The number of Americans switching from cars to bikes for their commute of choice is increasing at a rapid rate—up 62% between 2000 and 2013, according to U.S. Census data—and is challenging cities to develop solutions that can address the safety and convenience needs for this new set of commuters. Cyclists in San Francisco and the Netherlands have famously demonstrated the need for separate infrastructure and rules, causing large traffic jams as a form of protest. However, developing bike infrastructure can be prohibitively expensive for cities burdened by transportation department regulations, and as some cities have experienced, reducing lanes in order to allocate more space for bikers can be extremely unpopular among citizens.
In recent years, new, more cost-effective and data-based approaches to planning and managing bike infrastructure have emerged. Cities like New York and Chicago are proving that improved data collection has the ability to inform where and how cities can strategically develop bike lanes (based on the number and location of bikers at any given time during the day) and also better enable cyclists to pass through not so bike-friendly areas through better integration with public transportation.
Motivate, formerly Alta Bicycle Share, is a for-profit organization based out of New York City that manages bike-share systems in New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The company has struggled financially in recent years, and in its (so far successful) attempt to turn itself around, Motivate has developed a technology-based approach to engaging with members. This involves pulling together information on road and air conditions, public transportation schedules to optimize internal operations and development, and trip planning for members that includes other forms of public transport.
In Portland, Oregon, Open Bike Initiative and Knock Software have also recognized the need for improving open access to data in order to support bike travel. Knock Software is currently developing two projects to support the city’s efforts to be more bike friendly. The first is a low-cost sensor network that monitors and analyzes bicycle traffic and car traffic trends to provide planning insights for the city. The second uses this same data, paired with other sources such as weather data and road conditions, to help bikers plan and optimize their travel via an app called Ride. Similar to Google’s Waze for drivers, Ride provides information on routes and weather and allows members to give feedback on their commute.
Technology-based approaches have the benefit of improving safety and convenience and can result in much more strategic—and less expensive—transportation planning for cities. While cities like Portland, San Francisco, and New York have been open and supportive of their cycling populations, other cities where bike commuting is still just emerging have not quite figured out how to support this demographic in a low-cost manner—and something as simple as a smartphone app could be an easy first step.