blog | 20.12.2017 |

Come on, get active! Encouraging cycling with Strava Metro data

Every year, the Urban Big Data Centre eagerly grasps the opportunity to take part in the ESRC Festival of Social Science.

We're always keen to get all kinds of people - such as data enthusiasts, local activists, urbanists and others - involved in the work we do here, to keep our research on big data for urban improvement relevant.

This year we ran an Active Travel Data Challenge, where we asked folks with skills and an interest to use the Strava Metro app data we provide to make tools to encourage more cycling. And we hosted an Active Travel Data Demo Day in November 2017 to show off the challenge finalists' entries, alongside a range of other interesting active travel data developments. We also hoped to get some useful insights from participants that we could pass on to cycling groups and urban planners to enhance their future developments. This blog is about the demo day, and the ideas we gathered are further down the page. You can also see Tweets about the day from a range of participants by searching the hashtag #ubdcdc.

UBDC Active Travel Data Challenge

The UBDC offers a range of data drawn from the Strava app, widely used by cyclists and other athletes around the world. These data collections are known as Strava Metro, and we have an arrangement with Strava to make this data freely available for use in research of all kinds within the UK. For more information on how you can get hold of it, and what work has already been done with it, visit our data catalogue.

For the ESRC Festival of Social Science this year, we decided to run a data challenge, where we asked people to use Strava Metro data to develop apps, tools, linked datasets or anything else they could think of to promote cycling. We said that tools developed could be of direct use to cyclists and communities, or they could help from the perspective of enabling transport planners and the like to make cycling easier for citizens.

Active Travel Data Demo Day

We had two excellent finalists out of this Challenge (see below for more), and we invited them to present their work for feedback, discussion, and, potentially, offers of further development of their work from the audience. This became the Active Travel Data Demo Day, held at Glasgow's Tontine Building in the Trongate, on the 9th November 2017.

With a range of other presentations and two break-out discussions, the event was a huge success, attracting around 40 participants from cycling activist groups Go Bike! and Critical Mass Glasgow; third sector organisations SustransCycling ScotlandCycling UK and Bike for Good; consultancies Plan for Bikes, mBd Associates, and PJJK; multinational planning firms Arup and Sweco; public bodies NestransScottish Government StatisticsTransport Scotland, the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, and Interface; and a number of universities, along with representatives from BBC Scotland, Strava and ESRC themselves.

Strava's Global Use Cases

Strava is a company with a strong commitment to using their app data for the public good, and they encourage the user communities that flourish around the use of their app to appreciate how sharing their ride (or run or walk) data can help planners the world over make sustainable and active travel better. Of course, it's also a business decision to keep the profile of their app to the forefront, but they do seem to have a genuine sense of corporate social responsibility.

Because of this ethos, we love working with Strava. We were fortunate to have Haynes Bunn from Strava's offices in the US visit for the Demo Day, despite the fact that she was walking (in a very fit manner) with a stookie (Scots for "cast") on her lower leg! While the remainder of the day was about local uses of Strava and other transport data, she treated us to some inspiring stories of other Strava use around the world. Download the presentation (PDF 12MB)

Data Challenge Finalists

Our Data Challenge finalists were awarded their certificates by representatives of the judging panel: Ken MacDonald of BBC Scotland, and Kirsty Grainger of ESRC. The audience received these ideas enthusiastically, and a number of positive suggestions for onward development into real live apps were given. The finalists were Bill Oates and Iain Paton.


Bill Oates: Strive City

Bill Oates' tool uses Strava Metro data along with our sister Centre the CDRC's area classification scheme. Its aim is to encourage individuals and local areas to improve their cycling activity, mapped against similar activity in other places. It could also assist with strategic planning and evaluation of new infrastructure and policy interventions.

Download the presentation (PDF 2.94MB)

Feedback from participants included:

  • They liked the concept of encouraging a competitive community spirit to get people cycling and engaging with their neighbours more.
  • There was a suggestion to think about incentivising schools to take part, offering awards, e.g. free bike tune-ups.
  • Bill would like to engage with Strava to re-do the output areas and discuss how to update the tool more frequently.


Iain Paton: Visualisation of Strava cycle usage data against collision data and existing infrastructure in Glasgow

Iain Paton's tool uses Strava Metro data along with STATS19 road incident data, cycle infrastructure data from OSM, and Council Ward boundary data for Glasgow, to provide cyclists with a way to immediately report incidents and barriers to cycling to their local Councillors. 

Download the presentation (PDF 11.9MB)

Feedback from participants included:

  • They liked the idea of being able to directly give 1-2-1 feedback to their City Councillors. Suggested in addition:
    • Other representatives to be an option, e.g. (in Scotland) MSPs, in some cases relevant Council departments (e.g. cleansing).
    • A 1-click system would encourage use – autogenerating an email to the selected person or people.
  • Generating templates and alerts would also be good.
  • Using the app to take a photo and send as part of the 1 or 2 click process.
  • Being able to see outcomes or what others are saying.
  • Iain would like to make it more scalable and available on a range of platforms.

Big Data in the Service of Cycling: Lightning Presentations

We were also treated to a number of lightning talks from a range of academic, activist and third sector presenters. With only 3-4 minutes each they whizzed through the highlights of their work in a dizzying array of exciting cutting-edge ideas:


George Macklon (Sustrans)

George introduced us to his work at the Sustrans Research and Monitoring Unit on transport poverty in Scotland. Download the presentation (PDF 0.3MB)


Dr Collin Little (Travel Plan and Cycle Promotion Development Officer at Glasgow City Council's Land and Environmental Services)

Collin's talk covered a lot of ground on how the Council is supporting cycling infrastructure and uptake through the use of various data and interventions.


Viola Retzlaff (University of Glasgow's Travel and Transport Co-ordinator)

Viola gave us a fascinating overview of the ways in which the University of Glasgow supports sustainable travel for University staff and students. Download the presentation (PDF 1MB)


Dr Mark Livingston (Urban Big Data Centre)

Mark showed us some academic research currently in progress on using Strava Data to evaluate the impact of new cycling infrastructure in Glasgow on cycling behaviour in the wider network. Once this work is completed, we'll ask Mark to do a new blog post about it, so watch this space!


Dr Katarzyna Sila-Nowicka (Urban Big Data Centre)

Sila gave us an overview of an academic paper she is working on, linking Strava data and weather data to look for patterns in cycling uptake. Download the presentation (PDF 0.7MB)


Yeran Sun (Urban Big Data Centre)

Yeran presented his research into using Strava app and social media data to inform transport planning. He also recently wrote a fuller blog post on this work.


Dr Andrew Kirkland (Stirling University)

Andrew had a really different presentation for us on his research into overcoming psychological barriers to exercise. His work is grounded in supporting elite athletes, but he talked about how he is now working on applying insights from that work to help people cycle.


Bob Downie (GoBike campaign group)

Bob has already written a blog post for us evaluating different data sources to understand cycling activity. He gave a quick and updated lightning talk on different sources of data on cycling in Glasgow and what they tell us. Download the presentation (PDF 3.2MB)


Luke Phillips (Cycling Scotland)

Luke gave us a quick ride-through of Cycling Scotland's Cycling Potential Tool.


Francesca Hogg (Sustrans)

Francesca gave us two presentations: one on school-based active travel interventions, and one on gender and active travel. The latter generated a lot of discussion in the break-out groups and final summary session (see below).

Gathering People's Thoughts

After such an intense day with so many ideas shared, we took some time out to break into groups and discuss our thoughts. People's feedback on the Challenge Finalists' apps are recorded above, but we also gathered some great ideas for further academic research and for planners and policymakers.

Photo of people sitting on chairs

Academic ideas:

  • Ideas sparked by the gender and cycling presentation by Francesca Hogg:
    • More research is needed in this area.
    • It needs to be broken down into different sub-categories of women – age, employment, whether they have to look after small children, etc.
    • There was a suggestion to take note of how the Dutch cycling infrastructure came about: through the activism of women concerned about the safety of children. How to learn from and build on that.
    • It should be extended to include other marginalised groups, e.g. for ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
    • Identifying safest routes could be one way of encouraging more cycling.
    • The ethics of gathering info via apps and tracking people's movements need to be clarified from a safety perspective (both perceived and actual risks).
    • Big data research must be supported by qualitative research to identify specific concerns of different types of cyclists.
  • More linking with environmental datasets was suggested as a productive area.
  • Identifying ideal routes in and out of cities could also involve the use of "beauty indexes" and sensory experience research.
  • Demand: predicting future demand and constraints with solid research would be useful.
  • Identification of "have to cycle" routes – where there is no choice but to go that way, how to know what those routes are and how to ensure they are suitable / improved.
  • The economic impact of cycling could be further researched.
  • It was noted that Strava gives a good macro-level view, but it would be useful to understand what generates this view in a more detailed way – e.g. microsimulation models.
  • More research needed on how Strava data compares to other cycling data.
  • Finally, for the real transport research geeks: the ontological questions – what constitutes a "trip" or a "journey" or a "commute"? Shared definitions of these will greatly enhance research and planning built on data.
Photo of people sitting at a table talking

Of course, all of these research ideas can feed into planning and policy ideas:

  • There should be some focus on areas where cycling doesn't happen. For instance, this could help with placement of cycle stations.
  • Roundabouts are clearly a high-risk area for cyclists – this needs to feed into roundabout planning and design.
  • It might be helpful to work on bringing together the car and cycling communities, which are currently somewhat at odds with each other.
  • More safe storage for bikes is needed, as bicycle theft is a big issue for cyclists.
  • Community schemes for cycling together could be introduced to support women and others who may feel unsafe cycling alone.
  • The "have to cycle" routes noted above under Academic Research need to be investigated and made safer. Some cycle routes in Glasgow are "bad"!
  • For shared-use walk/cycle routes, gathering and analysing data on pedestrian use and speed of cyclists there could address or allay concerns of pedestrians.
  • There is a need to track and analyse what happens after an intervention.
  • Route planning and mapping should be developed tailored to specific needs and types of users, as well as specific types of journey (e.g. commutes- fast, direct, safe from rush-hour traffic; leisure rides in cities – beautiful, safe for families, clean air, etc.).
Photo of flip chart showing ideas from discussion at event

As promised, we'll be sending this collation of ideas to all the groups involved in the day as well as other planners, policymakers and academics in our networks: please feel free to do the same and report back any news or updates!

The UBDC and other ESRC Festival of Social Science events


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