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Bicycle Modeling Tool to Aid Infrastructure Development Decisions

California’s Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments is using data collected by a smartphone app to see how proposed bike route changes could affect greenhouse gas emissions.

by / November 12, 2012
Photo from Shutterstock Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Some city planners in California will have access to a new tool next year that could help in planning infrastructure upgrades. A bicycle model tool being developed by the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG) will allow officials in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties to see how proposed bike route changes could affect greenhouse gas emissions and create biker benefits like time saved. The tool is scheduled to be completed February 2013.

“What we hope to get from the tool is a measure of the effectiveness of adding a new bike facility or improving an existing bike facility,” Project Manager Anais Schenk said. “The mission of AMBAG as a whole, and any metropolitan planning organization, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region, and the way we do that is to encourage mode switches from driving alone to modes that have a lesser impact on our environment.”

The tool's initial bike path data was partially supplied by bikers who used the CycleTracks app, which reported trip data of people who biked to work (no recreational bike data is used in the model). The app, which Government Technology reported on last year, was originally developed by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and used by AMBAG with help from a $125,000 grant from the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District.

In addition to providing a baseline of data for the development of the bike model, Schenk said the app also collects “basic demographic information on the user, which we find very useful to help calibrate the model.” While the researchers assumed that most bike path users were between the ages of 13 and 40, seeing data to verify their assumptions was useful.

Initial data collection from the CycleTracks app also produced an unexpected result, Schenk said. Researchers expected greater decreases in greenhouse gas emissions with the development of improved bike paths. One way to account for that result, she said, is that the distance between the workplace and home for many people spans a distance too great for all but the most “hardcore cyclists” to cover. The lesson from this is a land-use argument for putting more jobs closer to where people live, said Schenk.

While the bike model tool is scheduled for completion next year, the team has a few enhancements it would like to implement after the initial release of the software. One of the biggest changes, Schenk said, is that while the tool is now being developed as locally run software, the team would like to make the tool Web-based so users can run it without having to install software.

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Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

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