How Much to Bike Lanes Really Get Used? Counting Bikes for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

An organization I'm proud to
volunteer with! (
I endeavor to be the type of individual who complains, both externally and in my own head, about things wrong with the universe, and then does something about them. The universe is a big place and I haven't been particularly successful so far in taking action regarding the things I complain about. Perhaps I should just complain less?

Regardless, one of the things I outwardly complain most about, at least lately, has been the behavior of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists, and how we can't seem to get along. Whether it's motorists accusing cyclists of disobeying traffic laws, cyclists accusing motorists of trying to run them down, or pedestrians accusing both cyclists and motorists of making sidewalks and crossings unsafe, there's an obvious conflict that often leaves members of all three parties disdainful towards each other. 

The conflict seems to be escalating and gaining greater notoriety as the number of bike lanes and cyclists on city streets grows. And that's no good for anyone.

According to the 2008 American Community Survey, Philly has the highest number of bike riding commuters among America's ten largest cities. Philly isn't the only city facing bike commuting and cycling growing pains, but because it's where I live and ride, I about what happens here. There's one particularly incredible organization I discovered this spring that's made incredible strides towards making biking Philly's city streets better: the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (BCGP). They've been in existence since 1972, and their most recent success came with the installation of pilot bike lanes on Spruce and Pine Streets in conjunction with city and community organizations. They've also received quite a bit of press here in town, winning Best of Philly: Volunteering in 2009 and recognition for planning and design from CityPaper.

I could go on for days about the merits of the organization, but I'll spare you, and instead regale you with tales of my first BCGP volunteering experience. Of course, I found out about the opportunity through twitter, where you can find members of BCGP under the handle @bikeambassadors and @bcgp. BCGP has a million different opportunities for volunteering, and I chose to participate in bike counts as my first volunteering event with the organization.

Essentially, my job was to stand at the intersection of Broad and Chestnut Streets, two major aterial roadways in the city, from 7:30-9:00am one day this week and observe:

  • the number of north and southbound cyclists
  • the number of east and westbound cyclists
  • the cyclists' gender
  • whether cyclists were wearing helmets or not
  • whether cyclists were riding on the sidewalk or on the street
This morning was one of the coldest mornings we've had this autumn; the highest temperature I recorded was 43ºF. But still, I counted a total of 105 cyclists in my assigned 90 minutes. A quick breakdown of what I counted:

  • 75% of riders were male
  • 39% of riders wearing helmets (52% of women riders, 35% of male)
  • 25% of riders were on the sidewalk
It was interesting - neither of these two streets have bike lanes, and are both extremely busy in the morning. I'd love to see results from less crowded streets, during different times of day, and on days that were warmer. I'd also love to track the number of cyclists who disobey traffic laws. I only counted two who ran red lights, but given the amount of opposing traffic during those hours, it made running lights impossible.

Keep track of what the BCGP is up to on their blog, website, and on twitter, and if you live in Philly, get involved!