West Seattle bike-counter glitches: Manufacturer explains ‘unique factors’

More than a few local bicyclists have noticed that the new bike counter at the east end of the Spokane Street Swing Bridge (aka the West Seattle “low bridge”) seems to have glitches. West Seattleite Russ Walker caught multiple instances in a real-time video (above; in the first minute alone, four riders go by, but only one is counted). Russ’s video drew a comment this afternoon from an executive of the manufacturer, Eco-Counter:

…Eco-Counter and SDOT are still working to adjust the counter. We know it is not performing as well as it should. A couple of unique factors at this specific location are causing the problems you documented very well. …

After Russ shared news of that comment, we e-mailed the executive, Jean-Francois Rheault, with followup questions, especially regarding the “unique factors,” and the error rate. He replied quickly:

At this point, we are still investigating the cause of the problem. Some cyclists register two counts while some cyclists are not registering any. Therefore, it is hard to evaluate the error rate and I would prefer not guessing an error.

Not sure it is of interest to your readers but we think the problem may be caused by a combination of 3 factors (fast-moving cyclists, presence of high-voltage power lines, and potential problem with configuration). Separately, those factors do not cause any problem but together, they are reducing the accuracy of the counts.

I would like to mention that SDOT staff have been very responsive and professional helping us to solve the issue. Sensors sometimes need to be calibrated and we are in such a case. We are sorry the counts are not as good as they should, but please know that we are committed to making this work as soon as possible. A technician will visit the site in the next week or so.

All in all, we know there is a problem. We are doing our best to solve it as soon as possible.

The counter was purchased and donated by Cascade Bicycle Club, along with money to underwrite its first year of operation, so public funding isn’t the issue here, except for future public funding that might not be spent or planned appropriately if the usage numbers aren’t accurate.

21 Replies to "West Seattle bike-counter glitches: Manufacturer explains 'unique factors'"

  • Robert July 18, 2013 (5:24 pm)

    But why does it really matter? Why does anyone need to count bicyclists?

  • I. Ponder July 18, 2013 (6:08 pm)

    Thanks to Russ for taking the time and effort to do this. Why does it really matter? So people can see there are a lot of us out there now and that will encourage a lot more of you to also get out there. And if there are a lot of us, it will justify safety and infrastructure improvements. Every one of us who commutes by bike means one less car on the road. In fact it just encouraged me to get off the computer and get on my bike and head downtown for dinner. Bye!

  • WestSide45 July 18, 2013 (6:35 pm)

    Project managers are there to take all factors into consideration before installation. The company knew about the hazards to good counting/ “fast-moving cyclists, presence of high-voltage power lines, and potential problem with configuration”/.
    Why, if I may ask, since these are known issues, present at this location (except for the configuration thing—who knows what that is?) were they not taken into account before installation?
    Not that I really care anything about this project, I just wonder how they get away with sub-standard due diligence.

  • Virgilbikes July 18, 2013 (6:57 pm)

    Bicycle commuter traffic has become increasingly more important in large cities. These counts help us understand traffic flow. Portland Oregon is a good example of this. Nearly all their major Bridges have thousands of cyclists peddling over them every single day. Going to work and school. This represents significant reduction in traffic in the downtown areas.

  • datamuse July 18, 2013 (7:07 pm)

    Robert: why does anyone need to count cars, or pedestrians, or any kind of traffic?
    Traffic volume helps determine allocation of resources. I bike across that bridge at least once a week, and it’ll be more often in a few months.

  • Don Brubeck July 18, 2013 (7:56 pm)

    Well said, I Ponder.
    The counter is a way to measure results of investments in making a major commute route safe and effective. If more people use bikes on this route to go downtown, it means more room on the bridges for cars and trucks, and less pressure on bus routes that are losing funding.
    The counter was funded by a private foundation grant and Cascade Bicycle Club.

  • Matthew July 18, 2013 (7:58 pm)

    “Why does anyone need to count bicyclists?”

    Because bicycle counters are one more thing that
    – shows we’re not just a fringe of a half a dozen really loud mouthed citizens, and that the city is justified spending transportation funding to improve certain corridors
    – shows which corridors are actually being used, limiting spending on corridors which aren’t being used
    – encourages non-cyclists to join in and ride a bit

  • Russ W. July 18, 2013 (8:41 pm)

    Thanks for the support everyone. Not to get morbid, but one very good reason to count bicyclists on that corridor is that it was just a few months ago that I saw Lance David lying under a tarp on East Marginal — dead after being struck by a large truck. There are many dangerous points between Harbor Ave. and downtown that need attention. Every day I see lots of West Seattle-ites out on that route. They shouldn’t have to bike through a shooting gallery of cars, potholes and badly marked lanes. Getting an accurate count on the growing number of cyclists will help us get needed improvements.

  • CW July 18, 2013 (9:33 pm)

    I commute on that path 5 days/week (most weeks). I would say, on average, it counts 2 of those 10 passes. I look forward to seeing the accuracy improved. Also, I hope they clear out all of the historical data once it is working properly. I see no value in keeping the historical data knowing that it is erroneous.

    • WSB July 18, 2013 (9:52 pm)

      Note to would-be commenters: PLEASE read the story. As it says, the bicycle counter was purchased and donated by a nonprofit organization, and the donation also covers expenses for the first year of its operation. Comments complaining that it’s a “waste of tax dollars” are erroneous and will not be approved for publication. Thanks! – TR

  • Person July 18, 2013 (10:39 pm)

    I wish they would have put the counter farther west. Lots of people cross he horrible intersection at the Chelan, but break off to go south on W. Marginal.

  • Garry July 18, 2013 (10:43 pm)

    But if the numbers are not accurate, and the sensors are adversely affected by the environment, then the data is flawed and is not really doing any good..
    Like counting spawning salmon downstream from a brown bear’s dining area..

  • Mike July 19, 2013 (7:34 am)

    just to clarify, there were Seattle public employees involved in this project. Funding for the physical hardware and install were mostly covered by a nonprofit, but there was also time from public employees involved.

  • Cowpie July 19, 2013 (8:06 am)

    What time of the day was that taken? I ride to work every day rain or sunshine..365 day a year……since 1988. I’ve never seen that many bikers. I go across at 6:20 am and return to West Seattle at 5:15 pm. I’ve never seens so many bikers. GLAD to see it!

  • JAT July 19, 2013 (8:35 am)

    I bike (in case it wasn’t obvious from previous posts) and I’m dubious of bike counters for the simple reason that: since they take the form of a self-congratulatory billboard, if the numbers end up being lower than other forms of transportation, I don’t want other road users to feel justified in not accommodating cyclists.

    I’m cycling infrastructure agnostic, but i definitely feel that traffic is culture and I’d prefer a culture that respects and accommodates everyone safely and courteously. I don’t need an ovation, I need not to be buzzed by jackasses in F-350s.

  • Robert July 19, 2013 (8:40 am)

    Gee…I just asked. I see that I could have phrased it better to avoid coming across wrong, but I was simply curious.

  • McFail July 19, 2013 (9:02 am)

    Agree CW, I think it only gets me 20% of the time. It might be because everyone is hitting it at +20mph down the the bridge. I hope it gets right…

  • Eric1 July 19, 2013 (10:04 am)

    You want to count downstream of the bear if you wanted an accurate count. Upstream of the bear is what is affected.
    But, that is how things work in life. Lots of things don’t work out on the first try. They start out thinking their plan will work but it fails. The key is taking in the data, realize something is wrong, then finding a solution so it does work right.

  • Mike July 19, 2013 (12:39 pm)

    you know what’s cheap, hiring an intern to sit with a clicker and count people. That’s pretty much what the state DOT does for highway traffic flow too. Ever see those people sitting on the overpass with a clipboard and clicker in hand?

  • wetone July 19, 2013 (2:21 pm)

    Took the words right from me Mike. Hire an intern or someone already doing this for sdot or wdot and have them do the counting. By the time they figure out this counter and who knows if it will ever give true numbers. You could have someone doing an accurate count for the same money as this thing is going to take to figure out and keep running. I’m sure the bridge tender could give you a good count also.

  • D. I. D. July 19, 2013 (6:47 pm)

    I hope they get the counter to function properly as I am very interested in seeing the numbers for October through April.

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