By Bob Spiwak
This month we will examine the semi-annual holiday car counts we have done for many years, and the advances made at the counting site in West Boesel, which now include a boost from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
The car (actually vehicle) count began as a lark. Bored one morning, I was taken by the amount of traffic headed westbound after either Labor Day or Memorial Day. I really don’t remember. I did the count early in the morning, and with a casual recording on a piece of paper noted the time being somewhat after 9 a.m. This was obviously not peak traffic time.
The following year, we determined to count the vehicles in both directions between 9 and 10 a.m., and recorded each rig on paper. There was a problem, because as were sitting in our drive next to Highway 20, some people would stop and ask “Watcha doing?” This not only distracted the count, but also blocked my view. The final straw was a part-time neighbor who stopped his truck between me and the road and would not move. Thus we went into hiding, and even considered wearing camo for the count, but that felt a bit extreme.
The years went on. We found a thumb clicker/counter somewhere that made life easier, clicking on the westbound cars and penciling-in those eastbound. Then Ken Westman offered another clicker, and with it recording could be done with two hands simultaneously. We broke down the vehicles into groups: cars, pickups, trailers, motor homes, motorcycles and bicycles, using the pencil and paper apparatus.
Meanwhile, over the years Jeff Adamson at WSDOT had been sending traffic and construction reports for the area, most welcome for our weekly commentary. During a conversation, the car count came up and I told him, laughingly, that quite a few people were asking in advance of holidays if there would be a car count. Jeff quite seriously responded that the West Boesel effort was of great interest to the department. I was impressed but a bit wary of having my leg pulled, in a manner of speaking.
Over the years, we developed an extension of the raw numbers into a socio-financial-automotive examination. How many cars at a non-peak hour, how many people per vehicle, how much fuel was burned and at what cost, and how much the occupants spent on their weekend vacation.
I being a scholar of the theater of the absurd and a former economics teacher, with help from others created a constant set of numbers, conservatively calculated. Thus did we assign miles per round trip (400), miles per gallon, (20), cost per gallon ($3), people per vehicle, (three), dollars per person spent aside from fuel ($100). From this conservative baseline, any math-interested person, including school kids, could take the actual number of cars and work out the figures. From prior experience, we set the bar at 350 westbound cars in the defined hour.
Topping this off, my friend Mr. Adamson told me that there has been a traffic counting mechanism outside of Winthrop for several years (I am certain its existence was created by the influence of this column) and it counts the total daily volume. For your information, on Labor Day last year (2014), there were 2,957 westbound vehicles.
You can use the formula above and figure that one out. The West Boesel count with current numbers appears in the Mazama column on this page.
Many thanks to Jeff Adamson, Ken Westman, Dave Walter and the others who have made the car count an institution.