Counting Bikes and Cars Without a Clipboard

Making your own traffic counts could be this easy. Photo: ##

Liberate yourself from government transportation data that doesn’t tell you what you need to know!

Break the chains of ignorance about how streets in your town are being used!

Declare your independence from five-year-old data sets in PDF spreadsheets!

Advocates have for too long been at the mercy of the limited data on travel patterns they get from places like the American Community Survey and the National Household Travel Survey. And don’t even get me started on the Federal Highway Administration, which is about as transparent as a cataract. The information federal agencies provide is often out-of-date by the time it’s released, and simply doesn’t ask the right questions to find out how much people really use non-motorized modes of transportation.

TrafficCOM can't differentiate between a bike and a car in a mixed lane, but it can provide counts from the bicycle lane and the car lane. Photo: ##

“Traditionally the people that have had the data are the people in power,” Nick Grossman of the MIT Center for Civic Media said. “And we’re seeing, across society, the democratization of access to data.”

When it comes to transportation, the democratization Grossman is talking about could come in the form of a small cylinder attached to a long cable that you can lay across a street or bike lane to quickly and easily conduct your own traffic count. You can even track vehicle speeds. Then you plug it into your computer and it creates a database and even maps the data for you. It’s called TrafficCOM, and its creators are trying to kick-start $50,000 right now to produce them.

Mary Lauran Hall of the Alliance for Biking and Walking was impressed when TrafficCOM developer Aurash Khawarzad gave a demonstration at the Alliance office:

The visit got me thinking about how helpful a low-cost traffic measuring device could be for biking and walking advocacy organizations. A simple $200 portable device for measuring traffic and speed could make it much easier for advocates and community leaders to make data-based arguments about street safety. Imagine being able to easily measure average car speed on a particularly problematic street, or being able to quantify just how popular a new bike lane is.

Anyone who pledges $200 or more on Kickstarter will receive one of the devices. For that price you get up-to-the-minute, easy-to-obtain information about how people are using your local streets. It’s a whole lot cheaper than this fancy bike counter Copenhagen installed a couple years ago, and a whole lot simpler than standing out there with a clipboard and a clicker.

Washington, DC, bike activist Jameel Alsalam recently asked friends on Facebook to join him in supporting the project.

“The relative lack of data on bicycling in DC can be frustrating,” he wrote. “Other than personal observations, it can be hard to know what streets are the most important connections for cyclists. Or how much usage new bike lanes are getting. Or how the number of crashes in various locations relates to the number of cyclists using that road.”

Alsalam wanted to drum up enough support to get a few of the devices and distribute them in the local cycling community so that activists could work together on collecting and using bicycle counts.

He may not have the chance.

With just four days left on the kickstarter, Khawarzad and his co-inventor, Ted Ullrich, have raised less than 20 percent of their goal. For those unfamiliar with the Kickstarter model, here’s what that means: If they don’t reach their $50,000 goal, they don’t get to keep any of the $9,809 pledged so far.

But Khawarzad says that won’t stop them. “We are planning on moving forward with other options, which would include pursuing grant money or other investment,” he said in an email. Let’s hope there are other lifelines available.

14 thoughts on Counting Bikes and Cars Without a Clipboard

  1. I was disappointed that I didn’t hear about these until after they had started the Kickstarter campaign and weren’t selling the previous model any more. For what it’s worth, I would love to build my own and then pay to interface with their website, rather than paying them for the device itself.

  2. They’re reinventing the wheel. Its called an ATR: Automatic Traffic Recorder. NYC DOT has used them for decades.

  3. I’m disappointed it can’t differentiate between a bike and a car. A bike has two wheels with narrow tires and a car has four wheels with fatter tires. Surely they could engineer it to differentiate between these cases. Typically traffic counting is done to assess whether infrastructure should be put in place, in mixed-use streets, rather than on segregated infrastructure already in place.

  4. Thanks Tanya for the wonderful article.
    This is Ted Ullrich, the product design engineer behind the project. A few responses:


    Yes, they work for bicycles

    In order for people to take the data on seriously and have it be useful, we need to build a reliable data set. In order to build a reliable data set, we are choosing to limit the devices that can upload to the database to only official TrafficCOM hardware. In this way, we can know exactly which devices are contributing to the database and make sure those devices are tested and approved according to a certain consistent or performance criteria.


    The unit’s sensor does have the capability to differentiate between cars and bicycles, but we have not yet tested it to make that determination reliably, so we ask the users to choose to measure either one at a time. In the future, we may add this capability.


    If you read more about the platform’s capability on, you’ll note that we’re not re-inventing the wheel, but instead adding to the options for citizens and government officials alike to build a reliable OPEN data set of automobile and bicycle traffic counts. The core value proposition of TrafficCOM is new: we are trying to offer a low-cost (right now $200, in the future it will be lower) piece of hardware that normal citizens can buy, then seamlessly upload the data to an open database on the website where it is mapped ( An integrated hardware-to-web product platform is unprecedented as far as we know.

    This is a completely boot-strapped effort lead by a city planner and a product design engineer over the past 9 months. When trying to do anything new and establish a new status quo (especially with technology), it takes time, hard work, and lots of refinement. To refine hardware technology, there are fixed costs for materials, prototypes, and production. These costs are the main motivation behind the Kickstarter.

  5. Both SF and DC already have hundreds of these tiny wireless sensors that count and detect bikes (and differentiate) and cars in their roads. They are about the size of a Rubik’s cube and last 10 yrs in the road. Road tubes are useless. Its 2013 people.

  6. I understand that the TrafficCom works for bicycles. I was asking al if standard ATR devices count bicycles.

    I guess I don’t understand what your goal is. If your intention is to”build a reliable OPEN data set of automobile and bicycle traffic counts,” the best way might be to release the design into the wild and let people build their own (and test, tweak, redesign, etc.). If your intention is to make a real profit from TrafficCom (which is fine), you should be open with that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Dramatic Shift Away From Driving Continues in California

In the first major travel survey since 2009, evidence grows that Americans are changing their transportation habits rapidly. The news from Caltrans’ 2012 California Household Travel Survey is dramatic: Californians are making far more trips by walking, bicycling, and transit than they were in 2000. The survey found the percentage of trips by these modes […]

Biggest TRB Meeting Ever Highlights Visionary Bicycle Research

If you attended last week’s annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, you were one of 10,900 people presenting 2,200 papers and 2,500 slide presentations on everything from the conspicuity of pavement markings to complete streets for blind pedestrians. TRB changed in 1976 from a highway research board to a multimodal focus, and now “TRB […]

It’s True: The Typical Car Is Parked 95 Percent of the Time

Cars are a very inefficient transportation technology for too many reasons to count. They take up huge amounts of space but get driven around mostly empty — the average private car in the U.S. carries only 1.6 people. A lot of the time, people drive distances that are short enough to easily walk or bike — 28 percent of car trips […]