CyclePhilly hopes to record biking patterns to help plan bike lanes - Technical.ly Philly

Civic

Apr. 30, 2014 12:30 pm

CyclePhilly hopes to record biking patterns to help plan bike lanes

Developed by local civic hackers at Code for Philly, in conjunction with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the idea of having community cyclists crowd source their bike routes for planning authorities first originated in San Francisco, but this is the first attempt to record Philadelphia bike patterns, despite the city having the highest rate of cyclists per capita of the nation’s 10 biggest cities.

CyclePhilly, a new app for iOS and Android devices, allows Philadelphia bicyclists to record their daily riding habits and share that data with regional planners to help in preparing for future bike routes, facilities, and helping authorities understand how bike commuters are using transit during their trips.

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Developed by local civic hackers at Code for Philly, in conjunction with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the idea of having community cyclists crowd source their bike routes for planning authorities first originated in San Francisco and has since been used in Austin, Puget Sound and Atlanta, but this is the first attempt to record Philadelphia bike patterns, despite the city having the highest rate of cyclists per capita of the nation’s 10 biggest cities.

To use the app, a rider starts the route, bikes to their destination and hits save. Then they’ll be prompted to record the purpose of the trip, such as a work commute, going to school or social. Their personal routes are stored on the device and a copy of the route they took is uploaded to CyclePhilly servers to be analyzed by planning authorities.

The app also has the ability to let the user note certain issues related to a location while on their route. Options include pavement issues, whether they would like to see more bike parking or whether a traffic signal is out. CyclePhilly’s website shows a map of routes recorded by its users.

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The project was sparked last year when Corey Acri, an avid cyclist, brought the project to Code for Philly, Code For America’s local branch of civic minded hackers.

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“I love biking in Philly, but the bike routes can be wacky,” Acri said.

He asked Mark Headd, then Philadelphia’s Chief Data Officer, if there was any data on how cyclists moved throughout the city. He was told there was none, but Headd invited him to get it himself, and the project was born.

Acri, a lawyer by education, needed government partnership to use the app and developers to create it. He found a willing partner in the DVRPC to make use of the data and programmers Kathryn Killebrew, Kevin Clough, and Code For Philly co-captains Lloyd Emelle and Chris Alfano to build it.

CyclePhilly is available now in Apple’s App Store and on Google Play for Android devices.

Acri is hoping that Philly cyclists will help region planners out and “do something they do a hundred times a day, take their phone out and push a button.”

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Jim Smiley

Jim Smiley was Technical.ly's contributing web editor from 2013 to August 2014. A native and resident of Northeast Philadelphia, he cofounded with his father FrankfordGazette.com, a hyperlocal blog focused on the changing community. He is a computer science graduate of Drexel University, an avid runner and civic hacker.

  • Adam

    Strava is already doing it: http://labs.strava.com/heatmap/#13/-75.18124/39.92992/gray/bike
    I applaud CyclePhilly’s efforts, but Strava has the dataset and established user base. They also have data on runners if they’re looking to enhance recreational infrastructure. If the objective is to really improve infrastructure, the piggybacking off of the Strava project is the way to go – I’m sure that if a major city like Philadelphia approached them and asked for help getting data, they would be glad to oblige. I’m surprised that the former Chief Data Officer didn’t think of that. Hindsight, I guess.

    Looking at the Strava heatmap, some of the desire paths that exist (and DON’T exist) are interesting. Attaching time of day and weather information to them would be even more so.

    • jimRsmiley

      Adam, do you know of any planning authorities that have used Strava’s dataset to plan their future bike infrastructure?

      • Adam

        I don’t know of any, but then again I’m just a guy on the internet. Paul -at- strava.com would probably know more. It would be silly to collect all this information and do nothing productive with it and I think that municipal planning is just about the single biggest consumer of information like this.

      • Andy

        Oregon DOT just bought a year’s worth of data from Strava for $20,000. Data seems to include average speeds, time of day, day of week, etc. Even if Strava is a lot of racer types, the huge amount of data and ability to sort by self-reported commutes negates that issue. This could be an amazing tool for other municipalities!

      • Adam
    • http://joshuanmeyer.com/ pekasus

      This reminds me of the South Park episode where they kept saying “The Simpsons already did it.”

      The main difference is that Strava is a for-profit, and CyclePhilly is a completely open source, open data platform where the city does not have to pay a penny for development or data acquisition.

      The other issue is purpose. Strava appears to cater to athletes, whereas CyclePhilly is appealing to more civic-minded uses. While Strava’s heat maps could help, it is still based on proprietary software, meaning the city would have to pay some licensing fee for specialized information. That is a major difference in decided whether Philadelphia will use the data or not.

      • jimRsmiley

        CyclePhilly is also attempting to break down bike trips by purpose, like commute, going to school, or leisure activity.

  • jimRsmiley

    A just published article on Streets Blog USA talks about how Strava data could help city planners.

    http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/05/02/could-the-strava-app-provide-the-biking-and-walking-data-cities-crave/

    They charge for it. Very recently, $20,000 for a one year license to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

    http://bikeportland.org/2014/05/01/odot-embarks-on-big-data-project-with-purchase-of-strava-dataset-105375

    • infinitebuffalo

      There are significant issues with the idea of state and municipal agencies using Strava data for planning purposes: http://t.co/x3ZWXUtMV8

      “…the limitation is likely not that it’s a “small sample size.” The limitation is that it’s probably an *inappropriate* sample…”

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  • singlespeed demon

    I have used Strava for more than 3 years, for all types of rides throughout Greater Philadelphia. Trips to the Library and grocery store, kid school runs, MTB rides through the Wiss and everything in between. I logged almost 3,000 miles last year.

    I’ve tried to use CyclePhilly and Strava at the same time. No dice. It bogs down my phone, and sucks battery power. I’m not sure I’d use the two apps together again. What did the CyclePhilly App cost? Someone must have paid something to make it a reality. Reinventing the preverbal bicycle wheel or not.

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