It's not the planes, trains or automobiles that Assistant Professor Kari Watkins is focusing on these days. It's the bikes. Her research is helping to keep them safer and guiding the City of Atlanta on how to be more bike-friendly.
Traditionally, transportation planning in the U.S. has been automobile-focused, resulting in marginalization of healthy and active modes of transportation like cycling and walking. Environmentally, this has contributed to air pollution. Economically, this has contributed to dependence on international sources of fuel. Socially, this has contributed to an alarming increase in obesity, heart disease and asthma among both adults and children. Atlanta, traditionally not a bike friendly city, has recently seen a 417 percent increase in bike commuting from 2000 to 2011. The City of Atlanta has been a key player in promoting biking in the region and is intent on developing a network of bicycle facilities in the city.
While there are several reasons to pursue cycling, accurate and robust data to support decisions on where and how to best develop new cycling infrastructure remain elusive. Data on current bicycling has many gaps: count programs are designed to detect the metallic mass of automobiles and therefore tend to underestimate bicycling trips; regional surveys tend to have a very small sample of cyclists, because bicyclists constitute a marginal proportion of total traffic; and bicycling trips often use short-cuts or occur during non-peak hours and are therefore not counted.
Through collaboration between an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including my colleague Chris LeDantec, and the City of Atlanta’s planning office, the Cycle Atlanta smartphone application was developed to collect data from bicyclists as they travel. The application was based off of a similar open source project called CycleTracks, initially developed for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. However, Cycle Atlanta was substantially updated to make better use of current features available in iOS and Android, as well as to include features to map cyclists issues (e.g. potholes, storm grates, parking in bike lanes) and amenities (e.g. bike racks, water fountains, cut-thrus) found en route. The goal of the project is to connect citizens to local government through the app, allowing them to participate in the planning process without being inhibited by location or time limitations in existing public participation techniques. So far, the data has been used for multiple campus, city and regional bike planning initiatives.