Strava Redesigns Data Product for the Government Layperson

Strava Metro, which offers data on cyclists and joggers to the government for decision-making, used to be geared more toward technical users. A dramatic facelift has turned the product more toward the average employee.

by / November 6, 2019
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In 2014, the Oregon Department of Transportation became one of the earliest government agencies to use data from an exercise app called Strava to get a better picture of where and when people were running and cycling in the state.

But it wasn’t presented with the kind of slick, intuitive interface that makes software accessible to the average employee. In fact, it required such a close familiarity with data work that the team that bought access to the data brought in Alex Bettinardi from the DOT planning section to help make heads and tails of it.

“That was one of the big lessons learned … if we were to do another purchase like this, we have to think about what’s the program look, what are the resources needed to utilize this?” Bettinardi said.

Now, Strava has completed a major overhaul of that product in order to help government agencies lacking in data experts to use data that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. The third version of Strava Metro introduces a big dashboard allowing users to grab fast statistics, as well as a map view where one can see the numbers for individual areas.

Such data is useful for a number of purposes — helping planners figure out which areas are in need of new infrastructure, performing before-and-after comparisons or setting transportation policy, for example.

Metro’s interfaces provide several different ways of carving up the data; users can toggle between cycling and jogging, drill down to hourly levels of activity, specify the length of corridor they want to pull data for or see counts for a specific block during a specific timeframe. There are also statistics for locals versus visitors (determined by the primary location of a user’s activity in recent months) and leisure versus commuting (determined by users who tag their activity as a commute, plus some educated guesswork based on things like route selection and repeated use).

The software also gives users an idea of the age breakdown of people using the app.

The reasons for the changes to Metro are twofold. First, giving users more tools to crunch the numbers should make it easier for more governments — and in particular smaller governments that don’t have data or GIS experts on board — to use it. Second, new data privacy rules in California and Europe have changed what the company is and isn’t allowed to share.

“The way that we share data on activities with our Strava members has changed quite significantly, and we’re quite restricted in what we can share at this point,” said Rodrigo Davies, senior project manager for Strava Metro. “So in order to help planners get insights, it has become much more useful for us to do the analysis and processing on our side.”

For users who want to work directly with the data, Metro has buttons to save views and download data.

Such software, which pairs aggregated, anonymized data directly from people on the street and then gives users the ability to manipulate it, is becoming more common in government. StreetLight Data, Remix and Replica all offer governments data on demand, as opposed to traditional methods of manually counting bicycles, cars, pedestrians and any number of emerging micromobility options.

“In general there’s not a whole lot of information on the shelf,” Bettinardi said. “If you had a project and you were interested in bike information, we have it set up where you can request counts in that area for specific times.”

There are inherent limits to Strava’s data, the largest being that it is not a complete picture of all cyclists and joggers in a given area at a given time — it’s only the people who use Strava.

Davies said that researchers have looked into the data, and often the difference between the Metro sample and the general population isn’t huge.

“They found a very robust correlation between them,” he said.

Still, the company is working to improve its data and make sure that it isn’t too biased in any direction. By comparing Metro’s sample with a city’s own counts, Strava can adjust the numbers closer to the overall population.

There are times when doing so might not be feasible, like when a city doesn’t have counts or there isn’t a large number of people using Strava in an area. In those cases, Davies said, the company aims for transparency about what it has and what it doesn’t have. But just because there isn’t a lot of information for an area doesn’t mean the data is useless.

“Having something to work with can actually be really valuable as opposed to having nothing or next to nothing,” he said.

The company has worked with about 300 government agencies to date, Davies said. About two-thirds of them are in the U.S., ranging from state transportation agencies to smaller cities.

Ben Miller Associate Editor of GT Data and Business

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.


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