Proposal for Bicycle-Friendly Streets Starting in Miami-Dade County

As of June 2, 2013 at Miami’s National Day of Civic Hacking - this idea is only a couple days old, and can use your help. Please contact me if you would like to contribute.

I’m a professional urbanist and board member for the Magic City Bicycle Collective in Downtown Miami. I have many friends, including my fiancé who ride their bikes on a daily basis and even rely on them as their primary mode of transportation. Every day we hop on our bikes, we put our lives in the hands of disgruntled Miami drivers and the designers of Miami’s car-oriented street grid.

Miami-Dade citizens have the perception that their streets are unsafe for bicyclists due to the many bike and pedestrian related auto accidents we hear about in the media and experience ourselves (I’ve been in two bike accidents, myself). This is a phenomenon that puts the brakes on many of the county’s health and sustainability related initiatives in an era when the rest of the world is making a return toward building livable and walkable places.

We seek to alter the current conversation about bike safety in Miami-Dade in order to increase the number of cyclists on the road, thereby reducing the number of automobiles and improving safety. As an added bonus, the increase in cycling will lead to the greater fitness and sociability of our citizens, while reducing the amount of carbon dioxide we pump into our atmosphere.

To do this, we must first discover whether there is bicycle-related data to support or overthrow the current perception that Dade County’s streets are dangerous for cyclists. Studies have been conducted by independent organizations, but our team hasn’t yet found any bike-related data from Miami-Dade County. Data could also be scraped from news stories featuring these types of incidents.

The data we seek concerns the number of bike to automobile related accidents that have taken place within the county limits, where they took place, and when. We can use this data to determine what the frequency of bike to automobile related incidents are, and pinpoint the hotspots where accidents occur most in the county. If records of incidents involving bicycles cannot be found, purely automobile-related incidents will suffice as a measure of danger in our streets.

Because safety and danger are comparative terms (i.e. when people say that flying is safe, one could argue that planes have fallen out of the sky and killed people. Therefore, it’s more appropriate to compare the safety of flying to an activity like driving, which is responsible for a higher frequency of death and injury), we need to compare the relative safety of Miami-Dade’s streets to the safety of a place like Portland (everybody wants to beat Portland), renowned for its bike-oriented culture.

Not only must we compare the rates of death and injury to change the current perception, but there are other factors such as the quality of a person’s bicycle commute that contributes to their propensity or reluctance to ride. Current mobile technologies now allow us to track things like:

  • Vector data of individual commutes.
  • Distance of a commute v. time travelled, compared to other places, which would tell us about the overall ease of bike travel.
  • Time of day travelled.
  • Velocity during any given moment in a commute as determined by GPS, which would tell us about the friction (not the roughness of the asphalt, but the general surroundings such as the effectiveness of bike lanes, sharrows, road width, traffic conditions, etc.) of the road.
  • Acceleration and deceleration during a commute, which would tell us about the obstacles (including accidents) encountered during a trip. Accelerometers in smartphones are now sensitive enough to record the vibrations resulting from bike tires rolling over asphalt – one way of determining the overall quality of our pavement very inexpensively on a continual basis. Imagine thousands of cyclists commuting every day for years through nearly every street in the county measuring the road quality.
  • Type of commute being made – manually inputted by the cyclist.
  1. Work commute. More rides in this category indicate a concentration of cyclists dealing with rush hour traffic.
  2. Running errands.
  3. Leisure ride. More rides in this category indicate either that people have a lot of time on their hands, or that Miami-Dade truly is a great place for cyclists to ride.

The aforementioned data, except the type of commute being made, have already been collected all over the world by independent applications such as MapMyRide and Garmin Connect, but it is not publicly available. We propose connecting with these companies to gain access to their data for the purposes of our public safety study.

If, after these comparisons, we determine that our streets are inherently unsafe for cyclists, we now have the proper information to open a dialogue for change between our municipalities and our citizens.

If, on the other hand, we determine that our streets are safe, we propose expanding upon our county’s safe streets by empowering citizens with knowledge of where problem areas are, and giving them an ongoing means to communicate to the county what works and what doesn’t work for cyclists in our streets.

We propose creating a mobile application for cyclists that does this by accomplishing three objectives, while utilizing a combination of government and user generated data.

The app will collect data related to ride quality previously mentioned by using technology that powers apps like MapMyRide. I smell a partnership.

  • Vector data for individual commutes.
  • Distance and time traveled.
  • Time of day.
  • Velocity.
  • Acceleration/deceleration.
  • Type of ride.

It allows users to submit positive and negative events to a database during or after a commute using a combination of text and photos. They can pinpoint their recorded incidents on a map within the application.

It warns cyclists of accident-prone areas nearby by displaying automobile accident datapoints on the map near the cyclists’ current location and, and it generates an audio signal. It will also display points representing other people’s positive and negative submissions.

To constrain the scope of the project in the interest of time, money and usability, this app will not include a way to make friends, track past routes, beat your best times, or comment on other people’s submissions. It will, however, require a valid login to authenticate collected data, and borrow certain functions directly from another application that does these social things. It also will not allow cyclists to interpolate the best routes to take between points A and B. We have Google Maps and MapQuest for that.

The data input from this application is meant to be monitored and added to by government agencies. In an ideal world, all of these agencies would be using a standardized API. With the knowledge that Miami-Dade County has begun the process of standardizing an API across its 34 municipalities, we feel there is a possibility that outside agencies will adopt their API, making the utilization of this application integral to their own bicycle safety initiatives.

Miami-Dade County already has a bicycle route-related website in partnership with FIU called the Bicycle Knowledge Explorer, which is designed to collect some of the commute quality data I’ve talked about. It could serve as a parent website to the mobile app with some refinement to its features.