€20,000 automatic bike counter baffled by too many cyclists

Machine thrown by cyclists wanting to use road rather than cycle path

by Simon_MacMichael   March 11, 2011  


Council officers and transport officials in Dublin are at sixes and sevens with cycle campaigners over a bicycle-counting machine worth €20,000 that appears unable to tot up all the cyclists passing it.

National cyclists’ organisation Cycle.ie says that using human counters is the most accurate way of gauging cyclist numbers, but local authorities in the Dublin area want to install more of the automatic machines.

That’s despite the fact that they are thinking about supplementing a €20,000 automatic machine installed on the N11 close to the University College Dublin campus with human counters after it transpired that the number of bike riders was being incorrectly recorded. However, it is not quite as simple a situation as humans good/machines bad.

The issue appears to be that while the machine, supplied by the Elmore Group, can keep track of the number of cyclists on the cycle track running alongside the road, it doesn’t record those who instead opt to ride their bikes in the nearby bus lane. That, the makers point out, is not because it can't – it could be configured to do that, however counting cyclists using the bus lane was not part of the brief they were given by the council. 

According to Conor Geraghty, an assistant engineer with Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, "The counter operates using an electromagnetic loop detector system,” reports the Irish Independent.

"When the bike passes over the loop, it detects and counts the cyclist, therefore if the counter was set up in the bus lane it would detect buses and taxis, providing inaccurate results," he added.

It is believed that the council is now considering employing human bicycle traffic counters to check the machine’s readings.

Ciaran Fallon, cycle officer at Dublin City Council, said: "It's difficult to count cyclists, and it's difficult to make arguments for cycling unless you have solid numbers. It's like everything else, if it's not counted and managed it does not factor into the decision making process."

Despite the problems with the machine, more are set to follow, with National Transport Authority Michael Aherne saying that his organisation “has requested both Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and Dublin City Council to trial cycle counters. We will analyse their performance and outputs, and propose an overall cycle counting scheme in due course."

Dr Mike McKillen, chairman of national cycling campaign cyclist.ie, said that he would prefer to see human counters employed rather than machines to ensure accuracy, although he appreciated that given the current economic environment, this might not be viable right now.

"A machine is far cheaper in the long run, but you can't have it every way," explained Dr McKillen, although he highlighted that the very fact that the number of cyclists was being totted up in the first place was a positive step.

"Bikes are part of traffic. Cyclists would say if you don't count us, we don't count."

Similar bike counting devices are used on some bike paths in the UK including some of the new paths built in Bristol as part of the Cycling City project. Department for Transport traffic counts though are done by human counters and there has long been discussion of those human counters limitations when it comes to counting of cycle traffic is concerned with criticism of both count locations and the times at which counts take place.

7 user comments

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A few years ago in an English village, I got stopped in a line of traffic at a vehicle census point. When I got to the front of the line, then enumerator just waved me through. I queried this and objected that I wasn't being counted as road traffic. The enumerator called his superior over, who confirmed that i was supposed to be counted. One wonders what proportion of cyclists do get counted, even when people are doing the counting rather than machines!

posted by Grumpy Bob [14 posts]
11th March 2011 - 15:13

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Get Humans to count the bikes, compare numbers with the machine. Find correction ratio, apply to all data from the machine.

Rinse & repeat improving the statistical basis of the ratio each time.

Also might allow a trend as to whether the proportion of people on the cycle path changes.

posted by 0liver [76 posts]
11th March 2011 - 17:55

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I doubt the loop would work for all cycles anyway. There's a narrow bridge with traffic lights near me that relies on an induction loop to change them. It never changes if you ride up to it on a carbon fibre bike - you have to take a chance there's no traffic coming the other way unless there's a car behind you to set them off!

posted by Oranj [15 posts]
11th March 2011 - 20:17

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I'm sure that Brighton's don't work properly.

Waste of money; what a surprise.

posted by Viro Indovina [78 posts]
11th March 2011 - 20:31

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Surely an induction loop system requires a ferrous material to trigger it.

Anyone on a carbon, titanium or aluminium bike is not going to trigger the system* unless they have a significant proportion of the other components made of steel, which they probably won't.

*Some time since I did physics so I could be wrong.

Did Nightrider 2013 for Parkinson's UK, doing it again this year just for the fun of it and to raise more money.

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posted by jova54 [604 posts]
11th March 2011 - 21:22

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I think it's one of those things where there is no easy answer - to get a human count that is reliable/representative enough could cost a fair bit of money that could be spent elsewhere. (I don't know the area, but for example the number of cyclists might vary quite a bit from one day to another, with weather also being a factor for more fair-weather cyclists [myself included Smile ]). I think the good thing is that, as the guy in the article said, it sounds like the council is thinking about cycling, and trying to get some measure of it.

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posted by OllyC [35 posts]
13th March 2011 - 20:45

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You could be wrong. It requires a conducting loop to cut through the magnetic "flow". Aluminum and steel wheels are perfect, because they are right close to the ground. Aluminum, titanium, and steel frames are probably good enough. Not sure about carbon -- carbon conducts, but the fibers are embedded in a matrix that probably does not.

posted by dr2chase [9 posts]
14th March 2011 - 18:25

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