How Strava Metro’s Deep Data Can Help Make City Planning More Sustainable

'Heatmap' of cycling and running activity in Berlin, 2015

Strava Metro is a data service that aims to make life better for pedestrians and cyclists around the world. By collating the data recorded by individuals' activity tracker apps, it can help urban planners make informed decisions and make cities more bike and pedestrian friendly in the process.

Author Tina Gallico, 06.29.17

Strava Metro is a data service that aims to make life better for pedestrians and cyclists around the world. By collating the data recorded by individuals’ activity tracker apps, it can help urban planners make informed decisions and make cities more bike and pedestrian friendly in the process.

You might have heard of Strava before: it’s a mobile app and website that allows runners and cyclists to track their activity, as well as share, compare and compete with other users. Every week, million of users all over the world upload their rides and runs to Strava via their smartphones or GPS devices. This equates to about 10 million activities uploaded each week, which creates a rich source of ground truth information about how pedestrians and cyclists find their way through cities and towns.

A few years ago the company began looking for ways they could utilise that data to help improve life for urban cyclists and pedestrians. The result was a data service called Strava Metro that anonymises and aggregates the information that the Strava app collects, and partners with transportation departments and city planning groups to assist efforts aiming to improve infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.

Reliable Data on Human-Powered Movement

Unlike regular GPS route finders that just give you the fastest route from A to B, the Strava app functions with an optimised data structure to provide route recommendations based on actual journeys and the most popular routes in each area. This feature offers valuable data on people’s priorities and preferences – showing, for example, that cyclists prioritise safety and routes so they can enjoy the surroundings rather than simply going for the most direct option. And that users will likely navigate their journey to include a quiet street, bike lane or park and avoid a busy highway even if the latter is more direct or can be faster.

The video below features Strava Co-Founder and CTO explaining the story behind Strava Metro.

Informed City and Transport Planning

The Strava Metro offshoot has worked with over 100 city governments and organisations around the world to inform cycling and pedestrian infrastructure planning, whether it’s to work out the affect of newly installed infrastructure or to highlight areas which are in need of transformation and justify increased investment. In Queensland Australia it was used to work out the affect that a new bike path had on cyclist behaviour and in Scotland, it helped Glasgow’s GoBike cycling campaign to gather data on a street that was previously thought not to be used by cyclists.

Until now, city and transport planners have commonly relied on manual street counts and retrospective surveys to understand walking, running and cycling patterns in cities. Strava Metro provides a way of efficiently collecting deep data for a detailed impression of where, when and how non-vehicular movements in the city are happening.

Whilst the Strava Metro community is a small portion of trips taken overall, the data collected via the app can be taken as a sample and triangulated with other sources of information to create a more comprehensive picture. This information can then be used to enable targeted upgrades or inform resource allocation for new projects that will improve the usability and experience of urban streets.  

Improved cycling and pedestrian infrastructure is a priority of city administrations around the world as part of sustainable development and smart cities goals. Increasing the availability and quality of human-powered modes of transport is beneficial to the health of urban citizens, reduces traffic congestion and pollution, and contributes to the overall liveability and sustainability of cities.

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