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Strava’s new tool lets smaller cities unlock their transportation data

Moving from GIS to a web platform makes Strava’s data more accessible to cities with less resources

A stream of bikers rides down a city street. Getty Images/EyeEm

Strava is a fitness app used by more than 47 million runners and bikers, who use to it to track their routes, mileage, or even commutes to work. What those runners and bikers may not realize is that by using the app, they’re arming city planners and researchers with the data they need to help cities improve the bike lanes and sidewalks they depend on for safety.

Strava Metro, the company’s data product, offers cities street-level data about pedestrian and bike usage that can be used to fine-tune an infrastructure project in the works or make the case for it to skeptical city officials. On Wednesday, Strava rolled out the third iteration of Metro—an entirely different web platform the company believes is more user- friendly, allowing cities with fewer resources to take advantage of the tool.

“[Previously] we would share datasets in a GIS format, so you’d need to download the data and work with it in a GIS platform,” said Rodrigo Davies, the team lead on Strava Metro. “We heard from small- and medium-sized cities that don’t necessarily have that expertise in-house, [and] they wanted to be able to consume these insights in a web browser without any setup time to get to the meat of what’s happening with bike and pedestrian activity right away. So that’s what we’ve built. The web experience is completely new to people.”

Here’s a simplified example of how Metro might help a city. Say a city official wants to analyze whether a proposed bike lane from one end of the city to the other would be helpful to riders. They could use Metro to find the most commonly used route between two destinations, in addition to the most direct route.

If the most common route is wildly divergent from the most direct route, it could indicate a bike lane along the most direct route could help bikers shave time off their work commute. The data can also be used to analyze areas that pose a high risk of traffic collisions, which might be avoided by people on bikes, and devise potential solutions to the problem.

To date, the company claims it has helped more than 300 communities improve infrastructure for bikers and pedestrian. Among its clients are the departments of transportation for Seattle, Colorado, New Hampshire, Louisiana, and Oregon, in addition to a number of nonprofits and academic institutions.

Strava Metro is an example of a tech company leveraging its user data to build a product for a third party. This model has come under increased scrutiny of late due to privacy concerns, particularly in the transportation data world, but the company says it is mindful of such concerns.

Strava’s user data is deidentified and aggregated, so a third party wouldn’t have access to a single person’s travel patterns. While the company is selling the aggregated data to third parties, it has pledged to “only work with organizations that plan, own or maintain infrastructure or seek to positively influence planning processes.” It specifically notes it won’t work with real estate developers, financial services companies, or retailers.