Data sharing from Strava may help cities plan bike infrastructure

 

I bike often. On my best weeks, I strive to ride at least 100 miles. Most of those miles are part of work commutes and errand runs, replacing motorized vehicle miles.

I measure the miles with a smartphone app called Strava. It is an incredibly useful (and addictive) tool for runners, hikers, cyclists and more who want to measure the distances they cover and map where they are going or where they have been. 

The website, FactCoexist.com, explained Strava’s uses and ways that the collected data could prove useful:

Strava is one of those apps that lets users track their travels, workouts, bike commutes, and steps—and compete with others on the same routes. But it also has a division, called Strava Metro, that gathers together the anonymized data from millions of bike rides and uses it to find patterns on how, when, and where people ride. Now it is sharing that data with transportation departments in cities around the world, with the goal of improving street infrastructure.

The article claimed Strava’s counting of “billions of data points have given us a unique perspective on how cyclists and runners move through urban areas,” according to Strava marketing VP Gareth Nettleton. In 2015, 5.3 activities were uploaded to the service every second, which is over 300 billion data points so far, according to Strava. “The data is heavily skewed towards commuting, which makes it more valuable. Over 70 city DOTs have signed on so far to access that data,” according to the article.

I saved maps from the Richmond region and the images are very telling. I’m not surprised by what I expected to be the most popular routes. The bright areas of the James River Park trails and other multi-use trails and parks in the region are great to see and could be useful data for localities who want to measure usage.

StravaHeatMapJRPS

The difference between 2014 and 2015 data also reveals the huge influence the Richmond 2015 UCI Road World Championships and opening of the Virginia Capital Trail had on where people chose to ride (also, I presume an increase in people signing up with Strava, thus more data to be collected).

StravaHeatMap20142015

Cities and organizations must pay to use the data, but some is available to the public via Strava Labs. You can view anywhere in the world on a global heat map, or compare 2014 and 2015 heat maps just by sliding a bar across the on-screen map.

Popular paths for potential neighborhood byways are clearly revealed. That said, this data is not a true representation of all people who bike in Richmond. It is only measuring Strava users, which are likely people who can afford smartphones and are likely to be recreational cyclists or commuters. If we are to attempt to create a viable bike network that best represents the needs of all people in the Richmond region, useful data should account for cyclists of all economic levels, young riders…basically all walks (and rides) of life.

What other tools? How about where people are least safe? Places where bikes and pedestrians have been hit. As long as local police have kept good records, there should be more available data.

An article from Slow Streets suggests using collision mapping to indicate areas of desirable and safe cycling: “So how do you start deciding where to place bike lanes? The best strategy is to build bike lanes where people are already cycling. Usually there will be people cycling in your city along certain corridors regardless of the lackluster state of cycling infrastructure.”

As cities across North America move towards implementing networks of protected cycling lanes, they are often hamstrung by limited budgets. Therefore for those cities trying to kick off the process of deciding where to install the first protected bike lanes can be like taking a shot in the dark. A good phrase that comes to mind is that it is difficult to judge the need for the people by amount of people swimming across the river. In this sense it is difficult to determine which bike lane locations will generate the highest usage when there are limited people cycling on the roads because of conditions that are not safe nor comfortable enough to invite people to cycle in the first place.

 

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