Using ride data to plan infrastructure improvements…

While we wait to see what Cardiff’s integrated network map will look like in 2017, we can at least look at how Cardiff’s cyclists are currently using the city at the moment.

GPS everywhere…

The last 5 years has seen an explosion in GPS devices, with most of the phones we are carrying and our cycle computers tracking our movements. As long as you don’t think too much about the privacy implications, this explosion of data can be used in a positive way.

The challenge of course is getting access to that data once it has been recorded. Providing that the app you use to track your rides is happy to make that data available, it can be used to observe areas of high activity and to see where the desire lines are.

Strava, for example has quite an extensive data set that it makes available in its Global Heatmap. However, Strava tends to attract a particular brand of cyclist, whom you could assume is comfortable riding in traffic, wants to get around quickly and push themselves a little.

That being said, even Strava users will often avoid particularly bad roads and junctions.

Strava alternatives

Of course, there are other ways to crowdsource cycling data for the benefit of urban planning. The San Francisco County Transit Authority developed their own app called Cycletracks and something similar was created for Philadelphia. Closer to home, there is the EU-backed TRACE project.

The project targets established measures to promote cycling and walking to the workplace, to school, for shopping purposes or simply for leisure. More particularly, TRACE will assess the potential of ICT based tracking services to optimise the planning and implementation of such measures and enhance their attractiveness and potential impact. Issues such as data privacy, cost, interoperability, financial/tax incentives, infrastructure planning and service concepts will be addressed.

Source: Overview
The aim of TRACE is to provide planners with open data and open-access tools to better plan for walking & cycling. However, unlike Strava, TRACE’s own tools are only being piloted in certain locations and Cardiff isn’t one of them. There’s nothing we can download right now and start generating data for the council, sadly. We can at least attempt to use Strava data to draw some conclusions. You can also join us on Strava if you would like to give it a try.

What can we learn from Strava’s heatmap for Cardiff?

What is a little surprising about the heatmap is just how popular Manor Way, Newport Road and the A48 through Ely are. The roads you would think would be unpopular with cyclists because of the volume and speed of traffic and how they contain little or no cycle infrastructure, are actually quite popular with cyclists on Strava.

Whilst it is true that you can travel as fast as you like on these routes, these are also the most direct routes to take if you actually need to be somewhere. These roads lead directly to the centre of Cardiff; they are the first to be gritted in winter and prioritised for Council improvements.

It is also true that the Taff Trail is glowing brightly on this heatmap, along with last year’s Velothon route. However, if you look beyond the bright, shiny lines over the main arterial routes, you can see the residential streets that are being used as quieter alternatives and shortcuts. We cyclists are a canny, resourceful bunch and will sniff out a good alternative route if it isn’t presented to us.

This could give the council some food for thought when it comes to designing their integrated network map. What we can take from this is that it would be foolish for Cardiff Council to disregard the desire lines of people already cycling. We want routes that are DIRECT and FAST, so that cycling can be the quickest, most effective option for getting to work or college.

We’re sure we have mentioned it before, but travelling from Tongwynlais to the centre of Cardiff via the Taff Trail can take close to 30 minutes, but taking Manor Way from the Coryton Interchange into town can be done in around 20 minutes, even in heavy traffic. It’s also a couple of miles shorter, but arguably a little scary for some. That part can be fixed, simply by re-allocating road space away from motor traffic.

3 thoughts on “Using ride data to plan infrastructure improvements…

Add yours

  1. Interesting stuff. Of course the big confounding factors are that it tends to be the keenest cyclists who have all the GPS gear and Strava accounts, whereas those using the Taff Trail are perhaps less likely to be recording their rides?

    I also imagine that recreational rides are over-represented. I’ll have my Garmin on when I go out at the weekend, but not on the daily commute…

    That said- its still a really useful source of data- thanks for sharing


  2. I doubt that one can learn anything useful from Strava because the people who are using GPS are keen road cyclists who will of course want fast direct routes; it’s not representative or useful data for anyone cycling for transport, and it’s not useful data for planning infrastructure improvements aimed at getting more people who aren’t keen amateur sporting/recreational cyclists to travel by bike.


  3. I use Newport road every day between St Mellons and Penarth rd as it is the only real way to get to where I need to be. The road surface is in a terrible state and the bus lanes even worse, pot holes and raised manhole covers litter this route also the daily “chat” with white van man and others is the norm. Can we get it clear that all I want to do is RIDE MY BIKE!! Get to work and contribute to the economy and enjoy the ride. And for every motorist that thinks they have the right to push me to the curb for a .3 of a second gain just remember I’ m a human and I do bleed. Please just overtake me with at least a 3 foot gap and I’m a happy and safe cyclist!


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