Data-Driven Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning

Mar 10, 2017•Case Study

This story originally appeared as a Case Study on the Strava Metro website.

Data-Driven Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning

Every day, millions of people get on their bike or lace up their shoes to go from point A to point B. Smart cycling and pedestrian data can show which roads they use and intentionally avoid, what time they travel, where they go and much more. With the right analysis, this information can be the foundation of a renaissance in sustainable transportation.

A Win-Win Trend

For the past two decades, cities across the globe have witnessed unprecedented growth in cycling, running and walking. People are choosing to bike or walk for transportation because it’s healthier, less expensive and often less aggravating than driving or parking in increasingly crowded metropolitan areas. And with the rise of all- season activewear and reliable components, it’s never been easier or more comfortable for people to move around under their own power.

The fun, fitness and convenience individuals gain from cycling, running and walking have obvious spillover benefits for communities and the planet. Active people have lower rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Fewer cars on the roads mean quieter neighborhoods, cleaner air, less traffic, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and safer communities. The affordability of cycling and walking increases mobility for people in all economic groups and can help reduce income inequality. And the boom in bicycling and pedestrian activity is good news for city budgets, as biking and walking infrastructure is much less expensive to build and maintain than highways, parking garages and public transit.

Promoting Biking and Walking

Governments at all levels have recognized that human-powered transportation is an unquestionable public good. As a consequence, nations, states and cities are implementing policies and increasing efforts to promote cycling and walking. In the United States, federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure has increased from $5 million in the late 1980s to nearly $1 billion today. Meanwhile, countries in the European Union devote a total of more than €3 billion annually to the cause. Some American cities have made impressive gains in cycling activity. One shining example is Portland, Ore., which increased bike commuting from 1.1 percent in 1990 to 7.2 percent in 2015, the highest rate in the country. Cycling in many European cities has grown more slowly, but it started at a much higher point. Copenhagen, for instance, has seen its share of bike commuters grow from 30 percent in 1990 to 50 percent today.

In these cities and others, the question is how to get even more people to bike or walk. The answer is to make cycling and walking in cities more approachable. When you ask people why they don’t ride or walk to work, the most common response is traffic danger. That’s because people bike and walk on the same roads used by cars and trucks, and most roads lack a safe zone for people on bikes or on foot.

Put simply, the key to more people using bikes for commuting is improved infrastructure that removes much of the danger inherent in sharing space with vehicles moving at high speeds.

The Evolving Role of Cycling and Pedestrian Data

How do cities decide where to build or improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure? Historically, transportation planners have used retrospective surveys, bike/ped counters in select locations, and anecdotal evidence of cycling activity. This information, while helpful, paints an incomplete picture of how people move through cities, and does a poor job of showing the long-term effects of improving infrastructure and promoting cycling and walking.

One limitation of this traditional bicycle and pedestrian data is quantitative: Surveys reach only a small portion of bike commuters, and bike counters can’t be everywhere in a city. The other limitation is qualitative: Surveys and bike counters present a one- dimensional view of cycling and walking activity, failing to capture the many decisions bicyclists and walkers make to get from one place to another.

Thankfully, bicycling and pedestrian data has become much more robust in the past seven years. With the advent of Strava, a GPS cycling and running app with millions of regular users, there are now trillions of data points on where people actually ride, run and walk. More than five million rides and runs are uploaded to Strava each week, and in cities, the majority of these activities are commutes.

With data like this, cities can better understand how people choose to interact with the network of roads, bike paths and intersections. The result is better decision-making, smarter planning, safer streets and more people biking, running and walking. Better data is a catalyst for change.

Smart Cycling and Pedestrian Data in Action

In 2014, Strava launched a data service called Strava Metro. Since then, Metro has worked with over 70 organizations around the world to understand how more than a half-million bicyclists and pedestrians choose to navigate through geographic areas. Each of these organizations is using the data to understand the general flow of people across their streets over time. Here are a few that have gone beyond this baseline analysis to answer a specific question or make a direct impact on transportation in their city:

  • Queensland, Australia used Metro to quantify how a new cycleway changed bicycling behavior on and around the new bike path.
  • GoBike, in Glasgow, Scotland did a corridor analysis to prove the need for new infrastructure on a street that was perceived to have no bike usage.
  • Austin B-Cycle, in Texas, combined Metro data with its own bike-share data to understand the impact of its program on the street and bike network.
  • The Oregon DOT used Metro data to decide where to put bike counters and to adjust the location of existing bike counters to capture more bicycling behavior.
  • Vermont Transportation has employed Strava Metro as a key data layer in their statewide VTrans On-Road Bicycle Plan.
  • University of Victoria and University College London are each using Metro data to model total bicycling transportation in their area.

These cities and organizations are just beginning to tap into the insights available from smart bicycling and pedestrian data. More groups are joining them every month, achieving an awareness of biking activity that was never before possible.


Strava unlocks potential through the power of sport. Strava’s mobile apps and website connect millions of runners and cyclists every day.


Strava Metro makes riding, running and walking in cities better. Millions of people upload their rides and runs to Strava every week via their smartphone or GPS device. Metro anonymizes and aggregates this data and then partners with departments of transportation and city planning groups to improve infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians.

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