Strava Labs is an online community of athletes that is collecting data about activities one person at a time. You can sign up for free, create a profile and then track your running or riding. Admittedly, that has very little to do with urbanism though. What they’ve done that is interesting, is actually make some of the data available for developers. One of the coolest things they made is a heatmap of where people are running and biking. Here’s the biking map for Seattle:
Keep in mind that this is likely mapping recreational rides, which could differ significantly from commuting. Additionally, there is a lot of data at Strava, but the map is for the entire world. It’s hard to say how much data was used for Seattle alone. With that said, there are some interesting observations. For example, why is there so much biking downtown but nearly none in Capitol Hill. If you look at the running map, the results are very different.
It is already a well-known fact that cities track bike and car use with counters. I’m not aware of any effort in Seattle to collect trip data via a smartphone app, but Oregon’s Department of Transportation (ODOT) recently purchased data from Strava and San Francisco collects data from an app called CycleTracks. A lack of data makes it much more difficult to plan for infrastructure. The amount ODOT paid, $20,000, seems pretty small. (And might even be lower if a motivated developer in Seattle built it…anyone?). If there was a custom made app made specifically for Seattle, it could differentiate between recreational and commuter uses as well as collect demographic information to put the data into context.
Any data like this will definitely have limits related to sample size and bias. It’s a well-known fact that commuting by bicycle is really important to lower income individuals, and it is likely a lot of these trips would be missed due to the additional cost of owning a smartphone.
Owen is a solutions engineer for a software company. He has an amateur interest in urban policy, focusing on housing. His primary mode is a bicycle but isn't ashamed of riding down the hill and taking the bus back up. Feel free to tweet at him: @pickovven.