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Cycling into New Frontiers: A Need for New Geospatial Data Collection Tools

While shapefiles usually exist for roadways and recent infrastructure projects, many multi-use pathways, tunnels, bike trails, and ramps remain absent from digital records. The TH!NKBike works by collecting and recording multi-input geospatial data on off road paths for more accurate transportation and infrastructure planning.

By Christina Bouchard and Tony De Crescenzo


December 4, 2018

As digital mapping transforms the discipline of urban planning, data has become the linchpin to achieving evidence-based transportation networks. While most medium and large size cities now maintain shapefiles to manage their roadways, the same cannot be said for multi-use trails, paths, walkways, tunnels, and ramps that are outside the public right-of-way. The efficient and accurate mapping of these assets represents a key challenge and opportunity for cycling and pedestrian travel planning.


Markham, Ontario has built linear cycling routes in ravines and on streets. Smaller local links in neighbourhoods have been built as part of developments which are not necessarily part of this cycling network. Click here to view full image.

A Digital Tool to Document Desire Lines

As the travel time for walking and cycling trips directly affects the inclination to use a specific active mode, it is important to know where direct linkages and shortest path route options exist. While jurisdictions maintain shapefiles of their road networks, these records may not contain enough detailed information to optimally plan for walking and cycling.

For example, many jurisdictions across North America have multi-use trails and paths that were constructed in the 1950s-1990s alongside the creation of subdivisions. Most often, these infrastructure assets were not digitally mapped when the land parcels were developed and many jurisdictions are still working to develop digital tools.


A Digital Tool to Mitigate Liability

When planning infrastructure projects, the absence of walking and cycling links between origins and destinations may overlook ripe opportunities for interventions. If jurisdictions do not have complete and up-to-date shapefiles, they may fail to achieve coordination with capital planning programs such as road resurfacings or reconstructions.

Worse yet, incomplete records represent a liability for jurisdictions if the infrastructure does not receive proper maintenance and falls into a state of disrepair as it ages. Lower quality infrastructure may affect user comfort and utility and decrease the likelihood to walk or cycle. When infrastructure is not maintained and degradation occurs, this poses as a safety risk for those who do use it as well.

To map and understand the potential linkages outside of the street network, a more granular planning and data gathering approach is needed. Better data can help to inform the development of transportation assets, and to forecast bicycle and pedestrian activity where new buildings are being constructed.

This article is based on the findings of “TH!NKBike“, an internal Pocket R&D report by Christina Bouchard and Tony De Crescenzo. Pocket R&D is IBI’s tactical micro-research initiative that taps into the knowledge of our talent pool to inform how we can define the cities of tomorrow.  

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