Counting bikes on London's cycle-only street

Hackney Council launched this bike counter on their bicycle-only street, Goldsmiths Row, at midnight on Monday, August the 5th.  Just 15 days later and it has already seen over 69,000 people on bikes have ridden past.


It works by detecting metal-rimmed wheels rolling over a wire loop in the carriageway which then sends a signal to the counter.  Every time a bike goes past, the tally goes up.  There's two numbers on the counter; one for cyclists who rolled past that day, and one for the total for that year (which presumably will be reset on December 31st so that in the future we don't have to remember that the counters were installed on August 5th!)


Whilst these cheap and cheerful counters might not do much to improve cyclist's physical comfort and safety, I believe they can certainly help to increase their subjective safety.  At times, riding in London can feel like it is 'you against the world', so it is good to be reminded sometimes that not only are you not alone, but that in fact there are thousands of others also riding bikes around you.  The cycle counts would be through the roof on busier central London cycle routes, something for Transport for London to consider perhaps?  It also sends a bold message to keep a look out as there's (lots) of bikes about.


On warm and dry Wednesday evening (yesterday) I was cyclist number 4,645 to have ridden past that day at 8.15PM.  When I returned about half an hour later bikes were still passing by every few moments and the counter had clocked up 4,967.  That's 322 bikes in half an hour, or 10 every minute.

Checking this counter will become a bit of a compulsive thing every time I ride past, and I think it is great that Hackney are sending out a message that says "Bikes are great, and welcome here".  Perhaps they could give a new bike away to rider number 500,000, like they did in Copenhagen, to really celebrate?


We've written about Goldsmiths Row on ibikelondon before - it's quite the favourite haunt of ours.  A simple series of bollards has created London's best bicycles-only street, and is the perfect example of what an effective "quietway" (as proposed by the Mayor in his bold new cycling strategy) ought to be.  Hackney's main roads leave a lot to be desired and are just as unpleasant to ride as everywhere else in London, but the Borough does this sort of quieter back road treatment very well, and we approve.

What number rider will you be today?


**UPDATE AT 11.30AM 22/08/2013**

There is a fantastic Council-built and well-used BMX track next to Goldsmiths Row which only helps to add to the feeling that this really is a corner of cycling paradise.  We stopped and watched for a while last night, as there were some really incredible riders using the track and performing tricks, as well as some very small brave souls (and one lad who it would appear came dressed as Evil Knievil)  It turns out that BMX legend Bob Haro was in town and stopping by to check in with the local BMX talent, and our friends at Cycle Love were there and captured these awesome photos.  It's a small world after all!

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Paul M said...

A few years ago I helped out a friend to scope out a cycle route from Waterloo station to her place of work at a City & Hackney NHS clinic in Dalston Lane. The route through the City, from Lower Thames St to around Finsbury Square, was Oh-Kay, but crossing the border into Hackney on Wilson St just east of the Square sees a marked improvement in conditions.

Up to Old St things are noooot baaaad, but once you have negotiated crossing Old St to get to Pitfield St it improves again. The best part of the route though was the north-easterly line, almost like a Roman Road in its straightness, through Columbia St Market, Goldsmiths Row, Broadway Market, London Fields, Martello St, and round the back of Tesco in Morning Lane along the cycle track which brings you out by St John-at-Hackney Church. Unfortunately, there are interludes where you have to deal with busy streets linking the good stretches, and these generally have no usable cycle provision. My friend started out quite timid, having not ridden a bicycle for years, and would get off and push through these stretches as the time penalty was modest and still a lot faster than public transport across the entire route. She has now been thoroughly annealed by the kiln of central London traffic and scoots along these bits almost fearlessly, but I am sure there are many who would never graduate from wheeling the bike through here.

It is no particular surprise that Hackney has the highest mode share in London, and “Hackney Hipsters” are only part of the explanation. While there is still plenty that Hackney BC could do to improve things, and there is some justifiable criticism of their policy, you have to say that they are well ahead of their neighbours, and Vincent Stops is positively enlightened compared with “comrades” nearby like Robin Wales. I remember Goldsmiths Row as one-way for cars but even then it was relatively pleasant and it must be lovely now. Congrats to Hackney for having the guts to do this.

As an aside, if the City were to place a counter on each side of the road on Blackfriars and Southwark bridges, I’ll bet the total would click up even faster!

mark said...

At first glance the counters may seem gimmicky. But they really add weight to an argument for getting more people out of their cars .
Using the figures for that half hour spell. 10 cycles a minute replacing a car every 6 seconds...and at the next junction with say a delay of 3 minutes between change, the cyclists have replaced a queue of 30 cars.
With figures like that even the most reluctant motorist must be able to see the benefit of cyclists to everyone.

Francis said...

I wonder if numbers on routes like this are going to be inflated because it's the council's deliberate policy to keep other roads dangerous and unpleasant.

A decent policy would mean that if it would be more direct for cyclists to go up Mare Street or Queensbridge Road they would feel safe and confident to do so. Instead we are funnelled into very pleasant but potentially circuitous directions like this.

ibikelondon said...

@Paul Excellent insight as always, thanks for taking the time to share it. I think you are absolutely right that "Hackney Hipsters" are really only a small part of the equation - the cycling culture in the borough really has already moved on from the early adopters to a much wider aspect of society. And you're right, too, that whillst there ceretainly are big improvements that can be made to the main roads in the borough (Kingsland Road, Cambridge Heath and Hackney Road itself come to mind), it has taken a lot of political badgering to get to the situation where the borough is today with such a strong network of back streets. It will be interesting to see how things develop over the next 15 years.

@Mark When you put the maths like that it is VERY persuasive! One of the reasons I am a big fan of this sort of thing is because there is so much power in the data that it can provide. It's quite hard for people to argue with straight numbers.

@Francis As I elaborate above, I agree that the main roads in the Borough are just shocking. Indeed, some of the Councillors have some very odd ideas about the place of bicycles on main roads and what needs to be done there. Whilst I'm not sure I would describe it as a "deliberate policy to keep other roads dangerous and unpleasent" I do agree that we can't be complacent in our praise of Hackney - they certainly don't have *all* the answers and there is much more to be done.

Anonymous said...

I used to cycle through there quite often. Unfortunately my lone North-of-the-river friend has since moved so I no longer have any reason to go that way (and just as I'd perfected the route!).

To be entirely honest, I didn't find the Hackney part of my long trek (from deepest South London to the NorthEast) especially easier than the rest of it.

But I think the issue with cycling in London is that it takes a long time to work out a tolerable route (cyclestreets and Google streetview are a Godsend!), and the measure of an area's cyclability is not so much how pleasant the final route is, as how easy it is to find such a route in the first place. I tend to find that setting off without 'doing the research' first rarely goes well.

(The one nasty spot I never managed to avoid on that journey was the North side of Tower bridge - shudder!).

ibikelondon said...

@Anonymous I think you're absolutely right - a truly cycleable city does not require forward planning to cycle around it. Indeed, Hackney suffers just as much from this issue as all the other boroughs because their focus has so much been on the back streets and quiet routes which are not easy to "stumble" across or well signposted.

There seems to be a bit of a disagreement as to whether we should provide for cyclists on quieter back streets or on the heavily trafficed but more direct and often sign posted main roads. The answer, of course, is that we need to do both, as your comment so articulartly points out.

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