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Can An App Make Your Morning Commute Less Stressful?


A Portland-tested app called Ride Report wants to make your morning bike ride more chill.

According to Streetsblog:

“Ride Report has completed its Portland beta and is now open for use throughout the United States.

Ride Report, currently available for iPhone only (Android coming soon), runs in the background. The app knows when riders are riding their bikes, and tracks these trips. After each trip it prompts a short one-question survey: was the last trip ‘stressful’ or ‘chill’? The app aggregates survey data to form a crowdsourced bicycling map showing which routes cyclists rate best and worst.”

The idea behind this app is that it would allow regular cyclists to build up, over time, a thorough report of which streets are best for cyclists at what times of day. While it wouldn’t necessarily give you up-to-the-minute traffic reports, it could give you a better idea of the best ways to get around your city on any given day.

Ride Report is by no means the only app that can help you make your morning bicycle ride into work a little bit less stressful, though.

Strava is another app that could help cyclists understand the best routes for them by showing users where other cyclists and pedestrians are choosing to travel throughout their city. Originally designed to let fitness buffs track and share their exercise data with friends, the company has released heat maps of its users movements that shows where cyclists are traveling most often.

Streetsblog says, “The maps could help planners see heavily-cycled routes that are in need of infrastructure or note the streets that cyclists tend to avoid. The baseline data Strava provides would be littered with caveats and disclaimers, but it’s still more than we knew before, and presented in a compelling visual, zoomable to the finest-grain detail.”

And in San Francisco specifically, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority released a program called CycleTracks to track data from cyclists and use it to make better decisions about city planning.

“CycleTracks uses smartphone GPS support to record users’ bicycle trip routes and times, and display maps of their rides, in order to help transportation planners make informed decisions about bicycle use in the community. At the end of each trip, data representing the trip purpose, route, and the date and time are sent to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) for analysis,” says the CycleTracks website.

In addition to learning how cyclists would likely interact with changes like increased numbers of bike lanes and cyclist facilities along popular routes, CycleTracks help San Francisco learn:

  • Roads with bike lanes feel half as far, even for frequent cyclists.  In other words, frequent cyclists would equally choose a one-mile route that had bike lanes the whole way and a two mile route that did not.
  • Infrequent cyclists prefer bike lanes approximately twice as much as frequent cyclists.
  • Cyclists who aren’t commuting are willing to bike out of there way one mile for every 100 feet of hill rise. The several hundred feet of hills avoided by taking “The Wiggle” feel like you’ve saved miles.
  • Commuters are more than three times as likely to go out of their way to avoid hills.
  • Bike route or sharrows have a marginal impact on the perception of one’s bike route. Cyclists are willing to go out of their way by almost 10 percent in order to use them, but infrequent cyclists don’t prefer them more in any statistically significant way.

Of course, these apps aren’t perfect. The data reported by riders is somewhat restricted, since they all require that the rider have a smartphone and be interested in running an app that is regularly reporting their data to a company.

Streetsblog explains:

“These apps are still in their early stages; none are perfect. They, of course, only track the trips of people who are well enough off to own a smartphone, hence low income riders and low income neighborhoods are very likely underrepresented in their data. Andersen mentions that during the past week Ride Report ‘accounted for 7% of my battery power.’”

So can an app help you reduce the friction of your daily ride into work through the streets of San Francisco? For certain riders, the answer is a resounding yes. Knowing where other cyclists go, which routes are most friendly to cyclists, and how you can avoid danger while on your bike helps you to be a more informed and happier rider.

Of course, none of these apps is perfect and we are a long way from making our cities as bicycle-friendly as they need to be. However, maybe this is a start.