Cycling in London can be a pretty hair raising experience. Traffic tends to be very dense, and you need your wits about you constantly to ensure you’re in the right position on the road and are aware of what other road users, and pedestrians, are up to. Just around the corner from me sits one of the more dangerous parts of the capital for cycling.
So notorious is the Elephant & Castle roundabout that it is to undergo a £25m revamp over the next few years in an attempt to make it safer. Central to this claim was the sad fatality of a gentleman earlier this year at the hands of a heavy goods vehicle, and you sense that these highly publicised events, which are sadly all too frequent, do a lot to drive the agenda.
What about all of the unreported incidents or near misses that all contribute to how safe a cyclist feels though? You sense there is an information gap there between what policy makers know about cyclists behaviour and what actually happens on the roads.
WeCycle aims to plug that gap. It’s a new mobile app, developed by TravelAI, that aims to record the cyclists every movement. The app will monitor what cyclists get up to, and then feed that data to local authorities and transport planners in order to hopefully better inform the decisions they make about road design and layout.
In addition to tracking the movement of cyclists, the app can also do the same for motor cars, which suggests that the app may have scope for doing a lot more than simple tracking cyclist movements.
Once you’ve been using the app for a little while, your personal calendar of journeys and movements will begin to be populated. It’s an interesting project, which will hopefully inform planning decisions more than is currently the case.
A couple of caveats however. It does seem a little like reinventing the wheel. There are already an awful lot of cyclists using services such as Strava to track and monitor their cycling. That service alone must generate a whole lot of data about cycling patterns in major cities, such as London. The success of WeCycle will largely rest upon the number of cyclists that use it, so it seems a bit of a shame that authorities aren’t working with services that already exist and already have a large user base.
My second concern about the app is a practical one. All of these tracking services, and WeCycle is no different, offer a rather blunt look at the cyclists journey. They don’t really provide any insight into the quality of that journey. Were there any near misses en route? How safe did you feel? What was the state of the roads? Did you take your specific route so as to avoid a particularly unpleasant part of town? All things that could greater inform planning decisions, but all things that tend to get omitted from the information provided by apps such as these.
Don’t get me wrong, I think getting the crowd to provide this information is the only real way to get the scale and quality of information required to make informed decisions. I just think that WeCycle has a few holes in its methodology that limit its effectiveness.