OpenBike: New website crowd-sources latest about Denver cycling

A lot more people are biking in Denver -- and a group of local web developers hope to take advantage of this growth with a new website that collects and maps data provided by the city's cyclists. The site, called OpenBike, catalogs a range of user-generated bike information, including scenic routes, crash reports and even high-theft bike racks.

The new site is under development now and is the product of a Denver "hackathon," where web developers and coders got together and collaborated on the development of an app focused specifically on biking in the city. Leading the effort is a Denver-based group called PlaceMatters, which works to promote citizen engagement in planning and development projects.

"People who are avid cyclists know this stuff," says Jason Lally, director of PlaceMatter's Decision Lab, which works to connect developers and build software that encourages participation in planning efforts. "We want to have all that information in a single place for Denver, so you can really make informed choices about how to [bike]."

The creation of the website, which was presented at several events last week as part of Denver Startup Week, comes at a time when the growth of cycling in the city has raised some concernsamong city officials. Tensions on the road are at an all-time high, as more cars and bikes are colliding. At the same time, advocates are pushing the city to speed up its development of infrastructure and paths for bikes as demand increases.

With so much attention being paid to cycling, it's a perfect time to collect knowledge directly from cyclists and package that data in a user-friendly website, Lally believes.

"The idea is that if we can basically leverage the cyclists that use these routes a lot...that could inform others that might not use them," he says, adding, "It'll take a community to really build this effort."

PlaceMatters is leading this effort with a group called OpenColorado, which pushes for greater transparency in government. The project is part of an initiative called Colorado Code for Communities, which promotes "civic hackers." The coders behind the site are still building it out and adding features, but it already contains a fair amount of data and functions embedded geographically.

On the map, users can look up routes under different categories -- "easy," "safe, "beautiful," etc. And the site also maps crash reports as well as thefts, which can be viewed under a "bike rack" section.

The original idea came from the recognition that there just isn't a lot of organized information for the biking community.

"The major problem is, we have lots of data on how roads get used by cars, but cycling data and pedestrian data is notoriously hard to collect," says Lally. "The idea was to [create]...a crowd-sourced platform on routes."

The Denver Regional Council of Governments, a regional planning agency, first pitched the idea and hopes to use the app and its data in the future, he says.

"This really is a great story about what happens when government comes together with developers," Lally says, adding that the app is more effective as more cyclists contribute information.

There's also a natural overlap between these kinds of developers and cycling groups. "What's promising is the developer community tends to be very cycling-friendly," says Lally. "The people who build these kinds of tools are also users of the routes."

The short-term goal is to keep building the app and collecting robust data and then push it out next spring in association with bike-to-work day.

Lally says, "We would like to see that information actually be used in assessing the quality of bike routes from a planning perspective.... The long-term goal is to start making informed investments in bike infrastructure to help promote cycling."

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