San Francisco is pedaling toward a new transportation tracking technology by installing a real-time bicycle counter on Market Street, an area known for heavy bike traffic.

The counter will digitally display a running total of how many cyclists have ridden by the three-mile street, which also serves as a major hub for public transit, a destination for businesses and a tourist attraction. Market Street runs southwest through the city’s downtown, passing through the San Francisco Civic Center as well as the Castro District.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which is leading efforts to deploy the technology, is hoping to launch the counter by May 9, to coincide with the city's Bike to Work Day. The coalition is working with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and other organizations to get the counter up and running.

According to the SFMTA, the counter will be installed on the south sidewalk between 9th and 10th streets. The counter can measure up to 1 million eastbound cyclists on Market Street over the course of each year.

“The installation of this innovative bicycle barometer comes at a critical moment in San Francisco,” said Ed Reiskin, SFMTA director of transportation, in a statement. “As more and more San Franciscans are using a bicycle as part of their everyday commute, this visual bike counter will raise awareness of the positive impact bicycling has on traffic congestion, air quality and personal health.”

The SFMTA will use the bicycle barometer to promote and encourage traveling by bicycle, by illustrating how many people on bikes have been counted by the barometer, said Ben Jose, a public relations officer for SFMTA. "It is a way to thank people for bicycling and to let them know that they count," he said. "The barometer will function mainly as a high-visibility bike promotions and awareness tool on Market Street."

This barometer, he added, is also consistent with the goals of the SFMTA Strategic Plan, specifically making bicycling a preferred means of travel (in addition to other modes such as transit, walking, taxi, ridesharing and carsharing). "Furthermore," he added, "it supports San Francisco’s Transit First Policy which states that bicycling should be promoted by encouraging safe streets for riding, convenient access to transit, bike lanes and secure bike parking."

The coalition’s Executive Director Leah Shahum said the counter will help show people how many cyclists use Market Street today and demonstrate the potential for more people to bike as opposed to using other modes of transportation.

“We know Market Street is the busiest place in the city for biking, and the numbers seem to be growing even more there,” she said.

In the last five years, San Francisco has seen a 71 percent increase in bike traffic throughout the city.

The idea to install a bike counter in San Francisco was inspired by Shahum's visit to Copenhagen for a conference where she saw a bike counter in use on one of its busiest streets.

Not the first U.S. city to deploy bike counting technology, San Francisco joins cities like Portland, Ore., and Seattle which also keep track of local bike traffic using bike counters. Shahum would like to see “friendly competition” between San Francisco and other West Coast biking cities equipped with counters.

She said the bike counter could have an impact on larger issues in the community.

“I think indirectly it absolutely does promote the many benefits of bicycling whether that’s for the environment, or public health improvements or decreasing congestion and making our city more accessible for folks,” Shahum said. “I know that we’re really excited to be able to think creatively about how to use these daily counts and the annual counts to help show what the benefits are of more people biking.”

She said city departments, like those that deal with the environment or public health, for instance, may have an interest in the data gathered from the counter.

According to the Jose, the total project cost is approximately $70,000, of which $32,000 is for materials including spare parts; $23,000 is for installation; and $16,000 covers planning, design, construction engineering and maintenance. The SFMTA is funding $50,000, and a partnership with local gaming company Kongregate, which donated $20,000 toward the purchase and installation of the bike counter, helped round out the funding.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.