Smartphone App Could Enhance Urban Infrastructure

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Monday, September 15th, 2014
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A popular app designed for joggers and cyclists could help city planners improve their urban infrastructure designs.

While Strava was originally designed by its creators as a convenient means for urban athletes to record the particulars of their journeys on either foot or bike, city planners have discovered that it could serve as a powerful tool for enhancing urban infrastructure design.

The smart phone app is capable of tracing the precise routes taken by cyclists and joggers during the course of their fitness-prompted peregrinations. In addition to providing a visual depiction of their routes in the form of an overlay on a Google map, the app also provides a host of detailed statistics including average speed, total travel distance and elevation gains.

This detailed information could prove to be immensely useful to the designers of urban infrastructure in future by conferring them with vast swathes of data concerning the current and likely movements of both cyclists and pedestrians.

The app, which is free to download and compatible with a broad range of smart phone systems, has amassed more than a million users during the five years since Strava’s founding in 2009.

The individual GPS data points of these users, who engage in per three million activities per week around the world, are transmitted to the company’s headquarters in San Francisco, where they can be collated and placed together to form an easy-to-comprehend “heat map” of where joggers run and cyclists ride.

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According to Strava co-founder Davis Kitchel, the company has amassed more than 300 billion GPS points in total, providing a veritable trove of data on the habits of active urbanites.

The app marks a vast improvement on previous methods for amassing information on cyclist and pedestrian movements from before the smart phone era, when urban planners deployed human observers at key intersections, equipped with either counters or clipboards to tally the number of people who passed by them.

In addition to being a time-consuming and labour-intensive method, it also suffered from the disadvantage of only recording information on human traffic at a particular juncture, as opposed to the complete itineraries of individual sojourners.

Given the highly detailed information that Strava collects for its users, the company is capable of providing a comprehensive raft of data covering just about any human traffic parameter required.

A transportation planner from the Utah city of Provo has already sought out this data, asking Strava last year he could use it to help him to identify critical points where cycling infrastructure could be improved.

The request prompted Strava, whose original mandate is to establish itself as “the premier social network for athletes,” to re-brand an arm of its operations as “Strava Metro,” selling the data it amasses to municipal governments and urban designers for planning purposes.

Strava Metro found its first customer in February, selling its data to the Oregon Department of Transportation. Data-vending services were officially launched in May, with the company already reaching out to urban planners in the UK, Australia and Florida.

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