New trip-tracking app seeks to help planners and advocates

This article was originally published by Mobility Lab.

man on bike, Kittner_20150915_8859 web

One of the major hurdles transportation planners face is data – incomplete sets and the often slow process of obtaining it. But a newly-released app is attempting to involve local stakeholders and fill in these gaps with a dynamic view of the rapidly changing landscape of multimodal transit.

Ride Report, which started through a partnership between developers and the city of Portland, Oregon, allows users to track their bike rides while also providing real-time, anonymous data to planning officials, helping them better determine how residents travel.

Ride Report is now fully functional in Portland and is available but still not optimized in the Washington, D.C., area. Ride Report is currently only available on iOS, but an Android version is “coming soon.”

According to Ride Reports’ cofounder, William Henderson, the app runs in a phone’s background, employing an algorithm that can detect various motion profiles and activate the device’s accelerometer to track the user’s movement, minimizing battery usage. This eliminates the need to activate the app for any activity, allowing Ride Report to collect a full profile of the user through a passive record of their movements. To conserve data usage, the app does not upload ride information to servers until the phone is plugged in and charging.

The app is meant to be useful to people interested in tracking their distances and routes. While the app focuses mainly on biking, it reports every type of movement, including running and driving, based on each mode’s unique movement profile. With enough information, the app can tailor routes to users’ needs based on their profiles.

Cyclists can track their rides and compare data with other users to find routes that best fit their needs and comfort levels. More cautious riders can seek low-stress streets while more daring people on bikes can take faster, more direct paths to where they want to go. After each ride, the app will ask users to rate their route’s stressfulness, ultimately customizing routes for other users and highlighting problem areas for planners. In Portland, this data currently feeds into an aggregated stress map of downtown bicycling routes.

Ride report app screenshots

On the back end, Ride Report’s data also provides “tools and inferences based on data” to planners to help them better address transportation issues among all modes. While Henderson concedes that, to them, this is “one data set among many” and should be used in context of others, he notes the real-time data set has been a “missing ingredient” in making planning dynamic and agile. As they develop the app, Ride Report hopes to measure users’ multimodality and to get a full understanding of their “transportation lifestyles,” allowing agencies to model and plan more effective ways for residents to get around cities.

The app builds a dashboard with aggregated data – which it automatically makes anonymous – from users’ movements. Ride Report’s data is combined with sources such as OpenStreetMap, weather, and crash and traffic reports to provide as complete a picture as possible for planners.

Because Ride Report works in the phone’s background, it captures every ride and trip. Having such a complete array of movements allows the app to auto-label different trips, like commutes and errands, as well as create what Henderson called “ride sheds” – how people are moving among different neighborhoods. This leaves a lot of room for Ride Report to provide inferences of various patterns in order to better inform planning agencies.

Though Henderson and his team did not originally develop the app for transportation demand management purposes, he adds that city planners are beginning to look at it in this light.

Analyzing users’ travel patterns with real-time data can help planners better react to changing patterns – from rush-hour traffic to lane-encroaching construction sites – and address them accordingly.

Henderson also said that agencies can use the data to test hypotheses of road-use and temporary infrastructure changes, such as how safe bike lanes feel during rush-hour or how cyclists’ routes change during peak hours. These analyses can depict the otherwise subjective experiences of bicyclists, helping justify projects that previously would otherwise be difficult to prove viable or necessary.

In addition to working with planning agencies, Ride Report works with advocacy groups to help promote community support for better transportation options, especially bicycling. Henderson explained that Ride Report is trying to structure its software license in a way that gives these groups access to data that can help them with campaigns and to hold governments accountable in improving infrastructure.

As it grows to more and more places, Ride Report will be able to provide vital contributions to the conversation of how people move around their communities. Users can use the information to improve their personal transportation experiences, while planners can draw from the data more efficient, dynamic ways to manage all of these movements.

Photo: A man rides a bike in Arlington County, Virginia (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab,


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