Portland is the latest US city to get a “bike counter,” which keeps track of cycle traffic at busy spots. Arlington has actually had bike counters for some time, though the Portland one adds something else: a visible display of how many people have ridden past.



At the start, Portland transportation director Tom Miller calls this “North America’s first bike counter.” Actually, Arlington, Virginia and some other places have had automated counters for some time. Arlington’s track traffic on several trails, which let us better understand usage patterns, such as what happens in the winter or summer.

Those counters are small and nondescript boxes, so riders don’t see anything. The data also is not available in real-time, just somewhat later; Arlington has expressed an interest in getting it out more quickly. All of this means it’s great for policy analysis, but has less of an immediate psychological impact.

"I think it’s going to guve us all a little jolt, as we go across, of excitement to see that we’re one of thousands who go across the bridge,” says commuter Leslie Carlson in the video.

Toronto bike advocate Yvonne Bambrick said, “I went by the counter last night, and I was cyclist 10,361. That is amazing! It just feels really empowering to know what’s possible.”

It would be interesting to know more about the relative costs of the “bike barometers” compared to the simpler boxes. Is it worth more to have a counter that brings a smile to people’s faces? It may well be, if such counters give riders, walkers and, on bridges, drivers a greater awareness of how heavily used a particular trail or path really is.

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.