N.H. Department of Transportation considers fitness app data purchase to improve biking experience
The state Department of Transportation may soon turn to a popular fitness app in an effort to improve the biking experience in New Hampshire.
The department is considering buying a year’s worth of user data from Strava Metro for roughly $10,000. The information would illuminate the riding habits and popular routes of nearly 10,000 cyclists who have biked in the state and use the free, downloadable app Strava to track their rides.
“This gives us visibility that we didn’t have before into what is actually going on on the ground,” said Tim Blagden, a member of the DOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Advisory Committee and executive director of Bike-Walk Alliance of NH. “If we know where (people) are riding, then we can engineer to them,” he said.
In the past, the DOT has not had much information about how bikers use the roads. What it did have was mostly anecdotal information that was accumulated from local bike clubs, bike shops and regional planning commissions.
The Strava data would map out roughly 150,000 rides, detailed down to the day and minute, that bikers took on New Hampshire roads, trails and state parks over the last year.
With that information in hand, DOT officials could study where and when people are riding, their biking behavior and the most popular routes. Then the department could target its money to make improvements on well-trafficked bike lanes or design better intersections that are popular with cyclists.
“Right now in our design process it is hard to tell if anyone is out there. There is no data, no accounts of bicyclists,” said Erik Paddleford, a DOT bicycle and pedestrian technician.
With the Strava data, the DOT would be able to determine the bike traffic at different times of the day and year and which types of bikers are using the road: commuters or recreational riders, residents or tourists. That information could help the department determine which projects would be most beneficial to riders.
For example, Paddleford said, the DOT could use the data set to decide where to put a rumble strip along a street that it sees is a popular cycling route.
“Rumble strips do a great job of keeping motorists from driving off the road . . . but when you put a rumble strip in the middle of a shoulder it makes it much more difficult for cyclists,” Blagden said.
The data not only shows the department where bikers are going, but where they aren’t going. That information can be just as telling, Paddleford said.
“Some main road might be a direct connection between two points, but cyclists aren’t using it. Why? Because it’s dangerous,” he said. “It might be a place to invest some of the money to make it safer.”
In addition to road improvements, Blagden expects the data could have many more uses, ranging from where cities put bike racks to changes in street parking along bike routes so cyclists don’t run the risk of getting hit by an opening car door.
If the DOT decides to purchase the data, which comes out to roughly 80 cents per each Strava user’s annual cycling data, the earliest the department could have it would be fall, Paddleford said.
In order to protect the privacy of the Strava users’ names, personal information and the first and last kilometer of each biker’s ride are not included in the information. The app users can opt out of being included in a data set by choosing private before recording a ride and unless the biker hits record, the app won’t collect any data.
“There is no way to identify someone,” said Strava President Michael Horvath. “In that sense it’s completely anonymous, just counts on streets.”
Horvath co-founded the Strava app about five years ago as a way to motivate bikers and runners. More recently, the company launched Strava Metro as a way to share the data it collects with city and urban planners who want to make improvements to biker infrastructure.
“They have few good alternatives to collecting that data,” Horvath said. “Strava is very complimentary, a novel way of using crowd sourcing from thousands of users in a city who are out there every day.”
Strava Metro has a dozen contracts with cities and states, large and small, around the globe. They include London, Glasgow, Queensland, Oregon and Evanston, Ill.
“The reason we’re doing this is to serve cyclists and runners,” Horvath said. “We want to make cycling running better for the people who love to do it.”
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)