From raw data to better bike routes

Making a bike friendly city can be a daunting challenge for any planner. For decades, Philadelphia planners were focused on making it easy for cars to move through the city. As biking has become more popular, and more energy efficient, cyclists created their own bike routes. But, without knowing their routes, it’s difficult for planners to know which roads need bike lanes and other improvements.

CyclePhilly, an app built by Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and Code for Philly, uses route data from Philadelphia's cyclists to help city planners prioritize road improvements. 

Corey Acri, an entrepreneur and co-founder of Strategic Lead Design, worked on CyclePhilly during Code for Philly hacknights. After researching similar efforts in other cities, Corey teamed up with Code for Philly Co-Captain Lloyd Emelle and Kathryn Killebrew, a software developer at Azavea, to help build the mobile app.

Corey Acri met Mark Headd, the former Chief Data Officer of Philadelphia, at a Code for Philly hack night. They chatted about open data and the uptick of Philadelphians who’ve ditched their cars and get around the city using their bikes.

While the number of cyclists in Philadelphia was growing, there was one problem: Philadelphia was one of just three major U.S. cities without a protected bike lane network. Headd suggested to Acri that if city planners had the right data, they could better prioritize roads that need a bike-friendly face lift.

"Why don't you get the data?" said Mark. Arci said that at the time he thought, "Huh? Not so simple when you have limited coding experience - but what the heck - I’ll give it a shot.”

<p>Members of the CyclePhilly team.</p>

Members of the CyclePhilly team.

Putting the data to work

Working closely with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), Acri got the right data and started building an app for city planners and cyclists. Their goal: making a more bike friendly Philadelphia.

“This is the best possible data set for us to use,” says Greg Krykewycz, a planner with DVRPC. “We’re particularly interested in the bike to transit connection.”

While there are similar apps that help cyclists track their routes, Corey and his government partners found that they were too feature-rich or clunky for a project like this.  The team focused on building an app that would load quickly and provide a map of the cyclists’ journeys.

Available in both iOS and Android, the app records routedata and aggregates it with data from other riders. That information provides planners like Greg Krykewycz with a detailed map of Philadelphia’s most popular bike routes.  

Krykewycz will share the data analysis with DVRPC’s regional partners—the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, SEPTA and the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities—to promote data ­driven bike infrastructure planning throughout Philadelphia and its suburbs.

So far, CyclePhilly has recorded 17,000 trips and The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) has cleaned, analyzed and shared 8,340 trips of 220 unique users with various planning agencies.

The app was also the winner of the first GovTech Awards during the Code for America Summit last October.  You can see all of the trip data for yourself on the DVRP website.

“If just one bike route gets a new paint job as a result, we've accomplished what we set out to do. In the meantime, I figured out that what I value most is motivating others to do great things, and, hopefully, this will be great,” said Acri.

The app has been redeployed to both Knoxville, TN  and  Dusseldorf, Germany.