In mid-April, Portland’s Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) announced two data-driven projects to make cycling in Portland safer. The city will use data purchased from Ride Report, a Portland-based startup, to improve cycling infrastructure. PBOT also plans to install smart safety sensors on three streets in the city that are considered most dangerous to cyclists.
The project will give planners access to new insights on the travel patterns of bikes using the data gathered from thousands of cyclists across Portland by Ride Report and through the sensors.
Portland is hardly new to developing and promoting cycling infrastructure. For over a decade now, the city has worked to develop infrastructure to support cyclists, including making four of the city’s main bridges bicycle-friendly: Broadway, Steel, Burnside, and Hawthorne. According to PBOT, bicycle use has increased by 322 percent on these bridges since 1991.
Each summer, the Bureau of Transportation works with volunteers to do a manual bike count of people at 250 sites across the city. According to Portland’s Bicycle Plan 2030, more than 25 percent of all trips should be made by bicycle in the city by 2030.
While smart city projects have been gaining traction in cities for public transit and for cars, few cities have put infrastructure in place to create “smart cycling” infrastructure.
The smart sensor project – which will cost a little over $1 million and will include 200 sensors installed on light polls in three corridors that have a high crash rate – will relieve the city of the need to rely exclusively on volunteers to count the number of cyclists. The sensors, which can identify and sort people, cars, and bikes, will simultaneously monitor street crossings, pedestrian crossing habits, and the speed of different vehicles.
The feedback from the sensors can provide planners with data on where people actually cross the street as opposed to where they ought to, and potentially encourage them to introduce crosswalks where needed.
By pairing the data from the sensors with data from Ride Report, which includes crowd-sourced, qualitative data from cyclists on their individual trips and feedback how comfortable or safe they felt on each trip, the city can identify streets that need additional cycling infrastructure. According to Ride Report co-founder William Henderson, the data from Ride Report will also help policy-makers see the difference between how streets perform on and off peak hours. “We’ve seen facilities that are really good during off peak hours, and degrade during rush hour,” says Henderson.
Cycling initiatives in Portland have worked to extend to different communities as well. Last year, Portland got an inclusive bike-share program “Adaptive Biketown.” The program invites people with physical disabilities and mobility challenges to join the cyclist community in their parade of equality.
While efforts to improve cycling infrastructure in Portland are commendable, the city has been met with some criticism for what many perceive as its blind adoption of IoT. One PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee member Tweeted about the “unforeseen threats and abuses enabled on by IoT” in response to the city’s smart city tact.
Among my concerns w @tedwheeler corporatist push toward 'Smart City Portland'? The "unforeseen threats and abuses" enabled by IoT (Internet of Things): marketing, data-mining, profiling, cyber attacks (and things we've not imagined)
These agendas never serve people over profits. https://t.co/CDaTT8FlfI
— wealth ain't created @ the top it's devoured there (@sarahforpdx) April 18, 2018
Ride Report: Making Cycling Smarter
Co-founded by Portlanders and cycling enthusiasts William Henderson and Evan Heidtmann in 2016, Ride Report is a Smartphone app that runs in the background when users download it, automatically logging cycling trips. Ride Report detects transportation mode automatically and can infer whether riders are running errands, making short commutes, or fitness.
After the trip is over, users rate the trip, allowing algorithms to then show how riders felt while commuting on the different routes.
According to Ride Report’s White Paper, most trips made by cyclists in Portland are under two miles (3.2 kilometers). Since its launch two years ago, Ride Report has logged 400,000 bike trips over 1.2 million miles (1.9 million kilometers). Every trip taken by a user inputs data to the city’s Bike Stress Map – also called a Comfort Map. The map shows the best and worst routes to take on two wheels, according to real-life data from users.
Ride Report has partnerships with Atlanta, Austin, Beaverton, Portland, Oakland, and Raleigh.