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Can Cycling Route Data Improve Transportation Projects?

With the CycleTracks app, the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments wants bicyclists’ routes that the counties intend to use for planning purposes.

by / May 6, 2011
Photo courtesy of Pieter Musterd/Flickr CC pieter musterd/Flickr CC

A tri-county effort in California is enabling bicyclists to submit the routes they ride through a smartphone app. The governments intend to use the data for planning purposes.

The Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG) adopted the CycleTracks app in April. With assistance from consultants, AMBAG will use data that local cyclists upload to help develop a modeling tool to help make the tri-county area a better place to ride bikes.

AMBAG covers Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties. The association’s mission is to plan and implement regional policies for the three counties and their cities.

“Conceptually the idea is that better understanding the existing behavior of bicyclists in the Monterey Bay Area will help us understand the usefulness of bicycle projects in the future, and a better understanding of how people behave and try to model from potential demands of proposed infrastructures,” said Steph Nelson, AMBAG’s associate planner.

The free app was originally developed by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and funded by a grant from the state transportation department. AMBAG received a $125,000 grant from the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District to implement the app for its tri-county area. CycleTracks is available for the iPhone and Android.

Cyclists click “start” at the beginning of a ride and at the end, click “save.” The user then specifies the trip’s purpose and can leave comments. Cyclists also may choose to enter personal information such as their name, gender and e-mail address. Inputting the personal information is optional, but Nelson said if users do they are eligible to win prizes. Information submitted to the app is confidential and won’t be distributed publicly.

“We’re not sharing that information with anybody for any purpose other than the [contest] drawing, but that’s also optional,” Nelson said. “So it really would take a proactive person to give us all the information they have to give us.”

The data is being stored on the San Francisco County Transportation Authority’s servers. The data will eventually be packaged and submitted to AMBAG for analysis.

Nelson said the app doesn’t give the county governments the capability to track an individual cyclist.

According to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the app uses a smartphone’s GPS function to track a user’s bike route. Users may cancel the tracking anytime during a ride, which will cancel data submissions on the app.

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Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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