Market Street Has More Bike Traffic Than You Thought

An unprecedented jump last month (on the right) reported by the Market Street bike counter appears to be explained by an improvement in the counter’s accuracy. Image: SFMTA/Eco Counter

The Market Street bicycle counter has been undercounting two-wheeled traffic — and not because of a computer glitch. Starting last month, the counter reported a huge jump in bike commuters. How come? All indications point to a recent tweak to the bike lane that guides more riders over the counter’s underground sensor.

On several days this year, the counter has tallied nearly 4,500 people cycling eastbound on Market at Ninth Street. On most weekdays, at least 3,700 riders have been counted. That’s about 1,000 more riders, on average, than were counted each day last January.

Last month may have been California’s driest January on record, but weather doesn’t explain the jump. Even in the warmest months last year, ridership typically ranged from 2,700 to 3,200. Prior to 2015, the record was 4,045, set on August 7 last year.

So what changed in the first week of January? The SFMTA installed plastic posts along the bike lane’s edge that guide bike riders to stay in the bike lane and roll over the bike sensor. Previously, many bike commuters passing by the counter rode outside the bike lane, instead using the adjacent traffic lane since it was closed to cars in 2009.

SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose said that based on the agency’s manual bike counts, the bike counter remains about 95 percent accurate, the same rate as before. It’s “plausible” the posts explain the recent jump in the bike count, he said. No other likely explanation has been put forth, though the SFMTA has yet to verify with the counter’s manufacturer that it does not need to be recalibrated.

Getting a better read on Market Street bike traffic is one more way the SFMTA is improving the understanding of how San Franciscans’ travel habits are changing. Earlier this month, the agency reported its new survey methodology has revealed that most trips in the city are made without a private automobile.

Hat tip to Joe Chojnacki for pointing out the data jump.

Today’s count as of about 6 p.m. Photo: Aaron Bialick
  • Mike

    It also discouraged cars from parking there, which they frequently were, disabling the sensor. I find that the counter frequently undercounts clumps of bikes (which there frequently are since it is located right after an intersection)

  • Gezellig

    Cool! I’ve often wondered if that counter weren’t a bit low.

    Last week while biking from Mid-Market to the Mission at commute hour (to head to the SFTRU PUBlic transit crawl, actually!) I had a positively We’re Getting There experience while in the turning bay to head towards Valencia, much in the grain of this:

    As I approached the turning bay to wait for the green bike light to southbound Valencia there were easily 20-30 people on bikes all patiently lined up, waiting for the dedicated bike signal to go. Then as the light turned everyone waited their turn and leisurely set about getting up to speed and moving ahead.

    It was honestly something I hadn’t experienced since the Netherlands.

    Someone get the Streetsfilms crew on this 🙂

    In recent months the sheer volume of people out on Market has made me question the official bike count on the sign as a bit low.

    So much for “people here will never get it/they’ll just disobey the rules anyway.” If you build it, they’ll come! (and most people will be pretty good about it).

  • Justin

    I think this shows how well utilized Market St is when it comes to cycling and how slight improvements in cycling infrastructure can potentially attract more riders and the need to ever enhance cycling infrastructure so it can attract even more potential riders. As I said one way to possibly do that is to extend the existing protected bikeway on Market St all the way down to the Embarcadero.

  • Anony

    I too pretty much agree that the new changes ‘discourages’ cars from stopping right over the sensors. Whenever I went to work, it feel like 3 times out of the week there was a taxi/ride share/delivery vehicle parked over the area preventing bikes from getting counted.

    Also it does a poor job of counting during ‘peak’ hours. A lot of people still ride out side of the bike lane because there’s already ‘too many’ bikes squeezed in the lane area.

  • theqin

    It double counts my trike, although sometimes there are three riders on it so maybe it is undercounting it…

  • • This weekend I saw the SFPD pulling motorists over into this very spot to issue tickets, presumably for not making the turn off of Market. They were ticketing cars westbound, too, pulling them over into the “protected” bike lanes as well.

    They were still at it this morning, in the middle of heavy bike commute hours. I saw Sgt. Ernst himself at work. Expect the counts to be low today.


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