Lexington bicyclists' help sought in long-range study conducted largely with phone app

jwarren@herald-leader.comMay 4, 2014 

Erik Lund, 26, parked his bike on Funkhouser Drive near Kastle Hall on the University of Kentucky campus as he headed to work last month.

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Nicer spring weather has brought more bicycle riders back to Lexington's streets, and city planners want their help in a long-range study of biking in the city.

The idea is to collect information directly from bicyclists on such things as where they ride and how often, the routes they follow, and their reasons for riding, according to Scott Thompson, Lexington's bike and pedestrian coordinator.

Planners then would use the information as a tool to help them determine where new bike lanes, biking trails, signage or other biking amenities should be located.

Participating bike riders could submit data to the study by using a smartphone application called Cycle Tracks, which would track and record where they go around town. Officials also are working out a way for riders who lack smartphones to post their information online, Thompson said.

Study participation is voluntary, and all information will be confidential, he said.

Officials plan to start promoting the study among local bicyclists soon, and the study will start rolling in late May in conjunction with 2014 Bike Lexington.

Thompson said riders could participate in the study simply by downloading the CycleTracks application to their iPhones or Android-based smartphones, and taking their phones with them when they ride. The app records the routes they travel. Participants also would be expected to enter some information, such as whether they're riding for fun or commuting

Alex Meade, who plans to participate in the study, said he already is logging his bike trips with the CycleTracks app. Meade commutes to work by bike most days.

"When I heard about the study, I got the app to see how difficult it would be," he said. "It's very simple. Basically, you just launch the app on your smartphone, hit 'start' and ride."

Lexington has never before conducted a biking study by means of smartphones, but several cities have, including Austin, Texas, and San Francisco and Monterey, Calif. Atlanta is running a bike study now using a modified CycleTracks version.

According to Thompson, planners will employ a computerized mapping system called GIS to analyze the study results geographically.

Lexington and Nicholasville officials adopted an overall bicycle and pedestrian plan in 2007 to boost biking and walking. The Lexington Cycle Tracks Study is another move toward that goal.

The study is expected to run for a year, but Thompson says officials hope to keep it going longer than that. Eventually, it could expand from biking to cover mass transit and other means of transportation.

Officials know bike use in Lexington is growing, but many details remain unclear. For example, surveys indicate that about 1,000 Lexingtonians commute by bike full-time. But they don't say how many commute occasionally or as weather permits. Officials also know how many bike accidents occur in Lexington — there are about 78 bike-vehicle collisions a year — but not the rate of wrecks per rider. The study could help fill such gaps.

"It would tell us things like how many people actually are out there riding, whether they're commuting or riding simply for recreation, and the routes they use to get from point A to Point B," Thompson said.

"Analyzing the data could tell us a lot more. For example, if we noticed that riders were taking longer routes and ignoring shorter ones, it might indicate they're going out of their way to avoid streets that they think might be more hazardous."

That could suggest improvements are needed to make the shorter routes more attractive. Conversely, it might mean that improving the routes bikers already are using would be a smarter investment.

Thompson, who frequently bikes to work himself, says studies done nationally show that bike use increases when local governments make streets safer for riders.

"We look at our road network as a bike facility as well as a vehicle facility, which by law it is," he said. "The study will help us look at our existing street infrastructure and plan how we're going to build a more complete system."

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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