From Portland, an answer to questions about New York’s cycling boom

Portland's new bike counter. (Streetfilms via Vimeo)
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In arguing for more bike lanes, New York City Department of Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan says that bicycle ridership has grown more than 100 percent from 2007 to 2011. But she has some serious doubters.

Chief among them is New York Post editor Steve Cuozzo, who in a column last spring wrote, "The city Department of Transportation is lying through its teeth about an alleged biker boom."

New York City has been conducting bike counts since the 1980s, but it's not widely known what technology they use to come up with their numbers, beyond random-sample tallies for finite amounts of time at fixed spots. (They use hand-held clickers, according to a D.O.T. spokesman.)

There's one possible solution to the numbers debate, courtesy of Portland, a famously bike-friendly city which last week installed the nation's first-ever bicycle counter.

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Unlike other bike-counting technology in the U.S., like the kind they've got in Arlington, this one charts the number of cyclists who pass by a given point in bold numbers on a big board for all to see. 

The numbers would have to be extrapolated to come up with estimates of bike ridership citywide, but the bike barometers could, presumably, make some of the Department of Transportation's statistics on bike-lane usage a lot more precise.

Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives (which has good relations with the D.O.T.), said he didn't know what kind of technology the city currently uses, adding that he wasn't sure any amount of methodolgical transparency would silence bike-lane critics.

“Haters are kind of going to hate right?” said Budnick.

But Budnick says the counters would “reinforce that cycling is a mainstream way that people choose to get around.”

They might also help resolve some of the dissension surrounding where bike lanes could most effectively be located.

"This bike counter is going to give us exactly that data," Jonathan Nicholas, the president of Cycle Oregon, which donated the $20,000 counter, said last week. "This is going to give us the right kind of investments going forward."

UPDATE: In a statement, D.O.T. spokesman Seth Solomonow said, "If someone were similarly willing to donate one to NYC we could consider it."