Fort Worth city planners have a new tool to help them design the city's hike and bike paths, a cell phone app.
Thanks to the Texas Department of Transportation, the city recently got access to a data tool from a company called Strava Metro. Volunteers download a free app on their phone, and then when they walk or jog, it records data.
"We've not been able to find out where people are riding, how long it's taking to get there, where they're coming from," said Julia Ryan, senior planner with the City of Fort Worth. "This data is very important when you're talking about infrastructure investments."
Ryan said the data is completely anonymous. It can't be used to track a specific person, and it's not available in real-time. Instead, it's provided to cities months later, but it is extremely valuable for city planners. Already, they've used it to identify locations that could benefit from new bike paths.
"It's a Christmas present," said Ryan. "We can use that to say, we need a sidewalk here because people are running here, people are walking here, people are biking here."
More than 15,000 trips were logged in the app on the Trinity Trails in a one year period, and maps can clearly show areas that are most congested. Portions of the data are available to the public.
Ryan said that while the tool is useful, they also know the data doesn't reflect bike rides for all areas because the app hasn't been widely adopted. The city is encouraging more people to download the app and log their rides, so they can provide better solutions.
Fort Worth will need to gear up. The city is on a population tear, poised to become the 15th largest city in the country if growth continues. To accommodate, planners believe bikes are an important part of the solution.
"Where can we replace short vehicle trips with walking trips or biking trips?" said Ryan.
She's working on answering that question and grateful for a new tool to help her get the job done.