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Using Smartphones to Collect Bicycle Travel Data in Texas

Posted by Content Coordinator on Friday, August 24th, 2012



As agencies look for ways to gather critical data surrounding bicycling, they often seek inexpensive and efficient means to understand where people are riding so that limited dollars are spent wisely. Smartphones, which many adults carry, are one way to collect bicycle route data. For this project, researchers evaluated a smartphone application developed by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA). Called CycleTracks, the application is available on both iPhones and Android-based smartphones. Using Austin as the case study, researchers collected bicycle route data during a six month period between May 1 and October 31, 2011. Over 3,600 routes were recorded in Austin and stored on the SFCTA servers. Researchers retrieved the global positioning system (GPS) location data from the servers, cleaned the data, entered missing links into the street network, and tested several methods of mapping the data. An important feature of the application is the ability to gather information about the bicyclist and the purpose of the trip. Participants were asked but not required to enter demographic information when downloading the application. About 300 bicyclists provided their age, gender, bicycling frequency, home zip code, work zip code, and school zip code. Following a trip, users were given the opportunity to define the purpose of the bicycle trip. The collected dataset provided a rich set of bicyclist and route attributes useful for identifying route choice decisions.

About 300 bicyclists provided their age, gender, bicycling frequency, home zip code, work zip code, and school zip code. A very high percentage (83 percent) of these participants indicated that they bicycle at least several times per week. Most participants live and work in the central area of Austin. Seventy percent of the participants were male and 30 percent were female. The highest percentage of participants was 20-29 years old. The majority of participants rode a bicycle at least several times per week and 70 percent were male. Many defined the purpose of the bicycle trip: 85 percent of the trips were for the purpose of transportation vs. recreation.

Using algorithms within ArcGIS, researchers were able to match almost 90 percent of the bicycle routes. The collected dataset provided a rich set of bicyclist and route attributes useful for identifying route choice decisions. Despite the manageable challenges of the data cleaning, network completion, and map-matching process, the amount of information provided by the use of CycleTracks far exceeds what would be available using other data collection methods.

This report summarizes the many processes employed as part of this study, from marketing to data analysis. Detailed descriptions about using ArcGIS and other methods are included along with advantages and disadvantages of the various approaches. Recommendations are provided for communities looking to utilize smartphone applications for data collection. Descriptions of the participants and an understanding of who is riding where can answer key questions for a region considering an investment in bicycling infrastructure, education, and encouragement. It is the hope of the researchers that communities will utilize the information provided here to expand the discussion and implement programs for furthering bicycle accommodations and safety. Having data to guide the development and evaluation of programs and projects is a critical step in understanding the successes and opportunities. The smartphone is a useful data collection tool that should be considered when deliberating inexpensive ways to gather critical information.

Figure 1. Smartphone Ownership within Demographic Groups

Read Full report (PDF) here: Using Smartphones to Collect Bicycle Travel Data in Texas

About Texas Transportation Institute
“The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), a member of The Texas A&M University System, seeks solutions to the problems and challenges facing all modes of transportation. TTI, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2010, works on over 600 research projects with over 200 sponsors annually at all levels of government and the private sector. TTI is recognized as one of the finest higher education-affiliated trans­portation research agencies in the nation and helps prepare students for transportation careers.”

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