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Tracking Bicycle Trips


Millions of dollars go into bike plans and separated cycletracks each year around the world. These investments are intended to make city streets safer for cyclists in the hope that more of them will exchange their car keys for a helmet and a U-lock. Unfortunately, relatively little is known about where cyclists ride and how land developments and infrastructure investment affects this emerging mode of transportation. Bicyclists are one of the most illusive users of urban street grids for transportation planners. We know that the droves of two-wheeled commuters taking to the streets these days use the path of least resistance: weaving in and out of traffic and avoiding congested and hazardous car routes. Planners depend on human and electronic counters at major intersections, but that data says little about how cyclists really move through cities, where they are going and where they came from.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) might have a solution. It recently launched CycleTracks: a smartphone application that allows cyclists to communicate seamlessly with area transportation planners who can then incorporate origin-destination data into a state-of-the-art model that predicts future travel patterns in the Bay Area. According to the project website:

“CycleTracks uses the iPhone and Android’s GPS support to track users’ bicycle trip routes. Specify a purpose for each trip (commuting, shopping, exercise, etc.), tell the app when to start and stop recording the ride and, at the end, data representing the purpose, route, date and time are sent to the Transportation Authority’s servers.”

This data then go towards informing future bicycle infrastructure investments. SFCTA seems to be putting proper privacy measures in place that will make cyclists comfortable using Cycletracks. Indeed, it’s in the interest of the cycling community to use this application. However, planners should be careful to make sure the data is checked against other more tradition sources so that tranportation models aren’t skewed exclusively towards smartphone users. Hopefully other juristictions can implement similar technologies to bring a little science to bicycle infrastructure investment.

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  • jason

    It’s a decent start, but it relies on a highly self-selective group…people who are passionate enough about cycling to seek out the program AND own a smart phone. The latter portion is enough to exclude most lower-income and minority cyclists, a population which is almost never included in any city’s bike planning.

    I think a much better solution is to go outside, talk to people on the streets (in another language if necessary), hand them paper maps and ask them to mark their routes for a week or two and mail them back with comments about what they would like to see. Low-tech yes, but then some unpaid intern can plug it all into GIS or something.