Toronto Cycling App: the crowd sourced way to plan

Toronto Cycling App: the crowd sourced way to plan

Story and photos by Joey Schwartz

The City of Toronto’s Bike Unit created a GPS app for Android phones and iPhones. They crafted this app specifically to see where and when cyclists used the city’s streets and trails. Data collected from the app will help the City plan their new cycling strategy in 2015. I decided to help the city out, since I record almost every one of my rides anyway with my iPhone.

Since May over 3400 cyclists have downloaded the app and over 55,000 trips have been recorded. Of course one of the problems identified with the early adoption of the app, is that trips from the former suburbs were under-represented. Most trips are in the old City of Toronto’s boundaries. To help get more rides from other areas of the city, the Toronto Cycling App Contest was started in October and ended on November 30th. There are three levels: Bronze 10 trips; Silver, 20 trips; and Gold is 35 trips. Prizes range from a Opus performance urban bike drawn from Gold entrants, to bike helmets and Cycle Toronto memberships for Bronze entrants. The city announced contest winners on January 7, with Jon Llyod winning the grand prize. (See the full list of winners at the bottom of this article)

I actually had over 50 trips in October, when the Gold level was at 50 trips. The best part for me though, was I knew that the City was getting data from all over the city, as I ride all over, from North Etobicoke to Highland Creek and Port Union in Scarborough.

Other cycling apps – such as Cyclemeter, MapMyRide, RideWithGPS, Strava – also use GPS to follow cyclists. Some cyclists on the City’s cycling Facebook group were wondering why the City had to come up with their own app. The answer is data privacy. The City’s app protects user’s privacy in a number of ways, including not recording the first and last 30 seconds of the ride to hide the start and finishing point. It also anonymizes the data that is sent to the app’s server. The other cycling apps don’t have the level of data anonymization that the City needed, and they also didn’t produce data in a way consistent with the City’s practices.

After a cyclist registers the app – by giving information about gender, age, experience level – it presents a screen with a map and buttons. Selecting “New Trip” brings up a red button that must be tapped to start recording. The app will continue to record until you tell it stop. Once you tap on the stop button it asks to save or discard the ride. I had some issues with this section, because sometimes my fingers were too numb to be accurate and they accidentally hit the discard button. If you have not accidentally discarded your ride, it then asks you what type of ride it was: Work-Related, Social, Leisure, Commute, etc. Once that’s decided, the app uploads your ride to the server.

Some issues with the app included it initially had problems with accurately tracking GPS. They cleared this up, but if someone went to the grocery store for about 15 minutes and then continued to bike home, the app would either stop or just create a straight line from the store to the user’s house. It also painted the straight line if it lost the GPS signal for more than 10 seconds, for me at least.

Overall, I was happy to use the app, though I don’t use it every time I bike. My main recording app is Cyclemeter, and I’ve been using it to record all my rides since 2010. Cyclemeter measures for more parameters, and, unlike the City’s app, takes into account when you have stopped at traffic light for two minutes, so that your average speed isn’t affected. For example, I cycle every two weeks from The Junction to Canadian Blood Services and back to donate blood platelets. On the Cyclemeter app, my average speed might be 27 km/h. On the City’s app, which just runs on continuous time, my average might be 17 km/h.

Since I’m a long-distance randonneur-type cyclist, I have a Wahoo RFLK display unit on my handlebars so that my iPhone is protected in my shirt pocket, while it displays my speed, distance and other data. It also acts as a remote control and this function works with Cyclemeter app perfectly, but unfortunately not with the City’s app. Still, I know that when I do use the City’s app, it’s adding to their database and helping them create heat maps, a graphical method of showing the most popular routes in the city. Hopefully, new bikeways will be placed in priority routes, as discovered by the data from this app.

Full list of contest winners:

Gold star

Jon Lloyd – OPUS Adagio 1.0 Urban Performance Bicycle

Silver star

Adil Qureshi, Greg Hefford, Eli Erickson, Leanna Barwick, Ben Mossman, Rob Grand – Bike Share Toronto one-year subscription

Steve Hawrylyshyn, Muhannad Hammad, Sue Caza, Liz Filman, Arnold Visser, Michael S. Smith – Kryptonite Keeper Bicycle Lock 

Bronze star 

Serge Bornow, Charles-Antoine Charlot, Karen Ward, John Cameron, Heather Tilly, Fereshteh Hashemi – Giro Revel Helmets 

Nelson Terralheiro, Gail Coulthard, Jeff Culligan – Cycle Toronto Memberships

Warren Huska, Ousama Farag, Ryan James, Geoff Olsen, Tim Kraan, Heather Murray – Blackburn Mars 1.1 Rear Lights

Related on the dandyBLOG: 

Cycling app review: Strava

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