- Mobility data firm Populus is working to help cities leverage data from micromobility fleet operators to craft road safety plans as part of the second phase of a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT)-backed initiative.
- The Safety Data Initiative builds on a previous project, in which Populus showed that scooter use data can be combined with other safety information to inform future plans. In this second phase, Populus will integrate the micromobility data with other datasets to create dashboards and predictive solutions for safety plans.
- The one-year project will include participation from more than 15 cities, including Charlottesville, Virginia; Cleveland; Lexington, Kentucky; Washington, D.C., and others. The pilot will also work with USDOT to share best practices that offer lessons to other cities.
Micromobility operators collect a range of user data, everything from where people are picking up and dropping off vehicles to how long people are riding. However, that data can come in many different forms and in large volumes, making it a challenge for transportation departments to wrangle alongside existing infrastructure information, especially when they lack data-sharing standards. The goal of the pilot, said Populus CEO and co-founder Regina Clewlow, is to give cities a platform to use that “really messy data” as part of safety initiatives.
For example, she said, cities could layer GPS data from scooters over maps of existing and planned bike infrastructure, which would help identify where the bike plans may miss areas that see significant ridership. “A lot of cities now have access to so much information that can help them make better and quicker infrastructure improvements,” Clewlow said. “In the past, most cities didn’t have a lot of bike or pedestrian data at their fingertips. Now they have so much more.”
While it’s clear that micromobility fleets are here to stay, cities are still weighing the best approach to handling them. Some have taken a stricter approach, limiting their speed and where they can be ridden, while others are running targeted pilots to see how best to manage them. A particular challenge for many cities has been making sure infrastructure is safe for scooters, which cannot handle small bumps or cracks in asphalt as well as bikes can.
The pilot also comes amid a larger conversation around road safety, as pedestrian and road deaths continue to climb. An estimated 8,730 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first quarter of 2021, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, a more than 10% increase over the previous year despite a decrease in vehicle miles traveled. Experts and federal officials have encouraged a “safe system” approach that uses road design and infrastructure tools to improve safety and reduce the impact of driver mistakes.
Clewlow said the micromobility data is a valuable tool to supplement those efforts, saying they tie “very much” into Vision Zero campaigns that seek to eliminate traffic deaths. The effort will work toward predictive analysis that helps cities prevent accidents for all mobility users.
“The cities utilizing our platform are already working on Vision Zero; this allows them to pull in so much more information,” Clewlow said.