Wearable technology citizen science project aims to make streets safer for Calgary cyclists

A woman bikes along a Calgary bike path on Tuesday, June 4. Global News

A research team at the University of Calgary is looking to make the streets safer for cyclists with help from the public.

A new citizen science project run by the Wearable Technology Research and Collaboration (We-TRAC) Training Program at the university is looking to monitor cyclist activity in the city by collecting data from bikers’ wearable technology.

“Everyone can be a citizen scientist,” study lead and kinesiology professor Dr. Reed Ferber said in an interview with Global News Radio 770 CHQR.

“We want people who are cycling for a recreational purpose, people who are commuting to and from work every now and then and we want competitive cyclists as well.

“If you have a Garmin or a Fitbit, we’re asking for your permission to grab the data that already exists.”

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The program, funded by a federal grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, aims to collect an array of cyclist activity in the city, from heart rates to biking speeds and the most-used routes in Calgary.

Ferber said the project is unique in its development; he noted that unlike many other programs, We-TRAC aims to collect historic and ongoing data to create a better image of what cycling looks like in Calgary.

“Most studies that have been done in the past have involved one-off data collections,” he said. “We’re taking a very different approach.

“We’re going to go back at least two years — if people have that much data — and we’re going to look at patterns of behaviour, including where people are cycling, how often they are cycling and how fast are they cycling.”

Ferber noted that information collected will then be shared with the city to help aid in future infrastructure planning.

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“That’s what we want to do because the city is trying to make decisions about spending our tax dollars on infrastructure,” he said.

Jenna Dutton is a local cyclist who commutes daily from Inglewood to the university’s downtown location. In 2018, Dutton was hit by a car while cycling in a designated bike lane. She said she has high hopes the new program will help the city make decisions that will alleviate similar incidents in the future.

“Instead of planning areas to accommodate vehicles and haphazardly retrofitting cycling infrastructure, there needs to be equal consideration for cycling as a mode of transportation within a broader interconnected network,” she said in a news release Wednesday.

“This approach would also benefit pedestrians and those with mobility challenges and make the city better for all.”

Ferber added the program has worked diligently to ensure participants’ privacy is protected.

“We actually received the grant about a year ago and we spent that time building a Level 4 secure server at the university and we’re hoping that the citizens of Calgary will trust us with the data so we can do scientific research.”

More information on the project and how to get involved can be found on the program’s website.


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