London plans to spend more than a billion dollars on better bike infrastructure over the next decade, and across the rest of the U.K., the government will spend hundreds of millions more. The only problem: There's very little data about where cyclists ride, making it difficult to plan exactly where new bike lanes are most needed. A new iPhone app aims to help by tracking routes as people ride and and turning that data into maps.
When volunteer cyclists install the app, called WeCycle, it automatically begins mapping. It runs continuously at low power, and senses when someone starts to ride, rather than forcing someone to start and stop the app each time.
"A cyclist can see the routes it's recording on a map in the app, and all of that data then is automatically synched on our service to generate this aggregate picture of how cyclists are moving around," explains Peter Lindgren, COO of TravelAI, the company that developed the app. "It shows how cycling fits into the bigger transportation picture as well."
For cities, it's not only a way to plan new routes, but to better understand how to take care of existing bike paths. "When local authorities are trying to improve cycling infrastructure with the resources they have available, it's very hard for them to know where to spend that money," says Lindgren. "Even just knowing where to focus their resources on filling potholes on cycle lanes. They just don't know which are the busiest cycle lanes. We felt like there was a real need for cyclists to be better represented in the data."
The app is a little like one that designers made to help plan bike routes in a German city, though WeCycle can also track other types of transportation. "It studies your speed, patterns of movement, and location," Lindgren says. "From that it can find out what type of transport you're using and what route you've taken."
Though this release of the app focuses on bikes, the next version will automatically sense if you switch between a bike and a car. It can already tell if you're on the subway, a train, or even flying somewhere. The startup is hoping that drivers support the project, even if they're not cyclists themselves.
"If cities can understand where to make cycling safer, that benefits all road users," says Lindgren. "If more people cycle, that takes cars off the road, there's less traffic, less congestion, and if cyclists are better protected, it helps decrease accidents. We think there's benefits for everyone."
The company plans to develop more tools for cities to track other types of transportation. They'll also expand the reach of the app--technically, it could work anywhere in Europe now. But at the moment, they want to focus on a smaller handful of cities to prove that this type of planning can work.
"We want to make sure that we get it right, that we focus enough time engaging with the cities that we can make good on the promise and bring about changes in cycling infrastructure," says Lindgren. "If we set our scope too wide, we just wouldn't be able to pressure that many regions to bring about change."