“This is the graphic that really excites city planners,” says Irene McAleese, one of the directors of Limeforge, a tech company based in Northern Ireland.
She’s gesturing at side-by-side maps on a PowerPoint slide. Both feature what look like scribbles but are, in fact, plots of cyclists traveling along two roads in different parts of central Manchester, England.
The slide is headlined “Evidence to show performance of cycling infrastructure,” and the plots comprise hundreds of blue and yellow lines representing real journeys made by sensor-equipped cyclists. On the left-hand map, the lines are jagged and confused – that’s a standard road with cyclists mixing with cars, busses and darting pedestrians. The plots on the right-hand map are bold, straight, and uniform – that’s a road with a curb-protected cycleway.
“You can see where the end of the [cycleway] finishes on Oxford Road,” says Irene. “The speed [of the cyclists] drops, there’s less directionality as cyclists are now probably weaving around pedestrians, avoiding car doors and the like.”
For planners attending her presentation, it’s a vivid demonstration of the benefits of protected cycleways. The cyclists travel straighter and, with less to worry about in front of them, faster.
The blue and yellow trajectory plots are similar to real-time automobile journeys that Google-owned crowd-based navigation app Waze provides to cities via its Connected Citizens Program. It’s now relatively common for cities to suck in data supplied from millions of car journeys, and this is informing planning decisions. It’s not yet common for cities to suck in data from bicycle journeys.
This data disparity is a significant disadvantage for clean, sustainable bicycling. Without data, it’s easy for planners to neglect cycling.
If bicycle journeys could be plotted in the same way as car journeys, thought investment banker Philip McAleese, this data would be useful information for urban planning. Along with his wife he created a tech company that put sensors on bikes, sensors that would not just plot journeys but also measure road roughness so city planners would know where smoother asphalt is needed or where potholes are forming.
Potholes cost municipalities millions of dollars in claims from injured cyclists and through damage caused to motor vehicles. But it’s even more expensive to monitor city streets for the formation of potholes. Few cities have access to specialist pothole-spotting measurement vehicles. Most rely on visual inspections that are sporadic and, to do comprehensively, costly. However, early identification of potholes can significantly reduce municipal repair and legal bills.
As their lives can often depend on it, cyclists are expert pothole spotters, and cities which harness this skill could significantly reduce their repair and legal claims bills, making Limeforge’s rolling sensors potentially very useful. Kinks in Limeforge’s plots are where cyclists make faceplant-averting detours, pinpointing where potholes have already formed.
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