DataByte: Buying [your] Big Biking Data

Sarasota County has a strong biking community, and perhaps, increasingly so. It’s not uncommon to see recreational cyclists spanning lengthy loops around their cities, meandering down coastal lanes on beach cruisers, or finding their way to the store down the road. What more ideal environment can you ask for besides flat roads, cool coastal breezes, expanding bike lane networks, recreational trails, supportive biking communities, and even, bike racks on public transportation

The U.S. Census, in a first ever report focused exclusively on biking and walking, is showing that biking and walking are increasingly becoming a first-choice means of transportation around the nation. Over the last decade, the numbers of workers who ride their bike to work and back have increased by about 60%. While the total number of biking workers is still a fraction of total workers in the United States (0.6%), this group has seen the greatest increases over the past few years.

(The data presented by the U.S. Census is limited in scope because it only gauges worker travel from home to place of employment.)

Biking to work in Sarasota County may be more of a challenge compared to more bikeable, less sprawled, and perhaps more temperate places. If we look at the data, cities that developed earlier in U.S. history tend to be more walkable and bikeable than newer, more modern cities. The era of suburbanization and uncontrolled growth led to car-dependent transportation networks that left little room for cyclists or walkers who are now spending more time and traveling longer distances between places.

What factors affect the mode of transportation you choose?

Travel Time The data presented in the Census Report show that of those workers who did walk to work spent, on average, just over ten minutes in travel time. Workers who rode their bicycle to work spent just about 20 minutes in travel time. Workers using other modes of transportation to work had an average commuting time of just over 25 minutes.

What this can translate to is that cyclists and walkers are more likely to live closer to their places of work than workers who drove, carpooled, used public transportation, or other means.

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Departure Time The time at which workers had to be at work played a role in the mode of transportation used - workers who had to leave for work between 9am and noon were more likely to walk or cycle than workers who had to leave earlier in the morning. Those workers were more likely to choose another mode of transportation. Also, employers with more flexible schedules were more likely to employ workers or have employees who would walk or cycle to work.

Income Income and car availability also played a role in choosing mode of transportation to work. This image below shows that lower income ranges have a higher working population that walk or cycle to work - walking being the most used mode. Workers who do not have a vehicle are more likely to walk or cycle to work. But, as the number of available vehicles increase in the worker’s household, the likelihood of walking or cycling decreases.

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Other Factors: There are other factors that also affected the mode of travel used to get to work. If a working household did not have any children of their own, they were more likely to walk or bike to work (2.8%); whereas a household with children were more likely to choose another mode of transportation. Fewer than 2% of households with children walk or bike to work.

Educational attainment also has an effect on the likelihood to walk or bike to work. For this group, the study considered the education attainment of workers aged 25+. The results showed a polarized pattern: Those workers with a graduate or professional degree, as well as those workers who did not graduate from high school, showed higher rates of cycling or walking as the primary mode of transportation to work, as opposed to high school graduates, adults with some college, or undergraduates.

An additional factor to consider is the built environment in which the worker’s residence community is situated. Workers who live in cities and urban spaces are more likely to walk or cycle to work than workers who live in suburban communities. Workers who lived outside of the metropolitan area were the least likely to walk or cycle to work.

What do we do with this information? 

The data presented by this survey study show that there are many different factors that go into a decision to choose a personal automobile as a primary mode of transportation, as opposed to walking or riding a bicycle. We might want to consider why the built the environment in urban settings are more suited for cyclists and pedestrians as mode of transportation. By borrowing those characteristics and applying to suburban communities, we can increase non-motorized transportation and reliance on automobiles. While there are many factors to consider, this type of data shows the dynamic of non-motorized transportation and which evolving. The next step is to consider how particular factors can be tweaked to affect a positive change in the trends.

[Link to the full report: May 2014, Modes Less Traveled—Bicycling and Walking to Work in the United States: 2008–2012: ACS Reports]

What hinders you from walking or bicycling to your destination? What changes could be made to your built environment that would improve the chances of walking or riding your bike?

Cities Buying Your Data

A way in which city planners are working to improve transportation networks and infrastructure for walking and biking is through harnessing the power of big data collected by private companies. In what has been a somewhat controversial move, STRAVA has opted to sell their collected data to metropolitan planners with the goal of improving the built environment to facilitate non-motorized travel. STRAVA already has several cities using its data - including Portland, OR; Orlando, FL; Arlington, VA; Glasgow, Scotland; and Alpine Shire, Australia.

STRAVA is one of many companies that allow users to track their cycling, walking or running routes through the use of smart phones or GPS devices. The data is saved to the company internet site where users can track time and distances traveled, compete with other users, and show marked improvements in their training. STRAVA has recently started a new branch called STRAVA Metro that provides the anonymous data uploaded by users to cities for use by departments of transportation, city planners, advocacy groups, etc. The intent is to provide in-depth data for analysis by actors who have a role in shaping transportation.

The data provided by STRAVA Metro is aggregated and anonymous. The aggregated data creates a ‘heat map’ of cycling and walking/running routes that is laid over a map of the city. This creates a ‘high use’ map that shows exactly where heavy cycling and foot traffic is concentrated and why it is concentrated there. Using the information, planners can target improvements and gaps in the transportation network that need to be addressed.

This tool, STRAVA Labs, will give you an idea of the type of data being studied. The images below show high use trails by cyclists. The data sold to cities are much more involved, with breakdowns by time, geography, etc. With this data, Sarasota County and its metropolitan jurisdictions could have greater insight into the routes traveled by cyclists, consider why those routes are preferred, and apply those characteristics to expand the cycling transportation network.

The founder and editor of Bike Portland, an independent news source for all things biking in Portland, noted the significance of this data to the city:

The problem for many transportation agencies today is that, while bicycling is on the rise (for both transportation and recreation), there remains a major lack of data. This gap in data makes it much harder to justify bicycle investments, plan for future bicycle traffic growth, illustrate the benefits of bike infrastructure investments, and so on. It also makes non-auto use of roads very easy for agencies to overlook. And while ODOT and many cities do bike counts already, they only measure one location for a short period of time. (taken from: StreetsBlog USA)

 

What are your thoughts on this matter? Do you have concerns about big data uploaded by private users to the internet being provided to governments and planning organizations? Do you think that the consequences may outweigh the benefits of using big data for public improvement?

Give us your feedback! We’d love to hear your input on this topic.

 

 

 

Sarasota County, STRAVA Labs

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City of Sarasota, STRAVA Labs