Bahij Chancey, Cobble Hill cyclist: Count Manhattan Bridge bikes

Do cyclists count?

A Brooklyn bike commuter has started a change.org petition to rally support for a real-time, bicycle-counting totem at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge, in Brooklyn.

Bahij Chancey, a Cobble Hill resident and Parks Department employee, believes public bicycle counters would help encourage and legitimize cycling as a mode of transportation in the city.

“A lot of criticism from community boards focuses on the idea that cycling is a seasonal mode of transportation” said Chancey, 24. “ The counter is a great way to incentivize cycling — for people to see the numbers of rides and compare it to car traffic — and to establish it as a viable, quick, cheap commuting option that people use all year around.”

Bike counters are similar in appearance to the real-time bus arrival totems that the MTA has installed along Select Bus Service stops. They’re already popular fixtures in European cycling cities, like Paris and Copenhagen, and have begun popping up in the states, notably in San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, of late. Most cities use totems with digital displays featuring the number of annual and daily cyclists that have passed by.

“On Market Street, I had fun sort of standing there and watching the cyclists make the numbers go up,” said Caroline Samponaro, deputy director at Transportation Alternatives, of a recent trip to San Francisco. “The cool thing about the counters — they make biking more visible on a corridor and make that visibility a positive interaction for anyone.”

Chancey said the totem would help lay the foundation for more robust public data on New Yorkers’ biking habits. In 2014, the Department of Transportation began using automated cycling counters to track rides over the East River bridges, phasing out its practice of having staff manually count trips.

The department released a ridership report this month using that data to highlight that more than 400,000 daily cycling trips are taken in New York City—more than triple the amount from 1990.

Advocates say the report offers a solid, broad picture of city cycling, but that there could be a deeper dive into the data to identify trends.

“With the information available to all to dissect on the totem, I’d be interested in looking into how weather impacts the number of riders, or maybe compare the number of rides taken on different days of the week,” Chancey said.

Eco-Counter, a leading company in pedestrian and cycling counting, says that its technology is accurate within five percent. But totems are also pricey; San Francisco is installing three new counters at the cost of about $62,000 a piece.

“Compared to the hundreds of thousands that the DOT spends on curb extensions or neckdowns, I’d say it’s reasonably priced,” Chancey said.