Heh. I can just imagine some of you cringing at the idea of sitting at an intersection for two whole hours. But really, it’s a lot of fun!
Summer means the advent of the Portland summer bicycle counts, a volunteer-intensive mission to count cyclists at hundreds of intersections throughout the city. What that means is that people like you and me volunteer to hang out Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday at an assigned intersection from either 4-6pm or 7-9am (depending on the intersection) and keep track of who bikes through. Not only how many cyclists come through, but also whether they’re male or female (to use a gender binary), if they’re wearing helmets, and which direction they’re going.
To you cringers it may sound boring, but it’s actually quite fascinating. Of course in the run of normal life you see people interacting at various intersections, but when you watch only one intersection for a while, you start to see patterns rather than individual interactions. And patterns give you a whole lot more to think about.
I was surprised at SE Woodstock and 52nd how different an intersection can feel even when the same number of cyclists are moving through it. Last year, at NW Thurman and 24th, I counted approximately 1 cyclist per minute. At Woodstock and 52nd, the count was almost exactly the same, but it felt way more desolate — in large part, I think, because it’s a stoplight intersection rather than a stop sign. People get there and wait, then a whole horde of them go through at a time in their own little bubble. At the stop-signed Thurman, everyone had to stop and acknowledge the other roadway users, even if only for a second, to determine who had right-of-way. That kind of thing makes an intersection feel way more human.
Also, the gender split is always interesting. At Woodstock and 52nd, 30.4% of the cyclists I saw were women — which, according to the City of Portland’s bicycle report from 2012 (admittedly somewhat out of date, but the most recent one posted on their website), is about par for the course in Portland. At SE 92nd and the Springwater Corridor, though, the other intersection I watched last week, women only accounted for 19.6% of cyclists. Crazy, huh? A bike path usually seems like a safer place, and safer places are usually the sorts of places with more gender equality — but I suspect that the Springwater that far east isn’t really seen as safe anymore. I would argue with that, since I commute on it all the time these days and have never felt weird about it, but I suspect it’s perceived as unsafe, even more unsafe than Portland at large with its 30% female commute rate.
Granted, two hours is only a very small snapshot, so I’d be wary of drawing any huge conclusions without seeing either of these intersections placed into the context of their previous years’ counts as well as Portland counts at large. But it’s still interesting to think about, and makes me feel like I know another corner of Portland just a little bit better for having watched what it looks like for a few hours.
(Oh, and the best thing I saw during either of my counts? A remote-control car — who knows who was controlling it — taking the lane to turn left at Woodstock and 52nd. Most ridiculous thing ever!:)
The counts are going on all summer and there are still intersections that need counters, so if you’re interested consider contacting Taylor Sutton to ask where she still needs help. (Or check out the City of Portland bike count website for more info.) And know that the data collected helps make infrastructure decisions for the future, so complete, accurate counts are clutch. Help out if you can — it’s fun!:)