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€20,000 automatic bike counter baffled by too many cyclists

Machine thrown by cyclists wanting to use road rather than cycle path

Council officers and transport officials in Dublin are at sixes and sevens with cycle campaigners over a bicycle-counting machine worth €20,000 that appears unable to tot up all the cyclists passing it.

National cyclists’ organisation says that using human counters is the most accurate way of gauging cyclist numbers, but local authorities in the Dublin area want to install more of the automatic machines.

That’s despite the fact that they are thinking about supplementing a €20,000 automatic machine installed on the N11 close to the University College Dublin campus with human counters after it transpired that the number of bike riders was being incorrectly recorded. However, it is not quite as simple a situation as humans good/machines bad.

The issue appears to be that while the machine, supplied by the Elmore Group, can keep track of the number of cyclists on the cycle track running alongside the road, it doesn’t record those who instead opt to ride their bikes in the nearby bus lane. That, the makers point out, is not because it can't – it could be configured to do that, however counting cyclists using the bus lane was not part of the brief they were given by the council. 

According to Conor Geraghty, an assistant engineer with Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, "The counter operates using an electromagnetic loop detector system,” reports the Irish Independent.

"When the bike passes over the loop, it detects and counts the cyclist, therefore if the counter was set up in the bus lane it would detect buses and taxis, providing inaccurate results," he added.

It is believed that the council is now considering employing human bicycle traffic counters to check the machine’s readings.

Ciaran Fallon, cycle officer at Dublin City Council, said: "It's difficult to count cyclists, and it's difficult to make arguments for cycling unless you have solid numbers. It's like everything else, if it's not counted and managed it does not factor into the decision making process."

Despite the problems with the machine, more are set to follow, with National Transport Authority Michael Aherne saying that his organisation “has requested both Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and Dublin City Council to trial cycle counters. We will analyse their performance and outputs, and propose an overall cycle counting scheme in due course."

Dr Mike McKillen, chairman of national cycling campaign, said that he would prefer to see human counters employed rather than machines to ensure accuracy, although he appreciated that given the current economic environment, this might not be viable right now.

"A machine is far cheaper in the long run, but you can't have it every way," explained Dr McKillen, although he highlighted that the very fact that the number of cyclists was being totted up in the first place was a positive step.

"Bikes are part of traffic. Cyclists would say if you don't count us, we don't count."

Similar bike counting devices are used on some bike paths in the UK including some of the new paths built in Bristol as part of the Cycling City project. Department for Transport traffic counts though are done by human counters and there has long been discussion of those human counters limitations when it comes to counting of cycle traffic is concerned with criticism of both count locations and the times at which counts take place.

Simon has been news editor at since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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