As a transport planner, I’m well aware that the constant promise that technology will save us from having to change our behaviour – whether it’s electric vehicles, flying cars or even teleportation (I wish) – is a load of nonsense and good old fashioned walking and cycling are all most of our towns and cities need to become much more sustainable and liveable places.
However, I also recognise that technology can have a really positive role in helping us plan for walking and cycling. Too often in the past, walking and cycling journeys have been virtually invisible. There’s a saying “we count what we care about” and until recently that’s largely been cars, cars and more cars. But now there’s some brilliant technology companies doing some really smart stuff to enable us not only count walking and cycling but really get under the skin of how people move about.
In this blog post I talk about three tech companies that I’m a big fan of as a transport planner specialising in active travel: See.Sense, Strava and Street Systems.
See.Sense are a cycling technology and data company based in Northern Ireland. They are headed by wife and husband team Irene and Philip McAleese. Their lights regularly top best buy tables as they are brilliant lights packed with technology which makes cycling safer. This includes sensors that detect when you’re at a junction which makes the lights flash faster and brighter to make you more visible to drivers. They can also detect the sort of sudden stop associated with a collision and send a message to a loved one or friend with a link to a map to alert them that you might be in need of assistance.
But the really cool thing from my perspective as a transport planner is that the lights contain loads of tech which anonymously tracks things like routes, swerving, braking and even surface roughness. By partnering with local authorities and consultancies, See.Sense makes this data available to help plan and design cycling infrastructure. For example, not only can you see the routes existing cyclists are taking, you can identify where cyclists are having to brake heavily or swerve. This is often associated with poor surfaces or even issues at side roads like drivers pulling in and out too quickly helping to quickly identify points that need looking at in the design of any scheme. The data doesn’t replace all the other tools at a transport planner’s or a highway engineer’s disposal such as reviewing collision data and undertaking site visits but it’s a really useful additional dataset to have which can highlight issues that may otherwise be missed or provide insights which can help designers understand issues.
So, next time you need some lights, consider See.Sense lights; not only will you be supporting innovative small business but you might even be indirectly helping plan better cycling infrastructure! See.Sense have very generously offered In Tandem’s subscribers a 20% discount on their products*. Simply sign up to the In Tandem newsletter by the end of July and we’ll send you the code (you’ll also get a 10% discount code for In Tandem!).
See.Sense lights provide insights to transport planners on things like surface roughness
Everyone’s heard of Strava and I’m sure if you’re a runner or a serious “sport” cyclist, you’ll already use it. However, what you may not know is that Strava – through Strava Metro - provides local authorities (and their consultants) with completely free access to anonymised data for their area through a platform called Strava Metro to help them plan for active travel.
This is really useful as it provides insights on leisure and recreational cycling which we’ve not previously had much data on; cycle network plans are normally heavily reliant on census data which only provides data on commuting journeys. I’m finding we’re using Strava Metro data particularly in rural areas where it’s difficult to make the case for investing in cycling infrastructure from a commuting perspective (due to small populations and large distances between settlements) but where there can be huge potential for leisure and tourism. As well as showing where there’s current demand for cycling, Strava is also brilliant at highlighted where cycling isn’t happening, for example, due to a main road creating severance.
Of course, Strava has its limitations; not everyone uses it and those that do tend to only use it to record certain types of ride but it’s a useful piece of the jigsaw puzzle. As a transport planner, I’d encourage everyone to use it to record all their walking and cycling journeys, whether it’s around the local park, popping to the shops or cycling your kids to school. We might not get a huge quantity of data of this sort but the data we do get will be really rich in terms of the routes people use, at what times of day etc.
Streets Systems is a brilliant tech company based in Newcastle and led by the lovely Tom Bailey. They use very clever technology to understand where people are walking and cycling to help us design places to suit how people actually use space rather than how we want them to use it. For example, I’ve worked with Streets Systems previously to understand how pedestrians and cyclists used a number of junctions in a busy city centre environment. We found that cyclists were using footways and pedestrian crossings to avoid mixing with cars and pedestrians were frequently crossing diagonally on their desire line rather than crossing each arm as the engineers wanted them to. Tom’s technology is really useful in highlighting that despite pedestrians and cyclists making up the majority of the people using streets in city centres, the roads are still almost always designed for the convenience of motor traffic.
By understanding how people use space we can redesign our streets to manage and minimise conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists, helping us provide safe, accessible streets for all.
Streets Systems’ technology can identify pedestrians and cyclists and monitor interactions in busy environment to help us understand and mitigate conflicts
So, while I’m deeply sceptical about the ability of technology to save us from ourselves, there is definitely some brilliant companies out there doing really useful stuff from a transport planning and active travel perspective… and they all begin with an S!
If you have any other recommendations, please comment below!
*In Tandem is completely independent and not affiliated with See.Sense in any way – we just love what they do!
Note about the author
Catriona Swanson is co-founder of In Tandem and an Associate at PJA. She specialises in planning and designing active travel schemes and has delivered award winning inclusive cycling infrastructure including traffic-free routes, protected cycle tracks and low traffic neighbourhoods.