Meet the New Yorkers Building the Biggest, Brightest Bike Counter Yet

Digital-display bicycle counters, sprouting up first in European cycling capitals like Copenhagen and spreading in recent years to Portland and San Francisco, give a real-time tally of how many cyclists use busy bike routes each day. This year, New York is set to get its own. The Big Apple’s version will — like most things in the big city — be bigger and brighter than what those other cities have. It’ll also have a community-based twist.

The Hi-Viz Public Bike Counter under development. Photo: Ted Ullrich
The Hi-Viz Public Bike Counter under development. Photo: Ted Ullrich

Bike counters in other cities have been installed by city governments and are permanently sited at a single location. In New York, a small team of planners and hardware designers are working together on a counter that will be portable and available to advocacy and community groups across the city interested in tallying bike riders in their neighborhoods.

Ted Ullrich, a product design engineer who founded hardware development firm Tomorrow Lab, got idea from trips to other cities. “Why isn’t there one in New York?” he asked.

Ullrich connected with Planning Corps, a volunteer group of city planners who help non-profits, to sketch out what a New York City version would look like. They eventually settled on a two-foot by one-foot battery-powered box that can be mounted atop a tripod. Its bright red numerical display can be read from up to 100 feet away. It has a straightforward name: the Hi-Viz Public Bike Counter.

The project grew out of Waycount, a low-cost bike counter Ullrich developed with city planner Aurash Khawarzad. Unlike pricier counting products, which rely on wire loops installed in the pavement to distinguish bicycles from other types of traffic, Waycount uses rubber tubes that record whenever a wheel passes over them. To keep the system low-cost and easily mobile, the Hi-Viz Public Bike Counter will rely on the Waycount model, which includes software that allows users to download and store count records.

Ullrich identified three main challenges for the Hi-Viz counter: Making it sufficiently weather-proof, ensuring that installing the counter won’t violate any city rules, and protecting the device against theft once it’s been installed. “The overall strategy is to make something that is meant to take a beating,” he said. The counter’s battery lasts for about a week between charges, and will include a sign on the front saying “bikes today” so people know what the device does.

Planning Corps’ Lauren Wang is looking to set the counter up in high-visibility bike-only locations, like greenways or bridge paths, once the team finishes building it in the coming weeks and the weather improves. While Planning Corps will manage the counter after it’s built, its future remains open-ended. “We would love to work with community groups or larger non-profits like Transportation Alternatives,” Wang said. “We should be able to get this tool out there and really just see what happens.”

The group is hosting a demonstration of the project at Tomorrow Lab’s offices at 39 West 32nd Street #704 on Tuesday, February 18 at 6:00 p.m.

  • And if you want to see the bike counter finished and in use, give a few dollars to Planning Corps’ fundraising campaign! https://www.ioby.org/project/hi-viz-public-bike-counter

  • red_greenlight1

    Won’t you need a permit of some type to put it on the side of the road and lay the tubes through the bike lane? Does such a permit even exist?

  • Corey Burger

    Looks very functional, but the bicycle totems in other cities are both functional and attractive. Can’t this be both?

  • Kind of disappointed with the new Waycount model. So much for small groups running surveys, when each unit costs $1,000…

  • Hi Matt – We’re working to get the price of the WayCount to be at less than $200. It is possible as soon as we can manufacture at least 500 of them at tone time.

  • There is no permit needed as far as we know.

  • Joe R.

    Just a suggestion here from someone who does electronics for a living-use green LEDs instead of red. Red displays look dated for one thing. For another, green LEDs are much more efficient and visible than red. You could probably double the battery life and have improved visibility. Just make sure to use 525 nm true green LEDs. Those are the ones which are brightest and most efficient. The more common 565 nm yellowish green isn’t.

  • Thanks, Joe for the suggestion. Blue wavelength LEDs also tend to use less power, but I’m not sure the comparison on the output luminance. Aesthetic choices aside, this was a one-off, so we chose to start with off-the-shelf components instead of hand-building every item. These letters are pre-built and affordable: https://www.sparkfun.com/products/8530 . A next iteration might allow us to move to green.

  • Hi Matt – We’re working to get the price of the WayCount to be at less than $200. It is possible as soon as we can manufacture at least 500 of them at tone time.

  • Joe R.

    These might fit the bill for the next iteration:

    http://www.aliexpress.com/item/Green-7-Segment-LED-Display-5-0-inch-5-Single-Digit-1-7-seg-CC-CA/1596579816.html

    I find Aliexpress to be a great source for items which are either too pricey or hard to find.

    As far as relative luminance per watt, 525 nm green and also white displays tend to come out on top compared to the other colors. Blue isn’t bad either if you manage to get something around 475 or 480 nm (those actually look more like blue with a hint of aqua) but green is still brighter. White is nice also but it tends to be much more pricey than colors so I wouldn’t recommend it here.

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