Watching an intersection for 2 hours — the saga continues

I suppose you may have to have a long memory for this to feel like a saga, since the last time I was able to partake in (and thus write about) the City of Portland’s summer bicycle count was, I think, three years ago. Nevertheless, it feels like a saga to me;)

For those of you unfamiliar with the bike count, it basically entails a whole army of volunteers who sign up for specific intersections, dedicating themselves to sitting at that intersection from either 7-9am or 4-6pm, depending on the site, some Tuesday through Thursday between June and September. As you sit there, you tally how many people ride past, in which direction, if they seem to be male or female, and if they’re wearing helmets or not. It’s a super cool way to get a feel for what happens at any given intersection in the city.

This year, I have two intersections to count, one of which I just counted and the other I still have yet to do. Both are way north Portland, and both are on my commute — something I picked intentionally because I want to see who else is out there biking where I am.


(what the count for N Vancouver at the Columbia Slough bike path looked like)


It turns out, the other people sharing my commute are a whole bunch of dudes! Over two hours, I counted 63 men and 14 women, one of whom was me. That’s a paltry 18% women, which is a fairly abysmal gender split and not even close to the typical 1 woman for every 2 men average in Portland (the results from the 2016 bike counts). I’m not sure if that’s because it’s a fairly far-flung location or if it’s in an area that feels a little sketchy sometimes, but man! Where are the north Portland ladies?

As always, though it may sound boring to sit in one place for two hours (especially when the cyclist count is relatively low so there’s a lot of down time between making hash marks), it never ceases to delight. Though it’s not nearly the way it was a few weeks ago, there are still a fair number of people living under the N Vancouver bridge right now, so I had some fun interactions with the local residents, one of whom warned me that this was “a bad neighborhood, especially at night.” One guy came through looking for his stolen bike; one bedraggled dude who I often see shuffling along the path was very interested in what I was marking down on my paper and was super delighted when I showed it to him and offered him one of the cherries I was eating. As always, when you sit still in one spot for a while, that spot comes to life in a way it never would when you’re just passing through.

I have one more count to do, up by Delta Park, which I suspect will be similarly colorful. And probably similarly dude-heavy, though who knows.

I think all the intersections for 2018 are claimed, but definitely consider it for next year if you’re at all interested in what different Portland intersections look like. It’s a great way to spend 2 hours, and a cool way to make sure Portland has good data on who’s using the streets, where. Or if you don’t want to volunteer but want to see the fruits of other counters’ labor, check out all the reports on the city bike count website. Cool stuff! :)

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