News

New cameras to count Palo Alto bikers, pedestrians

City to install 45 low-resolution cameras on prominent school corridors

Dozens of cameras will be installed on utility poles throughout Palo Alto as part of the city's latest attempt to gauge the comings and goings of local bicyclists and pedestrians.

The City Council approved on Monday night a contract with the firm VIMOC Technologies to install 45 low-resolution cameras, which will count the number of bicyclists and pedestrians going in each direction. Once the video is taken and the data is collected, the footage will be deleted, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment. In addition, the company will be installing 100 additional sensors in downtown to count the turnover in parked cars.

The council unanimously supported the $100,000 contract with VIMOC, despite some initial concerns about privacy from Councilman Cory Wolbach. As part of the approval, City Manager James Keene said staff will add "explicit language" to the contract that will result in a "full privacy policy to ensure both the nature of recordings and how they're transmitted and how long they're kept are spelled out in the contract." Keene also assured the council Monday that the videos will not violate the privacy of the individuals along the routes where the cameras will be installed.

"The imaging technologies that we have through this contract will be incapable of identifying individuals, and record keeping is very limited," Keene said.

According to the city's report, the cameras will be mounted on streetlights and traffic poles throughout the city, with particular attention to school sites. Several cameras will go up on Arastradero Road, near Gunn High and Terman Middle schools. Cameras will also be installed around Palo Alto High School; Jordan and JLS middle schools; and Palo Verde, Escondido, Duveneck and El Carmelo elementary schools. According to the city, 80 percent of the $100,000 cost for the new cameras will come from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority as part of the county's Safe Routes to School program.

The car sensors, meanwhile, will focus on downtown. The installation will be the latest phase of a pilot program that the city launched last year with VIMOC on Hamilton Avenue. They will track parking occupancy and parking turnover and provide the city with information that "can be used to inform the creation of parking-management policies," according to the staff report.

The parking counters consist of in-ground sensors that detect parking occupancy and send information to computing nodes that are mounted on poles within 100 meters of the sensor. The car sensors will be installed at no cost to the city, according to the report.

Comments

16 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2015 at 10:39 am

Hopefully, the city can use this data to enlarge the capacity of popular bike routes. Some are too crowded now, especially during the morning rush hour.


40 people like this
Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 8, 2015 at 10:57 am

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you


7 people like this
Posted by See Me
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 8, 2015 at 10:58 am

If they come up with data contrary to the already made up and closed minds of some, they data will be argued. It always happens, someone chimes in about how the numbers are somehow skewed in some way. At least with cameras they'll have a harder time trying to look rational


18 people like this
Posted by efficiency fiend
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 8, 2015 at 10:59 am

@parent ... Or to increase the vehicular traffic flow on streets that are very lightly used by bikes, let's hope.


13 people like this
Posted by Sig
a resident of Mayfield
on Oct 8, 2015 at 11:02 am

What an elaborate cover story about using the cameras to count bicyclists. We all know what they're going to do with these cameras. They'll be wired into the Homeland Security database that spies on all of us. It's just like the drones I see over Palo Alto now and again. They're watching us.


6 people like this
Posted by wish they could catch bike thieves
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2015 at 11:32 am

My first reaction was - "Great. Maybe this can help catch rampant bike thieves!"

Looking at the paranoia here, I guess that public service is out of the question. Geez.


6 people like this
Posted by Shealy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2015 at 11:38 am

I'm hoping there are cameras on middlefield towards embarcadaro as it is so dangerous for the elementary kids biking to walter hays. It seems most bikers are opting for the sidewalks which makes it dangerous for walkers.


14 people like this
Posted by bike riser
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2015 at 11:44 am

seriously. do they also want to see where i park my bike? that is WAAY beyond any sort of normalcy. ENOUGH!!!! Someone is SICK! QUIT IT.


3 people like this
Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 8, 2015 at 11:53 am

In Palo Alto bikers are suppose to use the sidewalk when there are no bike lanes.


46 people like this
Posted by Pleased
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 8, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Oh, i am SOOO GLAD!
Perhaps the authorities finally get to see how dangerous and careless certain bicyclists can be when they wear all-dark clothing with NO reflective anything on them and NO lights on their bikes, riding without signaling, or even staring at their smartphones in one hand, trusting that drivers in cars will not hit them .
Hopefully it will means some fines for those bicyclists who are ignorant and feel entitled.


57 people like this
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 8, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Hopefully this will record the vast quantity of Paly students who blow through stop signs on Churchill and the Jordan students who blow through stop signs and ride 3 or 4 across on North California Ave.


11 people like this
Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 8, 2015 at 12:10 pm

They should put up cameras on Embarcadero and Newell and see how many kids ride bicycles down that street and HOW FAST THE CARS WHIZ BY when they start making decisions about destroying the bridge that actually keeps traffic down.


7 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 8, 2015 at 12:28 pm

"If they come up with data contrary to the already made up and closed minds of some, they data will be argued."

Not argued, ignored. Or edited.


3 people like this
Posted by repave
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 8, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Can't we just repave Park Boulevard North of Cal Ave and Stanford Ave. I ride a cargo bike and my little ones are getting jostled around because the bike lane IS SO BUMPY! Even the part where they dug up and repaved...it was poorly done.


23 people like this
Posted by bignose
a resident of University South
on Oct 8, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Green Gables,

You are not required to ride bicycles on the sidewalk in Palo Alto in any circumstance. There are some places in which it is not allowed though where bike lanes exist is not one of them. See the rules in Web Link . There are places such as the baylands and stanford where there are bike lane markers on the sidewalk and you must obey the direction of travel marked.

I do get a bit peeved when I find grown ups riding down a narrow sidewalk and not giving way to pedestrians.

Its also a bit dangerous when a bicyclist comes to a rode crossing from the sidewalk. Drivers just aren't used to something moving that fast on the sidewalk and will not always react correctly especially if the sidewalk bicycle is moving opposite to the direction of traffic on a one way street.

The bikes have a right to be there, but they must also give way to pretty much everything.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2015 at 12:42 pm

Since we often see counters on streets to count cars, it makes sense to start counting pedestrians and bikes also. This will improve services, particularly near schools, for bikes and pedestrians.

I am confused about the parking sensors downtown though. Will these sensors actually show where cars are parked and where there is free space at the entrances to garages in downtown? That would make a lot of sense.

It is hard to find spaces at lunch time and knowing if there is a space before entering a garage or lot would be a great help. Likewise to anyone looking for somewhere to park. I am very much in favor of setting up a better system to show where there is parking available, and then putting in pay per hour machines in all garages and lots for visitors and workers who want occasional all day parking alike.


11 people like this
Posted by Big Brother is watching
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 8, 2015 at 1:10 pm

I see this as a violation of privacy.
And and all points of concern are a of thethe city not accaccommodating cyclists


15 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2015 at 1:18 pm

I don't see any explanation for why this data is needed and how it will be used, just that it has been approved. Why is the city spending this money?


13 people like this
Posted by Too Old
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2015 at 1:20 pm

I also see this as a violation of privacy- it is creepy!


16 people like this
Posted by Cameras for bike parking
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 8, 2015 at 1:25 pm

This sounds like a good idea. I am glad Cory is looking after the privacy aspects. I am glad this city spends money on bike issues.

Personally, I would give up some privacy for some Hi Res video cameras on the bike parking at trains stations. Last time I looked they are still boneyards of ripped off bikes. The behavior and faces I would like to see are those of the thieves. Sounds like the networking and technology are available and cheap enough this could be done for the price of a couple months worth of upscale stolen bikes. From casual conversations I've had, this would be the most cost-effective promotion of mass transit we could make.

I will never forget standing on the platform calling every agency in town trying to find someone responsible for train station bike parking after my trusty steed was lifted one Friday evening 15 years ago. No one took responsibility.


11 people like this
Posted by pamom2
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 8, 2015 at 1:26 pm

@palo alto mom

Also on East Meadow and Maybell (Gunn and Terman Students). It is absurd how many students blow through traffic lights one after another and it is near impossible to take your turn at a 4 way stop in a car or bike. Not to mention huge groups that take over the road. Heaven forbid a car should hit a student even though they are breaking the law, because the motorist will be blamed.


9 people like this
Posted by Sig
a resident of Mayfield
on Oct 8, 2015 at 1:43 pm

What safeguards exist in this program to prevent city workers/police from using these cameras to take peeper shots of children in our neighborhoods? TSA agents have been arrested for photographing people's private parts and circulating the pictures. I'm sure the city workers aren't immune to such temptations.


4 people like this
Posted by Local
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 8, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Please put two or three cameras on El Camino Way. It is the poster child for our City wanting all things and having no practical sense of what can happen in a given amount of space.


1 person likes this
Posted by Not afraid of my actions
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2015 at 2:17 pm

Penny wise, pound foolish. Cameras need to be high resolution and used to identify the happenings around town. Cameras are cheap, most expensive part of this project is labor to install.


15 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 8, 2015 at 2:19 pm

If the city wants to make it safer for biking, they should be installing red light cameras. Commuters cutting through our city are running red lights on Oregon Expressway, Embarcadero, and elsewhere. Drivers are in too much of a hurry so they have no problem edging out pedestrians and bicyclists so they can be on time.


19 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 8, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Most drivers are unaware that when they turn right, the law states that the car is supposed to drive into the bike lane when the line breaks up, prior to reaching the corner of the street. Most cars drive up to the corner, then suddenly turn right. If they are already in the bike lane prior to reaching the corner, bicyclist will know they are waiting to turn right. If PAPD ticketed for not following this law, they'd make a mint.


7 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2015 at 2:48 pm

Good. Get some real data. The privacy nuts can wear their foil hats when they get near a camera.


12 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 8, 2015 at 3:31 pm

> I see this as a violation of privacy.

How is this remotely a violation of “privacy”—particularly since everyone has a right to take pictures of anything that is in plain view in a public setting?

What is not clear from the article (as is the case with so many Weekly articles) is now will the counting be done? Given that the experiment will include 45 cameras, it’s difficult to believe that the contractor will hire people to sit in front of screens and count pedestrians/cyclists. It makes more sense to expect that the contractor has acquired/developed a vision system that will read the video files and count the people/cyclists using video pattern matching. This scenario would reduce the number of humans actually reviewing the files to possibly zero.

It’s a shame that this important bit of information was not included in the article. It would pay for the Council to determine from the City Manager how this counting will be done, and make an announcement of that information as soon as possible.

These counts should have been done a long time ago. A lot of hoopla from the City about increased use of bicycles could have been proven/disproven if they had done the right thing at the time.


2 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 8, 2015 at 4:20 pm

"These counts should have been done a long time ago. A lot of hoopla from the City about increased use of bicycles could have been proven/disproven if they had done the right thing at the time."

That may be why it wasn't done then. PA Bike Coalition, this one got by you.


11 people like this
Posted by Little Old Lady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2015 at 4:51 pm

I hope someone takes note of school kids riding their bikes in the California Avenue pedestrian tunnel mornings. This behavior endangers pedestrians walking to the train station. Put a camera in there and check it out!


7 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 8, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Reminds me of the police buying equipment to photograph and identify license plates so they can continually watch us all. In a previous news piece they actually keep the data for a year.
Big brother is not coming, he is here. [Portion removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 8, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Riding bicycles is inherently dangerous with so many cars driving so anything that encourages people to use bicycles is lunacy.
[Portion removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by @jerry99
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 8, 2015 at 5:06 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2015 at 5:17 pm

I believe that the consultants watch the video on fast-forward speed and count bikes and peds. This will provide valuable data about how many bicyclists we have and on which streets they are riding. The city used to hire people to stand with clipboards and count bikes at a few select locations but that was very expensive and hasn't been done in many years. Nobody complained about privacy issues in that case, and since this is on public streets there is no expectation of privacy, anyway.

It is easy to put pneumatic hoses out on streets and count the number of cars, and this is done routinely, but there is no corresponding data on bicyclists or pedestrians. If Palo Alto wants to continue its very successful bike program it needs to collect this data, and I expect that all bike organizations will support it. After all, many of them are engineers and techies who understand the value of data.


5 people like this
Posted by realist
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2015 at 9:00 pm

See this for it is - a resume builder for the staff and PR stunt as designed with little actionable results or benefit.


Like this comment
Posted by Polly Wanacracker
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 8, 2015 at 11:12 pm

"Big brother is not coming, he is here."

A takeover by government is imminent.


8 people like this
Posted by Waste of Money
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2015 at 12:37 am

My Thoughts:

-- There is no privacy guarantee since humans touch the data collected. Promising privacy is a lie.
-- It is stupid to spend the money to install low-res cameras that have no additional, useful purpose, such as capturing vehicle and bicycle infractions. This city is reeling from the lack of enforcement on the part of both careless drivers and cyclists. If we're spending this much money to install cameras, the do something useful with the data and ticket drivers and cyclists that behave egregiously!
-- There is not privacy issue since no one has an expectation of privacy in public. Plus, they are publishing the locations of the cameras. Do you know how many video cameras record you in public that you don't even know about?

This is nothing more than a big (expensive) dog and pony show to make it look like the city actually makes decisions based on data. And, Wolbach succeeded in looking like the one council member who "cared" about privacy. See my comments above - he was just the only one that chose to exploit people's fear, doubt, and uncertainty (FUD).


1 person likes this
Posted by Waste of Money
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2015 at 12:38 am

Sorry for the typos.


4 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2015 at 6:11 am

Even if the cameras could identify individual bikers or drivers, there is no way the videos could be used to issue tickets. A police officer must observe a violation in person in order to do that (except for the highly controversial red light cameras).


4 people like this
Posted by realist
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2015 at 9:14 am

Our streets are in chaos from the overdevelopment- becoming more unsafe for pedestrians, bicylists,motorists everyday. We need more police, more
enforcement, not more toys for the staff to play with. Interestingly,the cameras will also record the increase in signs and paint all over the streets. The consultants can count the number of signs added each day and
the linear feet of paint added. We are getting more of the same from the
City.


9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2015 at 9:32 am

@PaloAltan,
"Most drivers are unaware that when they turn right, the law states that the car is supposed to drive into the bike lane when the line breaks up, prior to reaching the corner of the street. Most cars drive up to the corner, then suddenly turn right. If they are already in the bike lane prior to reaching the corner, bicyclist will know they are waiting to turn right."

You would be surprised by how many bikes will squeeze to the right of cars properly in the bike lane at the intersection and zoom forward or right past them, or worse, swarm around cars to the right AND left, sometimes flanking left then turning right across their bumpers to turn right. The former is a daily occurance at some intersections, and the latter has happened to me several times by school kids.


3 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2015 at 9:45 am

They want to see if all the changes they made, for example, an exclusive bike crossing at Ross and Oregon (which no one ever uses) has increased the number of cyclists.

Seems totally backwards to me. Shouldn't they gauge the number of people who want to ride bikes BEFORE painting pretty green bike lanes everywhere, reducing lanes, adding protected left turns, etc. Etc.

Totally agree with jerry99. Enough backwards progressivism.
Meet the demand instead of trying to alter the demand. It's illogical. People aren't puppets/lemmings.


8 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2015 at 10:47 am

Johnny, you have it wrong. Do you think you can judge the demand for a bridge by counting the number of people swimming across a river? Without the infrastructure people will not do it. Many people (up to 60% of the population by some counts) are interested in biking more but won't do it unless they have what they feel to be safe and comfortable routes.


6 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2015 at 11:10 am

That's not even true Donald. Before I turned 16 I rode my bike everywhere and I didn't need specialized bike lanes to get around. To be safe as a cyclist, watch your back and don't act superior to cars. It's pretty simple.

Most people drive cars out of necessity because we live in a fast-paced society and we must be efficient. Those who ride bicycles usually do so because they lack a car.

In Palo Alto, cyclists are kids or leisure riders. Cars are the number one method of transportation here. Most people would rather drive their Tesla's and Audis.

Instead of underused bike infrastructure, make traveling easier for cars. Less congestion=safer drivers.






Leave it to insulated bureaucrats


4 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2015 at 11:56 am

Look at this report from Portland, Oregon on a survey of residents there.
Web Link

Here are a couple of quotes "Survey after survey and poll after poll has found again and again that the number one reason people do not ride bicycles is because they are afraid to be in the roadway on a bicycle."

They found that 60% of the population was "interested but concerned" about cycling and "would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all."

Perhaps people in Palo Alto are different than people in Portland, but I don't think we are way different. The 60% number may be a bit higher or lower here, but I am sure that the general conclusion is the same.


3 people like this
Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2015 at 12:02 pm

According to the latest Santa Clara County report 8.6% of people in Palo Alto commute to work by bike.

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2015 at 12:03 pm

I go into Target to shop, or any other store to shop. I am on their CCTV. I walk around SFO, I am watched. This is nothing to do with privacy but stores counting shoppers and airport security. In fact the International terminal uses CCTV to allow people meeting friends to see them rather than all the waiting masses crowd around the exit door.

How is any of this invasion of privacy any more than a camera counting pedestrians and bikes at an intersection. Bikes and pedestrians have no distinguishing license plates, so the individual's identity is not known.

I have heard some weird things about invasion of privacy, but counting users of an intersection is beyond belief.


3 people like this
Posted by How do we Know?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2015 at 12:12 pm

How can we possibly know what will be done with the videos from these cameras? Once they are in human hands, any number of things can happen, most of which are bad.

If the cameras are so cheap, why not put them to better use on University Ave, Cal Ave, and Midtown? In those crime-prone spots, they will be put to better use!


3 people like this
Posted by Berry
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 9, 2015 at 12:16 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Click on this link to see live images from traffic cameras on expressways

Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 9, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Richard - "According to the latest Santa Clara County report 8.6% of people in Palo Alto commute"

The reason some people are complaining is that using real world data will debunk that inflated number which is just taken from surveys.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2015 at 12:54 pm

The PTAs already do bike counts at the schools. This tells how many bikes are on a given campus at a given time on a given day. It is a good guide to how many students use bikes to get to school.

What this information doesn't give is where these students arrive at school, and which routes they use.

Getting an accurate count of such information has to be a good idea.


4 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 9, 2015 at 6:06 pm

About time! Now perhaps the city will be able to see how bicyclists violate the Vehicle Codes and abuse the other people using the streets including pedestrians, persons pushing baby carriages, people walking their pets and even those that are disabled.

One-sided and short-sighted.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 9, 2015 at 10:40 pm

Hopefully they'll put camera's on Arastradero between El Camino and Gunn, and see how FEW bicyclists actually use that road. I was stopped at a light in front of Terman the other day when a hoard of like a hundred kids on bikes was crossing away from Terman at the light - not a single one headed down Arastradero, they all (every one of them) headed in to the neighborhood, probably to head down the LOGICAL and SAFE routes, off Arastradero.


2 people like this
Posted by @Jane
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 10, 2015 at 6:25 am

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by yona
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 10, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Will these cameras be taken down once their purpose is completed?


2 people like this
Posted by To Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2015 at 10:53 am

Except, of course, for the kids who live in one of the thousands of residences south of Arastradero. The people south of Arastradero deserve safe route to school (and and the rest of the city), too.




Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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