Many cyclists, whether enthusiasts, or just commuters, may be familiar with the app Strava. Strava can track your ride, record your fastest sections and even let loved ones know where you are and if something goes wrong.
But what they might not know is that Strava is using all of the data collected on our individual rides to help cities, urban planners and bike activists improve safety and transportation in their own communities with Strava Metro.
To get an idea of how Strava Metro collects data, and provides insights to communities, we spoke with Haynes Bunn, senior customer success spatial engineer for Strava Metro
Around on Bikes: People might be familiar with Strava. but what does Strava Metro do?
Haynes Bunn: Strava Metro is the largest active transportation data set on the planet, the Strava Metro data is made up of Strava’s 76 million athletes who have completed more than 4 billion activities on Strava.
We aggregate and de-identify those public activities into a mobility insights platform where we give planners, departments of transportation, their researchers, engineering firms and local advocacy groups free access to those insights which helps them enable smarter urban planning and infrastructure decisions.
AOB: What has the reaction been and do you have examples of cities using the information you provide?
HB: Very generally we are seeing groups who are having to make quick decisions about where to put more bike lanes, or open up space for people to bike and run. During 2020 there was demand from folks to have space to bike, to walk, to run, in a socially distant manner through their cities. So they were needing to make these decisions pretty quickly like, where do we need to put in these bike lanes? Where can we open up the streets to have the most impact?
The Strava Metro data allows them to see movement throughout their entire city. They can really get a sense of how people are moving through their cities on bikes and through other human powered active transportation modes.
Planners can see where the most direct or shortest routes might diverge from the most popular route. That’s often an indication of people on bikes looking for safer routes. Are they avoiding obstacles? It really gives a sense of where they need to dive into making this infrastructure even better.
If a bike lane was put in a couple weeks ago, they can start to look at what the impact was. How many people are using it? What does the usage pattern look like? Is it more used in the morning or in the evening? What is the most popular day for it to be used? They can also compare historic data.
There are a lot of ways like that where they are able to monitor usage, implement changes, see what the change has done for the community and then make further changes from there. The ultimate goal with Strava Metro is to make human powered transportation safe, accessible and efficient for everyone.
AOB: After this year, has there been a real noticeable change in uptick in the number of commuters? Multimodal transport?
HB: There are a couple of different ways we are able to look at this. Across the board active transportation and specifically biking has greatly increased since the pandemic began. Globally women took 78 percent more bicycle trips in 2020 than they did in 2019. And that’s compared to a 38-percent year-over-year increase for men.
Not only have those trips increased, but where and how people are getting around their cities has changed as well. Many more people are commuting more than they did last year, but millions of Americans have been working from home during this time, so it’s an indication that people may be committing other types of trips that they previously may have been taking in other forms of transportation. They’re running errands; they’re going to the grocery store; they are picking up lunch by biking and walking.
AOB: How does a municipality use the data? Do they need to know how to process geographic information systems (GIS) data?
HB: Metro started six or so years ago when a couple departments of transportation reached out to Strava and asked if Strava could help provide some quantitative data for them as they were putting together some bicycle and pedestrian plans. Some engineers at Strava worked with them to understand what it was they needed and what kind of data set we could provide, so that it would be most impactful for them.
The original Strava Metro product was as you mentioned a GIS data delivery, but it not only required time and resources to build and deliver those data sets on our side, but it definitely required time, resources and technical expertise on the part of the partners to work with the data and get the insights they needed.
So at the end of 2019 we launched what we call the Metroview platform because we realized we needed to do a few things: we needed to make the insights quicker to access, but we also wanted to make it so folks with a whole range of skill sets could access the data and get the insights they needed.
So at the end of 2019 we launched that Metroview platform. Strava does the heavy lifting, the calculations, and provides that upfront so the insights can be found within a matter of seconds.
AOB: If someone is an urban planner, wants access to this, how do they go about getting it and do they need to be a certain size?
HB: If a city planner wants access we have an application page on our website where we ask them to give us a little bit of information about their organization. There is no limit to the size. Any place that folks are biking or walking and they are tracking their activities on Strava we can provide those insights on the Metroview platform.
As we moved through 2020 and the pandemic was becoming more clear, it also became more clear to us that cost was a remaining barrier to achieving greater accessibility to these insights, so we made Strava Metro free.
Democratizing that data, especially during the pandemic when so many of these groups were looking for insights to help improve their communities, it was absolutely critical for us to remove that last barrier.
We wanted to make sure that these insights could make it into the hands of those folks who shared our missions and were making those infrastructure decisions.