SFMTA Begins Installing More Bike Counters Around the City

A bicyclist approaches a new bike counter on Market Street just west of Van Ness Avenue.
A bicyclist approaches a new bike counter on Market Street near Van Ness Avenue. Photos: Bryan Goebel.

The SFMTA has begun installing 22 automatic bicycle counters at 15 locations throughout the city to help get a more accurate tally of the rising numbers of bicyclists in San Francisco.

The Zelt inductive loop counters are placed 1 to 3 inches below the pavement and each time someone pedals over one, the system detects a bicycle’s electromagnetic signature and logs it in the system.

“We’re excited to see these automated bike counters going in across San Francisco. They are a helpful tool for the city to realize just how many people bike each day,” said Renee Rivera of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “New bike lanes are already creating connections to make San Francisco an easier and safer place to live, shop, and play, and we’re expecting these bike counters will be hard at work counting many more people bicycling.”

The first automatic counter went in early 2009 on Fell Street between Scott and Divisadero, where the highest monthly total it recorded that year was 41,017 cyclists in September. The intersection of Fell and Scott alone has seen a whopping 70 percent increase in bicycle traffic. The SFMTA estimates there are more than 128,000 daily bicycle trips in the city and there has been a 53 percent increase in bicycling over the last four years despite the recently lifted injunction.

In the past, the SFMTA has used only manual counters, conducting counts during the month of August because of the typically dry weather. The SFMTA interns gathered numbers at 33 locations — mostly around the downtown core — and also tracked gender, helmet use and wrong way and illegal sidewalk riders.

The agency will continue the manual counts and it hopes to eventually extend the automatic counters to 33 locations. It plans to download the data quarterly and hopes to establish baseline averages in six months to a year.

More accurate counts of bicyclists should bolster the case for funding additional bike facilities and supporting strong bike policies. The counters were funded by a $126,000 Prop K grant.

Locations where the inductive loops are being installed. Image: SFMTA
An SFMTA worker installs a counter on Market Street near Van Ness.
An SFMTA worker installs a counter on Market Street near Van Ness.
  • This is it freat because it helps provides what is so lacking in so many cycling debates: real debates: real data about what is happening on the road.

  • Of all the various places I bike to in the city (I go from Noe Valley to the Richmond, Civic Center, SOMA, Bernal, and the Mission almost weekly), on the routes I take I will run over only three of these new counters. Doesn’t look like there are any SOMA counters at all? Wondering why bother with a counter on Clipper? (It is a big, big hill that only the most hardy of bicyclists take.) Still, I’m very glad the city is gathering the data. Would be really great to have a LED sign that indicates how many bikes have passed that spot that day, like they have in Copenhagen.

  • Aaron Bialick

    Wow. I’m so pleasantly surprised at this endeavor. And I can’t believe Fell had 41,017 cyclists in a day! (Was there a special event?) That’s more than Nørrebrogade in Copenhagen, what Mikael Coleville-Andersen calls the busiest bicycling street in the Western world. I can’t believe we don’t have a counter on Fell to show the cyclists like Copenhagen does! This strongly highlights the absurdity of the lack of a safe, protected bike lane on Fell that would serve the sustainable, friendly transport of potentially 41,000 people per day rather than the parking spaces for, what, 100 space-hogging vehicles?

  • Aaron, that’s actually a monthly total. I’ve made that clear now.

  • Aaron Bialick

    Also, as taomom mentioned, I would really like to know why they chose some of those locations, because there are several that I ride near all the time and will just miss, and I imagine that to be the case with much of the other bike traffic. For instance, I ride all the time on:

    Arguello, but not near Lake
    14th St. East, but turn onto Valencia
    Irving, but never go to 7th & Kirkham

  • Aaron Bialick

    Bryan –

    Ah wow, I was a little overzealous then. Still, someday those visible counters need to be there on Market, the Wiggle and Valencia.

  • Mick

    A “bicycle’s electro-magnetic signature”?

    Are we sure? How would that “signature” be different from a shopping cart, a stroller or a skateboarder?

  • How many shopping carts are in the bicycle lane in Fell in any given hour? Or strollers for that matter. I think we are ok there.

  • Nick

    This ignores half of the city… everything south of 30th Street. Why is this an issue you ask?

    Mission and Geneva had some of the highest counts of sidewalk riders that the non-inductive interns had previously gathered. Sidewalk riding is an indicator for the need for better bike facilites. When the MTA stops collecting certain data, the problem ceases to exist (for them at least).

    Those of us who live in the real world are still getting smashed out there.

  • Mick


    If cyclists are riding sidewalks as much as you allege, and I have no reason to disbelieve that, then that may be an argument for “better bike facilities” or it could just be an argument for more enforcement. (I actually saw a cop pull over a cyclist for riding a bus lane yesterday – first time I have seen that).

    Certainly counting cyclists in the bike lane won’t help if half of them are on the sidewalk.

    While, Adrienne, if you would care to take a walk with me and have me show you who else is using bike lanes in my neighborhood, I would be happy to do that. Homeless people with carts often use the nearside lane rather than the sidewalks to avoid the kerb. Ditto skateboarders. And of course people cross bike lanes laterally too.

  • patrick

    “I actually saw a cop pull over a cyclist for riding a bus lane yesterday – first time I have seen that”

    I guess that means there’s more than ample enforcement on cyclists, as I’ve never seen a cop pull somebody over for driving in the bus lane, which is far more frequent.

  • i like this development.

    i’d also like to see one of those big, beautiful, visible bicycle counters on a popular route somewhere.

    and any law that bans bikes from any road in the city (or anywhere) is an obvious absurdity and needs to be repealed.

    and i’m curious if a bicycle’s ‘electromagnetic signature’ is actually unique to each bicycle in a tracking way. i dunno, there’s the whole FBI/spying angle, but there’s also the whole possible practical stolen bike recovery technology-type stuff. 🙂

  • In the link above, the Zelt Inductive Loops work by registering the electromagnetic signature of the two wheels of a bicycle.

    From a New Zealand Government website evaluating sensors:


    “Eco-Counter’s ZELT inductive loop sensor system claims to be able to detect the characteristic electro-magnetic signature of bicycles and distinguish them from motor vehicles. The French Government Transportation Research Lab found a ±5 percent accuracy for the ZELT when used in mixed-traffic situations. In a study, 91 percent of bicycles (156 out of 171) were correctly detected, 6 percent of motorcycles (7 out of 120) were incorrectly classified as bicycles and no other motor vehicles were classified as bicycles.”

    The New Zealand Transport Agency concluded that inductive loop sensors were the best choice for counting bicycle traffic. Of course there is no mention of skateboarders or shopping carts, (perhaps the French and New Zealanders don’t have either?) but if the sensors can differentiate between bicycles and motorcycles, they can probably filter out most other extraneous wheeled objects. However, I doubt the sensors could be used to track a particular individual bicycle, stolen or otherwise.

    The company further claims that in addition to counting numbers of bikes passing by, these sensors can be used to trigger a traffic light when a bicycle rides up. (Something that could be very handy in a number of intersections in the city?)

  • JF

    Agree with taomom, let’s put a digital readouts at these spots as well to publicize how many people are riding their bikes. If the MTA didn’t have the cash, I wonder if they could accept a donation to pay for it? The ones in Copenhagen are really cool and show up on the internet all over the place all the time. Good PR!

  • I imagine the main barrier to installing a counter display is the cost of running electricity to it – these sensors are battery powered, which is what allows them to be installed so inexpensively. They might be looking at $1,000-$2,000 for a nice display, but then $5,000-10,000 to tear up the sidewalk and run conduit to it. I wonder if anyone could integrate a solar powered display that wouldn’t need to be hooked up to the grid?

  • joh

    They need to have a counter that counts the number of cyclists who fail to stop or yield at stop signs. SFPD actually issuing tickets for these violations could be a huge revenue booster.

  • James

    Ticketing drivers who fail to yield, signal and the plethora of other daily violations visible in one minute of observation on any busy block, could also be a huge revenue boost.

  • What is the API to access the data collected?

  • Kyle Graehl

    Yes, this data should be made available online


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