Bike counter embarrassment

I thought I’d write a quick post about Glasgow’s new public bike counter, which stands at the western end of the Bridge to Nowhere. It’s part of an initiative of Sustrans and the Scottish Government, which has also seen counters installed in Edinburgh, Clydebank, Coatbridge, Stirling, Benderloch (nah, me neither), Inverness, and Perth. This is what it looked like yesterday evening:


It’s been operating since the 25th of June, so by my calculation that’s about 400 bikes a day. More than I’d have guessed, but it’s not great. It’ll be interesting to see how it holds up in the winter.

Public bike counters are fun gizmos, but the justification for them is pretty flimsy. They are essentially marketing tools. They’re meant to make people stop and say “hey, that’s a lot of bikes – maybe I should start cycling”. They won’t elicit this reaction if you install them in places where there aren’t a lot of bikes.

What’s happened here is that somebody in the Scottish Government has seen the famous (in cycle campaigning circles) bike counter on Queen Louise’s Bridge in Copenhagen (allegedly the “busiest bicycle street in the world”), thought “that looks pretty cool”, and come up with some cash to get some bike counters in Scotland. They’ve even made sure to buy the exact same model of bike counter used in Copenhagen. It’s just the latest part of the Government’s vacuous “market our way to mass cycling” strategy, which misses the point entirely. Lots of people cycle over Queen Louise’s Bridge because of the network of cycle tracks that cover the entire city. The cycle tracks on the bridge itself are 5 metres wide in each direction, a luxury unknown in the UK. That’s what makes it attractive – not some photogenic toy.

If there’s one genuine value of Glasgow’s public bike counter, it’s that such a visible display of failure might prod the authorities into action. Here’s hoping.

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  1. The one in Stirling is next to the old Stirling Bridge, which has a handy “cyclists dismount” sign about 2 metres from the bike counter. It’s also broke – or it was last time I passed.

  2. This is one of the routes I can use to get to work, but only do so occasionally for a change of scene. The reason I avoid it is because the ‘bridge to nowhere’ is still that, it isn’t joined up very well on the West side, and on the East end of the bridge you then have to cycle along Waterloo Street.

    I find Waterloo Street depressing to cycle along because even though it has a cycle lane which is separated from the traffic and (sort of) separated from pedestrians it just doesn’t work. The pedestrians don’t pay a blind bit of notice before stepping onto the cycle path and the lights for cyclists take so long you feel like an idiot for waiting for them, and when you get to the end of the street at Central Station there is a sea of foot traffic even when you get a green light for cycling and the cycle lane just ends…

    So as a route into the city, this just doesn’t make sense, I hope they put the bike counter somewhere else so I can sit up and be counted.

  3. Real counters are nearly invisible tools used for gathering stats so that the effectiveness of other measures can be ascertained. We have many of them around here and they look like this.

    Marketing like this is, as you correctly point out, simply a waste of scarce resources. Looks cool, though. Someone got paid for it.

    1. It would be good to have lots of those. The problem is that they would show failure, and nobody around here is interested in that.

      The main source of data about “cycling in Glasgow” seems to be the city centre cordon count, which takes place once a year. This used to happen in July, but a few years ago it was changed to September. Hey presto – a stunning xx% increase in cycling.

  4. …and then there’s the small detail that they’ve put the counter on the split part right at the bottom of the western access ramp. So (theoretically speaking) it’s only counting half of the users.

    (That’s assuming they haven’t spotted the schoolboy error and moved it since I last looked, several weeks ago.)

  5. I often pass this late at night coming back from a late train into Central – I don’t use it Eastbound as its faster using Newton Street and nipping round via the Hilton. One night we had just 65 bikes counted by 23.30 – rarely more than 200/day I’ve seen. To get a decent and reliable journey time and a run up the bridge I use the Bus Lane for much of Waterloo Street.

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