Transportation Techies: Piecing together data to improve biking in D.C.

This article was originally published by Mobility Lab.

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Spring has arrived early this year on the East Coast, so it is already time to break out the bike, if it ever went away during the winter.

And this month’s installment of the Mobility Lab-sponsored Transportation Techies group – Bike Hack Night V – was well timed to benefit from both the nice weather, as well as advocates in town for the National Bike Summit. The event took place on the WeWork’s Wonder Bread Factory terrace in Washington, D.C., where presenters shared new tools for the area’s cyclists and advocates.

A more seamless bike-valet experience

Jonathan Weidman, of Two Wheel Valet, debuted a new bike-valet management platform that he will pilot in Tampa Bay in the next few weeks.

The platform will streamline a slow and cumbersome check-in process that often occurs at bike valets, particularly when large groups arrive at the same time. While most systems use tickets or tags to match bikes to their owners, and require customers to clumsily fill out their information on a clipboard, Two Wheel Valet’s new platform digitizes the process. It creates a unique ID that matches a seat cover valets place on the bike, then automatically texts the claim number to the customer.

By performing the process over the phone, valets can check in bikes quickly and securely by eliminating the chance to lose claim tickets and have strangers find them. The platform is also useful to event organizers – who are usually the ones paying for the valet – by providing a full inventory of bikes at the event. In turn, the organizers could use the numbers to increase valet spots for events in the future, encouraging more attendees to ride in without worrying about parking or where to keep their gear.

This platform should prove important for bike-valet companies, helping them solidify themselves as bicycle advocates by more efficiently serving bicyclists and major events.

Patching together a D.C.-area bike ride

Chris Slatt presented his regional Frankenmap, the result of a frustrating discontinuity among area jurisdictions’ bike maps. Slatt pieced together several jurisdictions’ PDF maps with open GIS data from the missing D.C.-area counties to create one consistent map that unifies the entire area. While the result is admittedly messy, the end product highlights many disconnects bicyclists face when trying to navigate across county and state lines.

Having created one map, Slatt felt inspired to try out a heat (or perhaps ice?) map for Freezing Saddles, a Washington, D.C.-area group that uses data from Strava in a competition to keep people biking through the winter. The map highlights the most-used routes participants and their teams took over the course of the competition, and also reveals dangerous routes and gaps in the infrastructure network, where no one has ridden.

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Arlington is interested in knowing more about these kinds of route preferences, said Slatt in a sneak peak of the latest project he is working on for the county: Ideal Arlington. The county has been working on a stress map to inform residents interested in riding which routes are more pleasant than others. The map will ultimately come from official evaluations of traffic counts, lane widths, and other road metrics, and will include input from local commuters, who will be allowed to draw  their  low-stress routes onto a map that will help cyclists find the  best way through Arlington .

Making bicycle riding safer through big data

Keeping with mapping, Amir Farhangi and Matt Triner, of District Ninja, introduced their data visualization of bicycle safety in D.C., following the duo’s goal to bridge the gap between open source and openly available data.

Their primary dataset consisted of more than five million complaint records gathered as part of DC’s Vision Zero plan, each with latitude and longitude for their locations. Farhangi and Triner merged this information with neighborhood geographic data in order to provide a clear picture of where bicycling incidents occur.

Providing a visualization of this data can give people on bikes an idea of problem areas to avoid, but also show where the community is most engaged – and where some more outreach might be necessary, such as Wards 7 and 8, which only have three and zero bicycle-related complaints, respectively.

As the District begins to implement its Vision Zero plan, this crowdsourced information should prove crucial to better decision-making as future infrastructure is built and new policies enacted.

Projecting future bike ridership in Arlington

Looking into Arlington’s own future, Brian Frickert demonstrated his biking data project, which forecasts bike-infrastructure usage across the county. Frickert created a list of the county’s bike lanes and trails that have sensors counting cyclists.

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Frickert’s site provides usage numbers while adjusting for overall, seasonal, and residual trends, as well as errors, like an apparent mass exodus from Arlington in December 2012. Taking these factors into account, the site is able to predict trail usage at least a year into the future. So far, the site’s forecasted trends have been pretty close to actual usage on Arlington’s trails, and with even more data points, this will continue to improve in accuracy, and potentially help the county plan future connections around these routes.

Also: Accessible, understandable bike laws and rocking out

DC Decoded is the ultimate result of Tom MacWright trying to make bicycle laws more accessible to the public after his own frustrating run-in with bike lane-blockers.

Fitting to the recent spring-like weather, Matt Fowle shared his bicycle sound system, which has evolved from a precarious shelving unit mounted to his rack and 25 volt batteries hanging between his legs, to two Micca self-powered speakers, run with a Chromecast Audio and Raspberry Pi.

Photo: Matt Fowle presents his bicycle sound system (M.V. Jantzen, Flickr). See more photos here.

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