SF's pricey bike counter on Market Street isn't as reliable as billed 

click to enlarge A cyclist on Market Street is counted as two bikes by the new digital counter. Other cyclists do not register. - JESSICA KWONG/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Jessica Kwong/The S.F. Examiner
  • A cyclist on Market Street is counted as two bikes by the new digital counter. Other cyclists do not register.

Every biker counts in San Francisco — but some count more than others.

A Market Street bicycle counter that lets cyclists see the day's bike traffic total increase by one rider as they pedal by, in fact isn't always showing them their contribution.

Sometimes, bikers don't cross the counter's trip wire near its center and are not counted. At other times, a biker will pass through and count for two. Either of these things can happen when cyclists ride through side by side with a fellow biker. And motorcycles, automobiles, law enforcement vehicles and Recology garbage trucks have all been spotted counting as bicycles.

The counter, a vertical tower with green LED lights that displays not only the daily bicycle and annual bicycle tally from 0 to 1,00,000, but also the date and day's temperature, was manufactured by a company called Eco-Counter and reportedly cost $70,000 to purchase and install.

"According to the manufacturer's specifications, it's meant to be 95 percent accurate," said Paul Rose, spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, one of the agencies funding and maintaining The City's only counter reporting visible figures on site.

Observing the device at work for a couple hours would suggest the margin of error exceeds 5 percent, at least on Market Street between Ninth and 10th streets. But neither officials nor bicyclists seem terribly concerned.

SF Bicycle Coalition member Paul Valdez, who turns around to check the counter's accuracy every weekday morning for a study on his own ridership, said the counter has been "pretty spot on."

"Whether it's accurate or not, I think 95 percent is pretty good," he said. "But it's just inspiring to see the numbers and see how it's tracking the numbers on a day-to-day basis and also year to date."

Rose said SFMTA hasn't gotten a notable amount of feedback from riders, but that most comments came on Bike to Work Day May 9, when the counter was unveiled.

Officials turned the counter off from June 8 to July 31 due to Market Street repaving. The City — consistently ranking among the best biking cities in the country — has no plans to install more counters with visible numbers as of now, Rose said.

It does, however, boast 24 more bike counters with data viewable online and whose accuracy bicyclists aren't able to scrutinize.

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La OpiniĆ³n and El Mensajero,... more
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