Seeing Like a Bike

Urban cycling is rapidly growing as a means of transportation in cities across America. Building infrastructure for cyclists has a multitude of benefits: bike infrastructure is relatively cheap to implement, it provides an alternative to automobile congestion on streets and highways, it encourages healthier and more productive citizens, and provides a path of upward economic mobility by increasing access to jobs and other opportunities for those who could not otherwise afford a car.

However, planning for biking facilities has a number of challenges, especially in a city like Atlanta, whose streetscape is dominated by sprawl, and infrastructure devoted for cars instead of people. Creating attractive cycling routes requires careful attention not only to the physical transportation details concerning the route, like speed or destinations, but also understanding the needs of the people actually on the bikes. Bike paths which feel safer and more enjoyable are often vastly preferable to paths which are more practical but feel unsafe to riders.

Last year, researchers from the 2017 Civic Data Science Program developed a platform of sensors which can be mounted on a bike to track environment data for any given bike route. This year, we will continue this prior work with two goals.

First, we will be increasing the abilities of the sensor array to collect a larger, and more comprehensive dataset of current and future bike routes in Atlanta. Specifically, the two sensor types we will be working most with during the summer are for air quality, and eye-tracking. Understanding where pollution exists is important, as cyclists can be disproportionately affected by pollutants created by general road traffic, and we can learn to create routes which avoid the heaviest pollution. Eye-tracking data will serve two purposes: understanding biker sentiment by looking at where the bikers are looking, and physiologically measuring stress levels to determine how safe a route feels.

Second, we will analyze and create geographic visualizations of the data, to better understand the potential for increased cycling infrastructure in Atlanta. This will enable city planners to design bike facilities that truly meet the needs of cyclists in the city as a viable and safe form of transportation.