WeCycle app aims to provide planners with useful cycling data - for free

New app aims to perform biggest ever cycling survey to help planners build better cycling infrastructure

by John Stevenson   August 19, 2014  

WeCycle.png

In what's being claimed as the biggest ever cycling survey, London-based software company TravelAI has released an app that will track the routes cyclists use in order to provide data for authorities planning to build cycling facilities.

The iPhone app, WeCycle, aggregates the routes taken by all its users into a "community canvas" that its makers hope will inform the construction of new bike lanes and paths. An Android version is currently in beta testing.

Unlike Strava, which recently announced it planned to sell the aggregated data from millions of bike rides to planning authorities, the data from WeCycle will be given away, as long as planners promise to act on it.

Andreas Zachariah, CEO of app maker TravelAI, told us that at a recent Future Cities project he'd uncovered a universal lack of data around walking and cycling. He said: "We will give the aggregated, anonymised data to [planning authorities] for free of charge in return for pledges to act upon."

Zachariah and TravelAI's belief is that transport authorities don't know where people ride, and are therefore going to struggle to know how to spend the money that's been allocated to providing cycling facilities.

He believes data from people actually riding is better than the alternatives.

He said: "What we want to avoid is transport planners deciding where cycle routes should be based on traffic counts from fixed automatic traffic counters or people standing at corners with clickers. It might explain some of the terrible routing, but sucks when so much money and goodwill is being (mis)spent."

Two objections raised when Strava announced that it was aiming to provide data to transport planners are that the data only reflects a certain demographic and only tells you where people are already riding, not where they would ride if better facilities existed.

As one wag in the road.cc office put it: "The results will be skewed by all those iPhone users going to their local independent coffee shop."

The planned Android version should deal with that, and Zachariah is sure the data will be useful to planners.

"Whether they are avoiding popular routes, joining the fracas or hostages to road diversions - we’re interested," he said.

"There are people far more qualified than us to extract these insights and devise the appropriate strategy to bring about desired outcomes. But our firm belief is that without the data in the first place, these transport planners are hampered in their quest to be effective."

Zachariah says he realises one of the problems is that UK commuter cyclists tend to be sporty males aged 20-50, a far cry from the spread of ages and equality of gender seen among riders in countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands.

"We worked with the European Space Agency for over a year out of the Netherlands and saw first hand how right the Dutch have it," he told us. "It's a continued source of inspiration and their amazing levels of participation across all classes and ages is just one of the pillars to their success."

"We recognise there is going to be a bias so we ask [WeCycle users] to volunteer some demographic info. But we’ve gone to considerable lengths to make the appeal broader and consequently suspect that our data will contrast itself against that collected by other sporting/cycling apps."

"We hope cyclists who might otherwise not feel compelled to install a cycling app and remember to start and stop it each time, will appreciate how effortless we make gathering cycling and commuting behaviours."

WeCycle is  available for iPhone, from the iTunes store, but an Android version is in development.

As well as aggregating travel data, WeCycle provides you with a diary of your travel, and automatically detects how you're getting around. In that regard, it's a showcase for TravelAI's main product, a set of developer tools for travel apps that can tell whether you're walking, riding, on the train or sitting on the sofa.

It's always on, but uses some clever algorithms so it doesn't hammer your battery, TravelAI says.

It's not a substitute for GPS-based ride logging apps such as Strava, but rather aims to provide a bit of useful information for you in return for you leaving it on so it can contribute your travel data to the general pool.

As reviewer pedro-o-o on iTunes puts it: "It works, which is quite magical - I'm still trying to figure out how it knows whether I'm on a train or tube or whatever. However, it can't tell the difference between car and bike yet (you have to set that in settings). When they sort that out, it'll be a solid 5*."

16 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

TravelAI's belief is that transport authorities don't know where people ride

My belief is that that's because they don't particularly care. Sad

TFL knew a lot of cyclists cycled through Kings Cross, they counted every cyclist as a fraction of a vehicle and told the road designers to ignore them. They narrowly avoided corporate manslaughter charges because of a loophole in the law.

We won't get anywhere until the planners recognise that traffic-smoothing = more traffic and less cyclists.

posted by kie7077 [564 posts]
19th August 2014 - 18:23

28 Likes

I gather that this has no financial strings attached?

but-how-much-does-it-cost-.png

posted by truffy [513 posts]
19th August 2014 - 19:23

25 Likes

How about use Heatmaps from Strava? No need for another tracking app.

posted by pmichalski.cc [1 posts]
19th August 2014 - 19:30

18 Likes

Better still..... Get the planners on to bikes and make them ride on the roads they're planning. They'll soon get the idea, first hand. The survivers can then design a proper road infrastructure that's truly inclusive; and not just for cyclists either.

Endorphines going up and adrenaline going down, who needs drugs?

posted by banzicyclist2 [263 posts]
19th August 2014 - 19:35

31 Likes

Only works if a person has the app and has a Iphone so rather pointless.

Strava is not much better either as a way to do cycle roots. Can't councils and planners just use there heads Confused

posted by Binky [115 posts]
19th August 2014 - 20:32

13 Likes

In other news the US may be about to make a massive difference to the safety of its roads and their users:

"In a separate development on Monday, the White House said it wanted all cars and light trucks to be equipped with technology that could prevent collisions."

From a BBC article on Johnny cabs.

This would save more lives than a few cans of blue paint.

But why only light trucks?

posted by Initialised [191 posts]
19th August 2014 - 23:00

14 Likes

Initialised wrote:
But why only light trucks?

They don't want to target dark trucks for fear of inflaming the protests in Ferguson.

posted by truffy [513 posts]
20th August 2014 - 6:12

18 Likes

Problem is, this will be discussed here but people who use their bikes to pop down the shops for a pint of milk won't hear about it, won't download the app and their route won't be recordd or even considered. On the other hand "lycra louts", mamils and freds will skew the results away from utility cycling, where decent facilities could have the greatest effect. Worried

posted by spen [93 posts]
20th August 2014 - 7:04

9 Likes

"the data from WeCycle will be given away, as long as planners promise to act on it."

Planners promise all kinds of things in the realm of cycle facilities, without any real intention to keep any promises, so that's easy: the planners can just promise the moon. Solved.

Nothing will get built though.

posted by severs1966 [109 posts]
20th August 2014 - 7:34

5 Likes

Someone in Bristol has come up with a much more versatile open source tool, which lets users annotate a map with routes they use, routes they'd like to see, comments on bad road design, and more: https://bristolstreets.co.uk/

How about rolling this out to more areas so cyclists can actually say what they want, instead of having to vote with their wheels?

posted by Mr Agreeable [151 posts]
20th August 2014 - 9:08

6 Likes

Isn't there a danger the data will be misinterpreted, like the naive initial take on damage to surviving WW2 aircraft*?

i.e. what you should take away from this "where people ride" data is *where people don't ride* and therefore the places most in need of Space for Cycling.

* "[Abraham] Wald applied his statistical skills in World War II to the problem of bomber losses to enemy fire. A study had been made of the damage to returning aircraft and it had been proposed that armor be added to those areas that showed the most damage. Wald's unique insight was that the holes from flak and bullets on the bombers that did return represented the areas where they were able to take damage. The data showed that there were similar patches on each returning bomber where there was no damage from enemy fire, leading Wald to conclude that these patches were the weak spots that led to the loss of a plane if hit, and that must be reinforced.[4][5] This is still considered today seminal work in the then-fledgling discipline of operational research."

-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Wald

Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

t1mmyb's picture

posted by t1mmyb [87 posts]
20th August 2014 - 9:25

7 Likes

Using just the heatmaps wouldn't be that great of an idea, they'd need individual data.

Eg it may look like a road is really popular, but it could be that the same person rides it 4 times a day, 5 days a week.

posted by n8udd [17 posts]
20th August 2014 - 9:26

7 Likes

We don't need this App or any of the others that have gone before it, we already have the answer.

https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3698/12906206594_3ab3839c14_c.jpg

Sometimes the simplest answer is the best. Big Grin

Edit:
Note to planners. We want to go everywhere that it is possible to go, your job is to make it so.

posted by levermonkey [395 posts]
23rd August 2014 - 6:28

21 Likes

There's lots of reasons we can all speculate as to why this might not work or isn't perfect... but that's not a reason not to use it. Use Strava, use this, write to your local council, sign petitions, support Sustrans, and most of all just keep cycling everywhere.

The biggest incentive planners have is surely seeing and hearing about lots more cyclists, young, old, male, female, in lycra, in jeans, in skirts, in suits, everywhere, all the time (See lever monkey's picture).

(Same goes for getting bikes on trains, it's a pain in the a**e but the more customers wanting to do it, the more likely it will be considered by the operators when planning)

Just keep on pedalling!

posted by dazman22 [8 posts]
23rd August 2014 - 8:02

0 Likes

All these ride gathering apps, be they Strava or something else all have one fatal flaw. Most people now have a phone capable of running apps like this.

They rely on the person riding the bike being arsed though. A lot I see riding to work don't have oiled chains or enough air in the tyres. How are you going to get them logging their miles?

Also, it's not about where people ride now, it's about where people want to go. There won't be people riding there if it's completely impossible.

You don't decide where to build a bridge by seeing where people swim across rivers.

posted by gazza_d [266 posts]
23rd August 2014 - 8:57

3 Likes

So many flaws. I deliberately route my daily rides away from heavily trafficed roads and roads with >40mph speedlimits, because surveys tell us >20-45% of drivers are texting, taking selfies, or on Facebook while they drive. I don't have an iPhone, I have an Android, I don't use App.s. I use a GPS for my routes.
I'm certain there are many more reasons why this el-cheapo 'solution' will give a misleading dataset.

posted by Recumbenteer [153 posts]
24th August 2014 - 11:52

1 Like