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

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.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.