This week, a guest post by Karen Laberee & Dr. Colin Ferster
Citizen scientists fill the void when regular methods of data collection are insufficient. Bicycling safety is one area where traditional data are lacking. In Vancouver, Canada only 30% of cycling collisions with motor vehicles are reported through official channels such as insurance claims1. Studies of ER intake forms further estimate that only a minority of cycling injuries result from collisions with motor vehicles2,3. While incidents not involving motor vehicles form the majority of ER injuries, they will never be reported through vehicle insurance claims and rarely through police reports. Even though bicycle incidents causing serious injury are reported at the hospital, these lack the geographic data that planning and engineering departments need to build safer infrastructure.
It helps to think of the reported incidents as the top of a pyramid, with the unreported collisions forming a much larger base. If you’re someone who regularly rides a bicycle, you likely have had at least one close call on your bike. Known as near misses –an unfortunate term, but one we all understand—they are important data to capture as they extend the pyramid even further. In fact, the ratio of near miss events to collisions has been suggested to be as high as 1250:1 (UK)4and 4-32:1(US)5.
To fill in some of this missing data through Volunteered Geographic Information6, we created BikeMaps.org7. BikeMaps.org is a web map that you can access through a browser or with free mobile apps. BikeMaps.org collects citizen reported geographic locations and details on bicycle collisions, falls, near misses, hazards, and thefts. Reporting is anonymous, only takes a minute or two, and the pin and description appears instantly. “BikeMappers” also have the option to create an account to delineate an area of interest. They will then be notified of any new incidents that other BikeMappers report within their “riding area”.
The BikeMaps.org website was launched in October 2014 by Dr. Trisalyn Nelson and the Spatial Pattern Analysis and Research lab at the University of Victoria. Since then, over 6000 reports have been made worldwide. Reports on BikeMaps.org tend to be concentrated in areas where there has been supporting promotion. However, the odd city does seem to sprout interest organically, but most likely via the long reach of social media.
Researchers using citizen science often do not have training in promotion or marketing. For those of us on the BikeMaps team, it has been a crash course in social media, knowledge translation, and creative marketing. We have hit the streets with guerrilla marketing campaigns that blitzed parked bikes with either seat covers or water bottles; attended dozens of festivals and events; given many public talks and media interviews, and written website or blog posts. Our promotion efforts were monitored and evaluated8 and provide important lessons for any citizen science research. For example, we found that targeting our promotion to cycling-specific audiences resulted in more data but promoting to general audiences resulted in a more diverse sample.
To keep BikeMappers interested, we share results as frequently as possible. We use our social media accounts and blog to engage our community. For our municipal government or advocacy group partners, we create hotspot maps of problem locations. The detailed descriptions provided by BikeMappers when they report an incident enable us to dig deeper at hotspot locations to better understand infrastructure issues from a cyclist’s perspective.
On the peer-reviewed research side, we have contributed to increasing knowledge and data for aspects of cycling safety and ridership that were poorly understood. Research on bicycling safety is published in a range of public health, transportation, engineering, and planning journals. BikeMappers have provided data to increase understanding of safety on multiuse trails (road intersections, rider volumes, traffic volumes, and sight lines are related to crashes on multi-use trails)9. BikeMappers have also provided insight into situations where cyclists might feel uncomfortable: near-misses were more common at intersections and where there were interactions with cars. We also discovered that crashes that weren’t reported in automobile insurance records were reported on BikeMaps.org more frequently in places with bike infrastructure10. This means that from a policy standpoint, reducing interactions with cars is important for safety and improving rider comfort, and monitoring safety in places with bicycle infrastructure is important for safety in non-automobile-related crashes too.
At BikeMaps.org, our future plans include digging further into the causes and locations of bike crashes, growing into new cities, and meeting and learning from people and agencies who use the map. Citizen science is a tool that can provide new answers for many topics, including bikes!
- Winters, M. and Branion-Calles, M. 2017. Cycling safety: Quantifying the under reporting of cycling incidents in Vancouver, British Columbia. Journal of Transport & Health. 7: 48-53.
- Teschke, K., Frendo, T., Shen, H., Harris, M., Reynolds, C.C., Cripton, P.A., Brubacher, J., Cusimano, M.D., Friedman, S.M., Hunte, G., Monro, M., Vernich, L., Babul, S., Chipman, M., and Winters, M. 2014. Bicycling crash circumstances vary by route type: A cross-sectional analysis. BMC Public Health. 14, 1205.
- De Rome, L., Boufous, S., Georgeson, T., Senserrick, T., Richardson, D., and Ivers, R. 2014. Bicycle crashes in different riding environments in the Australian capital territory. Traffic Injury Prevention. 15(1): 81-88.
- Aldred, R. and Crosweller, S. 2015. Investigating the rates and impacts of near misses and related incidents among UK cyclists. Journal of Transport & Health. 2(3): 379-393.
- Sanders, R.L. 2015. Perceived traffic risk for cyclists: The impact of near miss and collision experiences. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 75: 26-34.
- Goodchild, M.F. 2007. Citizens as sensors: The world of volunteered geography. GeoJournal. 69(4): 211-221.
- Nelson, T.A., Denouden, T., Jestico, B., Laberee, K., and Winters, M. 2015. BikeMaps.org: A global tool for collision and near miss mapping. Frontiers in Public Health. 3(53): 1-8.
- Ferster, C., Nelson, T., Laberee, K., Vanlaar, W., and Winters, M. 2017. Promoting crowdsourcing for urban research: Cycling safety citizen science in four cities. Urban Science. 1, 21.
- Jestico, B., Nelson, T.A., Potter, J., and Winters, M. 2017. Multiuse trail intersection safety analysis: A crowdsourced data perspective. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 103: 65-71.
- Branion-Calles, M., Nelson, T.A., and Winters, M. 2017. Comparing crowd-sourced near-miss and collision cycling data and official bike safety reporting. Transportation Research Record. No. 2662. 1-11.