Data Capture Techniques for Understanding Cyclist Route Selection: a Synthesis of the Literature

Data Capture Techniques for Understanding Cyclist Route Selection: a Synthesis of the Literature


Raymond Pritchard, Norwegian University of Science and Technology


In order to promote urban cycling, transport planners often develop purpose-built infrastructure. This literature review examines the techniques through which such infrastructure can be assessed, through the capture of whole-journey cyclist trips.


Over the past 10 to 20 years, cycling has become an increasingly attractive and important mode of daily travel in urban areas. For national and local governments, the promotion of cycling is seen as an effective and efficient tool for reducing negative environmental impacts of transport whilst increasing quality of life and health of the population. This often requires transport planners to develop or modify infrastructure to improve the personal experiences of users in terms of safety, efficiency and enjoyability. However before planning infrastructural interventions, it is important to understand how cyclists use the existing infrastructure.

This paper presents an overview of the literature examining methodologies through which the performance of cycling infrastructure can be assessed. This includes both academic literature and institutional literature such as the recent report from the Transportation Research Board on Methods and Technologies for Pedestrian and Bicycle Volume Data Collection. A focus is made on those methodologies which provide insights into individual travel behaviour.

Four broad classifications can be found from the literature:
1. Individual trip surveys,
2. Purpose configured GPS devices,
3. Smartphone applications and
4. Multi-parameter sensors for bicycle route quality.

Each method allows for variation in depth and quantity of information. All however allow for travel behaviour analysis of cyclists. Rather than volume-based data through traffic counts or travel censuses, these techniques can gather information from whole-journey routes chosen by cyclists.

The great majority of modern urban landscapes tend to be dominated by road provisions suitable for cars and buses, with only a small proportion of infrastructure associated with cycling. In order to close the gap between actual and desired level of service provision for cyclists, planners need to make modifications to the street side landscape. Whilst planners have all of the technical 'fixes' required to make their urban areas much more bicycle friendly, there is little information known about the effect of implementing different types of infrastructural solutions. This literature review provides an overview of the techniques that are available to track whole-journey cyclist movements in the bicycle network, and by doing so can allow for insights on cyclist preferences. This can help to inform where and what type of infrastructure is in greatest demand and will have the highest impact. By prioritising spending on infrastructure in accordance with what is known to be most effective will most efficiently allow for an increase in cycling modal share.

Preliminary key findings:
• Online surveys were revealed to have the highest participation rate by a considerable margin, most likely as a result of the simple nature of one-off participation and successful marketing. The errors from data collection in this manner are relatively low and can be combined very successfully with national statistical data sources.
• When considering electronic data collection means, there are often problems with connectivity to a GPS fix. This can be alleviated through combination with other smartphone sensors (particularly cell network and Wi-Fi data). GPS data has been found to be time consuming and costly to gather.
• Amongst a number of smartphone applications have been some promising developments which can independently self-classify transportation mode through the use of speed and accelerometer data. This allows for categorisation of transport legs on different modes in the background of participants’ regular phone habits. Particularly successful was the categorisation of bicycle trips, making this a strong area of interest for future studies in personal mobility.

Whilst data privacy was observed to hinder some methods of data collection, this can be addressed through a rigorous research ethics plan that assures the anonymity of participants. This can include the obscuration of exact start and end points of trips, such that the exact locations of residences and cyclist destinations cannot be drawn from the data.

The benefits of cycling are well understood from existing literature and many cities are now looking at how to best implement planning policies to increase cycling modal share. This literature overview examines the state of the art in researching the movements of cyclists, to better comprehend preferences of the people who cycle. This in turn can reveal information about the types of infrastructure which have the greatest impact on cycling, such that cities can plan their cycling developments in the most effective manner.


Association for European Transport