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Why Leading Smart Cities Are Often Bike-Friendly Cities

The International Cycling Safety Conference in Davis, Calif., will explore how data from vehicles, smart and connected devices or sensors and other objects in the urban landscape can work to serve the needs and safety of cyclists.

When it comes to smart city project planning and deployment, bicycles are just as much a part of the equation as the many other components (like street lights and parking meters), according to city planning and bicycle advocates.

“I certainly believe that cyclists need to be considered an important aspect of city planning and design, and treated as an equal in terms of the other modes of transportation,” said Jason Moore, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at University of California, Davis.

Moore, who also serves as a member of the organizing committee for the International Cycling Safety Conference scheduled to descend upon UC Davis on Sept. 21 and 22, said he thinks a complete city is going to have many modes of transportation.

"And for it to be a good city, it will have many options,” he added. “And hopefully too, most cities are trying to promote options that target certain bad things that are going on. For example, from pollution, to congestion, to physical fitness of the inhabitants of the city, to safety, to enjoyment, to convenience.”

One of the “hot topics” at the conference, now in its sixth year — and the first in the United States — is to explore how data streams coming from vehicles, smart and connected devices or sensors and other objects in the urban landscape can work to also serve the needs and safety of cyclists, which are an increasing participant in urban mobility.

Moore notes that people are just starting to think about how to use this data to identify problem areas and make cities safer for bicycles. And it's an area that can combine traditional civil engineering, cycling safety, sensors and data technology. For example, Debbie Niemeier, also a professor in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is experimenting with bicycles that can automatically collect data on the state of city bicycle paths as their users ride around town.

Similarly, the running and cycling app Strava is often used by bike commuters to track their route. The company sells access to its data sets to city planners who can use this crowdsourced information to determine what routes are most favored by cyclists.

“So city planners are very eager to see this data right now, which shows bicycling patterns,” said Moore. 

Sessions and workshops will also address the use of bicycle helmets, and how much priority should be given to enforcing helmet use compared to other measures.

The more forward-thinking — and in many cases smart — cities today are those that consider cyclists as crucial players in their mobility landscape and are welcoming toward developing bicycle infrastructure, say researchers.

“I think the last two decades, we have seen a stronger resurgence in this role for the bicycle — not just recreational life, but in actual commuting and daily use,” said Moore. “You can look at all the great cities in the USA right now, and they are all enacting specific targeted plans to increase the convenience of bicycling. And it helps with their sustainability needs, and then there’s other things like pollution and congestion, etc.”

For more information about the sorts of bicycle planning and safety research being developed at UC Davis, visit UC Davis Bicycle Research Collection.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.