The importance of data in the active travel spectrum

By Mark Nicholson, CEO and co-founder, Vivacity Labs

This piece first appeared in the February edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

Sustainable travel is gaining momentum across the UK. With a vast range of ways to travel on the cards, it’s now time to harness the right data in order to support decisions on new schemes and promote positive change by measuring what matters.

Modal shifts: keeping up with the growing spectrum
Triggered by the pandemic, there has been a clear modal shift in travel, not just locally but on a global scale. A growing number of people are prioritising human-powered methods of transport, such as walking and cycling, over public transport, and a rise in micromobility, such as e-scooters and e-bikes, is signalling a further shift towards new methods of travel. 

However, in order to promote, prioritise and sustain the growing spectrum of active travel, schemes such as segregated cycle lanes, new routes and pedestrian-only zones must be rolled out quickly, while also fitting in seamlessly alongside existing infrastructure. The implementation of such schemes is boosting not only sustainable methods of travel, but road safety, air quality and people’s way of life too. However, without data on their usage, their success cannot be guaranteed, with some schemes labelled inadequate or removed altogether due to a lack of evidence and insight. 

How data can facilitate long term change
With the help of relevant, accurate and anonymous data, insight into these changing trends and new schemes is readily available, helping local authorities to make informed decisions. For example, an AI sensor positioned on a road or junction can anonymously classify and measure ‘counts’ of each mode of transport.

In doing so, data is collected via new computer vision technology and accrued on a broad scale, demonstrating trends in particular areas. Technology is therefore vital in facilitating change. With these valuable insights, the success of travel schemes no longer hangs in the balance, and changes to infrastructure are more worthwhile, impactful, and, crucially, driven by objective data analysis. 

One of the key roles of data in this process is to feedback the ‘before, during and after’ of a project. As well as supporting decision-makers on the implementation of a scheme, it has the ability to demonstrate results and trends after a scheme has been implemented, creating an even more detailed insight on how changes are being used by sustainable travel users, how they’ve affected interactions with other road users, and help determine whether they have contributed to a modal shift in travel.

Reducing congestion and emissions
In turn, the success of these schemes goes hand in hand with sustainable outcomes, namely reducing congestion and emissions in our cities and improving air quality. Smart traffic signal control can be deployed alongside new and existing schemes to help prioritise sustainable modes of transport and optimise traffic flow, all through learning from the surrounding environment and adapting accordingly.

Authorities then not only have access to data on the success and implementation of specific schemes, but they also have the ability to measure congestion and create new interventions to improve and address problems with pollution. We now have a window of opportunity to prioritise sustainability and create intelligent cities which accommodate for the growing active travel spectrum. The more accurate and detailed data insights we can harness, the smarter, safer and more sustainable our cities will become. 

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