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March 05, 2012

Regional planners to launch bike-tracking application

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, March 5, 2012

Cyclists who own iPhones or Android phones will have the opportunity this spring to help the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission collect data to help plan the next generation of bike infrastructure.
Screenshot1The TJPDC is hoping to have as many cyclists as possible download C-Ville Bike mApp to make sense of how people use their bike.

The C-Ville Bike mApp project will use the global positioning satellite system to keep track of where participating riders have traveled. When trips are completed, users will be asked to upload them to a server and the results will be mapped.
“This can be really powerful data for us to show decision-makers and funders about how we need to be improving the bike network,” said Sarah Rhodes, transportation planner for the TJPDC.
The organization is currently updating its long-range transportation plan. The application is one tool that will help determine where limited transportation money could be most effective.
“The funds for cycling are really limited and they’re only going to get worse,” Rhodes said.
“When we get a lot of information, we’ll be able to track hazards, space where we need more signage, and where we need more dedicated bike routes,” said Russell “Mac” Lafferty, an Albemarle County planning commissioner and bike activist.
The program will go live for one month from mid-April to mid-May, allowing planners to see trends. For instance, the last week of the program will capture data as University of Virginia students begin to leave Charlottesville. Will that affect the overall picture of how the community uses bikes?
“We will start to see patterns and see how the network is used,” Rhodes said.
The data will be collected anonymously and no trip will be identified with an individual.
The idea has been adapted from other communities, such as San Francisco, that have used the software.
Rhodes presented the project last week to cyclists and bike store owners to get their feedback.
Shawn Tevendale, owner of Blue Ridge Cyclery, welcomed the new tool but said he is concerned the software may not give a complete picture.
“This is not going to capture people who live in Crozet and want to bike to Charlottesville but can’t because they feel it isn’t safe,” Tevendale said.
Tevendale asked if there could be an option in the software for people to specify they were taking a car trip, but would prefer to be biking.
Earlysville Road at 7 a.m. is not a good place to have a bicycle,” Tevendale said. “If I had the option of saying I wish I had a bike, that would be reflective not with what we have but what we need.”
The tool was customized from existing software by Jeff Shirley, who volunteered about six hours of his time for the effort.
“I was interested in improving the community’s bike infrastructure and I do a lot of riding myself for transportation and recreation,” Shirley said. “Being a programmer, this was one area I thought I could contribute my skills.”
Shirley said he would not be able to further customize the software in time for the mid-April launch date.
Rhodes said the project will not be the only way TJPDC hopes to obtain data about the network.
“It’s a puzzle piece of other initiatives we’re trying to do,” Rhodes said. “Gathering data that is bike and pedestrian specific is challenging. We’re going to try to find another method to capture data.”


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