The story behind that weird new totem on Tryon Street at I-277


If you’ve walked, driven or biked across the South Tryon Street bridge that runs over I-277 near the Duke Energy building, you’ve seen this new structure, pictured above. When I first spotted it last week, I thought it resembled a pole stuck upright in a pit of mulch.

It’s actually an “Eco-TOTEM,” and is one of 18 EcoCounters installed in 10 locations throughout Charlotte. This move by CDOT was made in partnership with NCDOT and is part of a pilot program across the state to put permanent pedestrian and bicycle counters into place. This effort, led by the Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) at N.C. State University, is the first time Charlotte has implemented continuously monitoring counting sensors for pedestrians and cyclists that are moving along city streets.

But, why?

A few reasons. The EcoCounters will be used to evaluate the usage of certain facilities around town, allowing the city to prioritize projects and aid in municipal and regional planning for active transportation. They will collect evidence that supports pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure. And the EcoCounters show progress with Charlotte’s Action Plan for the USDOT Mayors’ Challenge (the challenge asks cities to take actions like “gather data” and “fix barriers”).

In Charlotte, this action costs $83,655 and is funded in the Community Investment Plan under CDOT’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Programs. And at least 12 other cities across the country are using these EcoCounter displays for similar reasons, including San Francisco, Minneapolis and Seattle.

Back to that totem on South Tryon Street. It shows a live count of usage and it isn’t the only one — there’s another on the the Charlotte Rail Trail near Tremont Avenue. Both are meant to show the number of pedestrians and cyclists using the Rail Trail.

These totems, and the EcoCounters without displays, work kind of like a traffic signal sensor, according to Scott Curry, Pedestrian Program Manager for City of Charlotte. To count bikes, a loop cuts across the shared path and is able to pick up on the vehicles. To count pedestrians, there are infrared detectors, mounted in metal posts, that shoot a beam across a path (like a sidewalk). These detectors are able to sense when someone walks across the beam, as well as their direction of travel.

Some sidewalks do have bike loops, too, in areas where it has been determined both pedestrians and cyclists commonly use the same path.

All of the sensors planted around Charlotte are on now, pulling in data, and actually have been turned on for a couple of months, Curry said. At this time, CDOT is working with ITRE to confirm that the data is legitimate and that the sensors are working. Ultimately, ITRE will give quarterly reports on each counter.

The totem displays on Tryon and Tremont should start lighting up with numbers at the end of February or early March, once the power is turned on.

Good incentive to go lube up my bike.


Photo: Katie Toussaint


    • Hey William! At this time I only know of the locations for the two totems on the rail trail — the one on South Tryon and the one on Tremont. The remaining sensors don’t have a display like the totems. I’ll reach out to my city contact and see if I can update with some of those other locations. Thanks for reading!

  1. You want to see something weird and unexplainable, drive down Scaleybark Road and try to figure out all the meandering lanes, meaningless bump-outs, senseless curbside parking places, and the mysterious disappearing bicycle lanes.

  2. “And at least 12 other cities across the country are using these EcoCounter displays for similar reasons, including San Francisco, Minneapolis and Seattle.”

    City Council: “Those other cities have this? Sounds Legit. Let’s a couple”


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