
- Laurier’s record was on July 10, 2012: 2939 counts in one day
- even in October 2012, Laurier counted 37,278 bike trips
- the counter at the Alexandra bridge was thrown into the ditch by workers who started working on the bridge two years ago (we are missing a season of data)
- over the three year period 3,458,268 bike trips were registered by the four initial counters (with Alexandra bridge dropping out one season)
- for a few weeks, a display with the real time numbers was hanging inside a lunch room on Laurier facing the street
- a counter was standing outside along Laurier during bike to work month in 2012
- part of the counters’ underground loops were actually made at home by a volunteer, to safe money
Yet, wouldn’t it be wonderful if said counters are much more visible to the public? That people actually see what the numbers are? Those counters exist and they are slowly coming to North America. Perhaps, one day, we will see a virtual bike counter in the National Capital Region too. They could show daily, monthly and annual counts, they could show the temperature (perhaps even a freezing rain warning). Some of them come with a bike pump (built in compressor) even.
Obviously, these counters are there partly for marketing reasons (and it works, because they made it to this bike blog) , partly to collect data and partly just for fun. Although fairly bike friendly in places now for Canadian standards, Ottawa is not much known as a bike city, even though our infrastructure is improving (I know more and more Canadian cities look to Ottawa as an example, which is sometimes hard to believe if you live here).
Already, looking to those pictures I learn you want to have a clear bright logo on it that says it is Canadian (or Ottawa or Gatineau not ‘NCR’), it as to be on a busy route and it has to be visible for drivers too, preferably when they are stuck in traffic so they can see that counter counting). The logo and the totals have to be close together else you can ‘t see both in one picture.
I am not sure if I will ever see the day that we will see a counter in Ottawa (the Ottawa Sun will have a field day), but I think it would be another cool thing to help brand the region as a cycling friendly destination. What would be the best location if we ever get one? Who would be a fitting sponsor?
On line bike counter for Laurier Ave at Metcalfe
City Of Ottawa Open Data for bike counters (download)