City planners tap into wealth of cycling data from Strava tracking app

Peter Walker in The Guardian: “Sheila Lyons recalls the way Oregon used to collect data on how many people rode bikes. “It was very haphazard, two-hour counts done once a year,” said the woman in charge of cycling policy for the state government.“Volunteers, sitting on the street corner because they wanted better bike facilities. Pathetic, really.”

But in 2013 a colleague had an idea. She recorded her own bike rides using an app called Strava, and thought: why not ask the company to share its data? And so was born Strava Metro, both an inadvertent tech business spinoff and a similarly accidental urban planning tool, one that is now quietly helping to reshape streets in more than 70 places around the world and counting.

Using the GPS tracking capability of a smartphone and similar devices, Strata allows people to plot how far and fast they go and compare themselves against other riders. Users create designated route segments, which each have leaderboards ranked by speed.

Originally aimed just at cyclists, Strava soon incorporated running and now has options for more than two dozen pursuits. But cycling remains the most popular,and while the company is coy about overall figures, it says it adds 1 million new members every two months, and has more than six million uploads a week.

For city planners like Lyons, used to very occasional single-street bike counts,this is a near-unimaginable wealth of data. While individual details are anonymised, it still shows how many Strava-using cyclists, plus their age and gender, ride down any street at any time of the day, and the entire route they take.

The company says it initially had no idea how useful the information could be,and only began visualising data on heatmaps as a fun project for its engineers.“We’re not city planners,” said Michael Horvath, one of two former HarvardUniversity rowers and relatively veteran 40-something tech entrepreneurs who co-founded Strava in 2009.

“One of the things that we learned early on is that these people just don’t have very much data to begin with. Not only is ours a novel dataset, in many cases it’s the only dataset that speaks to the behaviour of cyclists and pedestrians in that city or region.”…(More)”