Another DIY Story: Bike Coaltion Doing Their Own Bike Counts

In yet another example of our bike culture’s Do It Yourself ethic, the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition is planning to do its own bike counts to paint a clearer picture of how many people travel by bicycle in Los Angeles.  Bike counts are a necessary feature of any well thought Bike Plan so that the planners and engineers can place the right sorts of engineering designs at the right places.

Needless to say, it’s been decades since the City of Los Angeles has taken any bike counts.  When pressed as to why the city hasn’t made the effort to know where and how many people bike on a regular basis, staff offers the lame excuse that the "company that did the counts went out of business."

So when it comes to bike planning, what statistics does the city use?  Would you believe the numbers from the 2000 census?

There are a lot of reasons that using census figures is a bad idea when it comes to bike planning.  The most obvious being that it was taken almost ten years ago and bike riding as a recreation and form of commuting have boomed nation-wide in that time.  In addition, the census regularly undercounts people of lesser means, a group that tends to commute by bicycle more than people in upper class neighborhoods.

In an effort to bring some statistical data to bike planning in Los Angeles, the LACBC is going to do their own counts and they need your help.  If you’re available during the day on a weekday, they can use volunteers.  If you’re not available but want to be involved, the Coalition is looking for input on interesections where they should take the counts here.

  • Marcotico

    This is great news. I think a lot of the thinking that UBrayjero has done regarding livable streets standards can be complemented with alternative transportation engineering. The 4 step Traffic Modeling Process is accepted practice by most cities, and it is hard (and very expensive) to get it supplanted by more alt-transit friendly street engineering methodologies. However, if the city had enough validated data to incorporate bike data, then biking too can be modeled.

  • Long Beach did some half-assed bike counts a year ago and got a lot of made-up numbers. This past June the City asked Long Beach Cyclists, the local advocacy group, to do the counts and got much better numbers.

    The key is to have an educated group doing the counts. It doesn’t help to have people counting cyclists in door zones if they don’t know what a door zone is!

  • DJB

    That’s a good point about the census data. As far as I’ve been able to determine, the question they ask about transportation is how do you get to work. So, by definition, that excludes the unemployed, people below working age, and of course, everybody who is afraid to give info to the census because of legal status or whatever.

    The concern I have is whether or not these bike counts will be seen as credible by the general public. Bike activists doing bike counts reminds me of the debate over how many people have died as a result of the Iraq war. The number you get depends on who you ask. Generally, the anti-war people give higher numbers and the pro-war people give lower numbers, if they give any at all.

    So, it’s important that these counts be conducted with integrity, preferably with 3rd-party oversight. I’m not accusing anyone of being dishonest. I’m just saying, anticipate your opponents’ criticism.

  • Two things:

    (1) In California, we discriminate against one modal group only when it comes to counting them on the roads. Yep, we’re talking about “recreational” cyclists being ignored intentionally (whatever that means when I’m running errands with my daughter playing in the bakfiets) and “commuter” cyclists being officially counted. It would behoove us, as cyclists, to end this ridiculous system by showing how cyclist counts ought to be done and compare the two sets of data to show how skewed the state’s system is.

    (2) If anyone wants to have a place to chill and count traffic, the Flying Pigeon LA bike shop has a nice table, chairs, bathroom, transit and freeway access. I will compensate you for the time you spend on the LACBC’s behalf doing a cyclist count in the NELA area (if that is legal), specifically along the corridor in front of my store.

  • Joe

    Josef is right! Nobody skips counting that gal or guy in the convertible who is out for a pleasure ride… and who’s to say that roadie scum… er, I mean, recreational riders are not legitimate road users.

    My one small worry is that if LACBC recruits all sorts of hardcore riders to help count, will that depress the number of cyclists on the road? Probably very slightly.

  • Roger

    Pasadena is doing the same thing, using the old census numbers. Not only are the numbers a decade old — and regular bike drivers like me have noticed a 2 or 3 fold increase or more in the numnber of pannier-weilding bike drivers in the last couple of years — but they only ever captured a limited part of the cycling public.

    The census only asks about your primary mode of transportion to and from work. Period. If that is 51% car, you go down the same as 100% car. If you have limited work trips, but they are all by car, you go down as 100% car.

    Due to family circumstances, I drive a bike full time two weeks out of the month, and ride a car to commute the other two weeks with the bike taking up the balance of errands, including many family errands on four bikes and a trailer. I probably drive a bike for 70-80% of my total trips monthly — but for strictly commute time, last census esp., I was over 50% work trips by car. SO: although I drive a bike as my primary transportation and have gotten rid of one of our cars this year, I registered on that census as a car rider.

    I do not understand the resistance to doing actual counts. What are they afraid of? The same issue arrises for pedestrians, where there is no goodf data, but planners claim that everyone knows nobody walks anywhere. Nothing gets better when stereotype-based “estimates” and outmoded inappropriate counts pass for real data; the resulting planning perpetuates a car-centric culture.


  • “The census only asks about your primary mode of transportion to and from work. Period. If that is 51% car, you go down the same as 100% car. If you have limited work trips, but they are all by car, you go down as 100% car.”

    This definitely has to change as we enter the era of multimodalism in America. I don’t see this country becoming a car-free utopia in our lifetimes. What I see is people cutting down on their driving substantially to the point where they are only driving half or even a third of the time. Our counting methods should reflect this.

    My commute today included eight minutes of driving, 40 minutes of commuter rail, 13 minutes of subway, 10 minutes of bus and 10 minutes of walking. Not your average commute, but I can see a lot of people doing two or even three modes of transportation in one day.


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