Civic News

Civic hackers are giving the Bicycle Coalition a tech upgrade

The project aims to help the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia with its annual survey, by giving the group real-time access to data and making it easier for volunteers to collect it.

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Every fall, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia does a survey of biking trends across the city.

It’s a big undertaking that requires an army of volunteers to watch specific intersections and note every biker (and relevant detail) they see. It’s all done manually, with pen and paper.

When the civic hackers at Code for Philly heard this, they set out to build a more efficient system.

Led by Rich McMillen and Interactive Commerce Group developer Joe Petrini, the project involves making a mobile app that the team likened to a video game, with buttons for every field the volunteers need to fill out (male/female, helmet/no helmet, etc.).

That data will go straight to the Bicycle Coalition’s database, so the group doesn’t have to manually enter it like with past surveys. That manual data entry, McMillen said, leads to what can be a two-month lag between when the Coalition conducts the survey and releases the results.

McMillen and Petrini presented at Code for Philly’s 100th meetup last week. Theirs is one of a whole slew of transportation-related hacks built at the civic hacking meetup, including CyclePhilly, a mobile app to track bike routes, and Unlock Philly, which maps wheelchair-accessible SEPTA stops. A transportation hackathon is in the works, said Code for Philly co-captain Lloyd Emelle.

The project presented an interesting design challenge, said McMillen, who works at JPMorgan Chase, because the Coalition’s pen and paper survey system was actually pretty easy for volunteers to use. So, the question became: how can we make it easier?


The Coalition’s survey is already underway, but McMillen and Petrini hope to have a prototype ready this month so volunteers can try it out for the tail end of the survey. Bigger picture, they think the tool could be used by other bicycle coalitions and survey-taking organizations across the country.

You can sign up to be a bike survey volunteer here.

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