An analytical tool available online assessed data from over 1 million walking and cycling trips in Boston (USA) with the aim of strengthening public strategies for the encouragement of non-motorized forms of urban mobility (photo: Adam Coppola / Wikimedia Commons)
Published on 05/04/2021
By Maria Fernanda Ziegler | Agência FAPESP – An international group of researchers supported by FAPESP has developed software to analyze cyclist and pedestrian mobility in cities. The tool is freely available online. Its purpose is to help public administrators design policies and strategies that encourage non-motorized forms of urban mobility and make those forms safer.
A paper published in the Journal of Transport Geography describes the findings of a study that used the software. It was conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States and included the largest analysis of cyclist and pedestrian data ever performed. The researchers used data generated by bike sharers and users of a georeferenced walking app in Boston (USA).
The walking dataset referred to some 260,000 trips made by over 6,000 users between May 2014 and May 2015 in the Greater Boston area. The cycling dataset covered some 800,000 trips.
According to the authors, the methodology can be adapted for use in other cities worldwide. “Having developed the data analysis method, we wrote this open-source software that’s freely available. Anyone can use it to analyze different datasets and identify the obstacles to growth in the flows of cyclists and pedestrians in cities. On this basis, it’s possible to propose new strategies and actions,” said Fabio Kon, a member of FAPESP’s Adjunct Panel on Research for Innovation and a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Mathematics and Statistics Institute (IME-USP).
The study was conducted under the aegis of the National Science and Technology Institute for Smart Cities and the Internet of the Future, funded by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), the Ministry of Education’s Higher Research Council (CAPES), and FAPESP. In addition, Kon received a Fulbright Visiting Professor Fellowship to participate in the research project at MIT’s SENSEable City Lab.
Behavior of cyclists and pedestrians
“Throughout history, cities have invested in roads for cars as individual motorized transportation,” Kon said. “However, we now know that encouraging people to walk and cycle is beneficial for their health, makes cities more human and sociable, and reduces pollution.”
Similar concerns have changed urban mobility and city planning policies in many parts of the world, he added. “This is the context for our development of a methodology to analyze cyclist and pedestrian flows in cities as a tool to generate actions that foster walking and cycling,” he said.
According to the article, despite their increasingly recognized potential as a solution to several pressing problems, walking and cycling remain the most understudied and least understood modes of travel.
“Very few studies have been performed to analyze the behavior of cyclists and pedestrians because of the difficulty of obtaining data of sufficient quality,” Kon said. “Research on pedestrian behavior is especially rare. Our study contributes to a better understanding of the characteristics of non-motorized mobility in terms of distance, duration, time of day, spatial distribution and sensitivity to weather.”
The Boston study revealed significant behavioral differences between cyclists and pedestrians. One of the main differences was trip distance. The researchers’ analysis of the bike sharing data showed that cyclists traveled further than pedestrians, usually to nearby areas. The median walk was found to be approximately 500 m, compared with 2.2 km for cycle trips.
As for time of day, walking trips peaked in the morning (at approximately 9 a.m.), at lunchtime (approximately 12:30 p.m.) and in the early evening (at approximately 6 p.m.). Bike trips peaked at similar times except midday, when their number did not increase significantly.
Bike share users appeared to be mainly commuters to and from work, as these trips flowed in opposite directions in the morning and afternoon. This was not the case for pedestrian trips.
Bike trips increased on warmer days and decreased during rainy and/or cold weather. Walking trips were not as affected by climate, although the numbers fell perceptibly on very hot days.
“If cities want to promote cycling, they’ll have to invest in bike lanes and other kinds of infrastructure. In Boston, we found that people didn’t feel safe or comfortable about cycling in rain and snow when the risk of being injured by cars appeared to increase. Better infrastructure would probably mean the number of cyclists wouldn’t fall so sharply in bad weather,” Kon said.
The article “Comparing bicycling and pedestrian mobility: Patterns of non-motorized human mobility in Greater Boston” (doi: 10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2019.102501) by Christian Bongiorno, Daniele Santucci, Fabio Kon, Paolo Santi and Carlo Ratti is available at interscity.org/assets/journal_of_transport_geography_2019.pdf.