Using social media, app and sensor data to inform transport planning

Citizen science, where ordinary folk assist research in a range of ways, and the increasing use of social media and active travel apps, are changing the way we collect and analyse data. People with smart phones can act as ‘sensors’ in urban areas. Inhabitants are able to report real-time information about events or emergencies such as social events, traffic accidents, crimes and other emergencies. This has great potential to increase the speed of communication and response-time in urban management, which can then further encourage public engagement in urban management and planning, as people see their input and data having a positive effect.

Social Transport with Urban Big Data Project – using and enhancing Twitter data

Inspired by the use of social media data in event detection and emergency management, UBDC researchers examined the utility of social media data for urban transportation. In the project ‘Social Transport with Urban Big Data’, funded by the European Commission, we make use of Twitter data in urban transport planning applications.

To enhance the potential of Twitter data for urban transport planning applications, we increased the volume of geo-referenced tweets through a ‘geo-localisation’ process based on retrieval of place-related textual information. We also combined Twitter data indicating people’s sentiments, traffic accidents, crimes and other demographics to measure and map ‘social hazards’ at a small area scale in Chicago, USA. This research would help stakeholders better assess vulnerability and resilience to (natural and social) hazards in urban areas.

Our recent research progress has been presented in a paper that has been accepted as a book chapter and will be published soon.

Cycling app data for urban planning - Strava

Cycling is increasingly encouraged by governments all over the world, as it can contribute to reduction of carbon emissions and fossil energy consumption, as well as promote good health. An increase in the volume and safety of cycling is a key issue in the development of sustainable cities.

A comprehensive understanding of cycling behavior and accurate assessment of cycling risks has been limited in the past due to the lack information about cycling activities at a spatial large scale. In recent years, big data research and citizen science have paved a new way for tracking cycling activities. The growing popularity of portable GPS-enabled devices (e.g. smart phones and smart watches) enables cyclists to track cycling activities and trajectories at a large spatial scale.

We have been making use of the app data shared by cyclists to map street-level cycling activities across cities. We use cycling activities data acquired by UBDC from Strava, a popular online social network for cyclists, to get a better understanding of cycling behavior and better assessment of cycling risks in Glasgow. Find out how to get access to this data yourself on our Transport data page.

Inspired by the UK government’s air quality plans, we estimate exposure of cyclists to air pollution (PM10 and PM2.5) in Glasgow using Strava data.

We have recently published this work in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (download full-text PDF - 4191 KB). We also presented this research at international conferences, including 2017 AAG (Association of American Geographers) Annual Meeting and 2017 RSS (Royal Statistical Society) Annual Conference.

Going forward, to complement our research on assessment of cycling risks, we will estimate risks of traffic accidents at the street level in the future. A comprehensive and accurate assessment of street-level cycling risks will enable stakeholders to better distribute investment on cycling facilities (separated bicycle routes, traffic calming and cycle parking) as well as bicycle-sharing programs.    

Author: Yeran Sun

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