2 hours of scoping an intersection (or, who’s using the streets?)

You know, it may not sound like all that much fun, but sitting at an intersection corner for two hours, counting the people who go by on bicycles, is actually a pretty interesting endeavor.

Earlier this summer, I signed up to help City of Portland with their yearly summer bicycle counts. What that means is that I joined a whole army of volunteers, each of whom agrees to sit at a specific intersection for two hours, either 4-6pm or 7-9am, one Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday during the summer. For those two hours, we count the number of people who cycle through–not only which direction they’re going, but also whether they’re male or female, whether or not they wear a helmet.

Data like this helps City of Portland show cycling trends, but is also useful to inform decisions about infrastructure and help show success (or failure) of infrastructure improvements.

Plus, on a micro-scale, it’s also pretty darn interesting.

bike count form

Those are my counts for the two hours I sat at NW 24th and NW Thurman on last week’s sunny Wednesday evening. Hunkered down with a vegan cookie from Food Front Co-op right down the street, tucked behind the sparse shade of a planting-strip tree, I settled in for the long haul.

Every time someone cycled through, I meticulously marked their direction of travel, gender, and helmet use. For my own entertainment, I also kept a tally of interesting things carried by bike (mostly a guitar and two children), how many people used the sidewalk as part of their travel through the intersection (15) and also how many people skateboarded (1) or scootered (2) through.

In 120 minutes, 112 people biked through, almost one cyclist per minute. What ws surprising, though, was how sparse that actually felt. One cyclist per minute, when I say it that way, sounds like a lot. At least to me. But when in that minute there are also twenty million cars going through (not to mention 10 million pedestrians), it feels like an awful lot happens between seeing one cyclist and then seeing the next.

I feel like I can’t talk about this without also mentioning the gender split: 77 men; 35 women, or 31% women–which, according to the 2012 Bicycle Count Report (find it here), is about average for Portland. (I’m not sure if that went up at all for 2013, since that report isn’t online.) On this Wednesday, though, for these two hours, women were much more likely to wear helmets than men. Not sure what, if anything, that means:)

Anyway. Like I said, I wasn’t necessarily expecting to enjoy my two hours of sedentary counting, but I actually really did. It’s sort of fun to hunker down and take a two-hour cross-section of street use, especially at an intersection like Thurman and 24th, where there’s so much going on. So many people use one little piece of Portland in a day–it really reminded me how important it is that we can all share.

(If you’re interested, I strongly recommend helping with a bike count sometime. Keep your eye on the City of Portland bike count site for details!)

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