Understanding the cyclist experience to improve their road safety
There’s a lot to like about having more people using cycling as a means of transport. It’s active, healthy and counterbalances our enduring problems of traffic congestion and pollution. The pandemic has seen larger numbers of cyclists taking to the roads, of various types and degrees of ability and confidence. While this is generally a ‘win’ it highlights the need to address questions about the safety of cyclists who are some of our most vulnerable road users.
To make our roads safer for cyclists, we need to get to basics and understand the cyclist experience in a real and meaningful way. With this rationale at its core, a sizeable trial is now underway in Victoria investigating how data collected from cyclists and other sources can be combined and analysed to create important safety insights.
The Transport Accident Commission (TAC) has joined forces with Deakin University, iMOVE Australia and cycling safety technology company, See.Sense, to run the Light Insight Trial (LiT): Smart bike lights data and road safety in Victoria. The project uses smart rear bike lights to capture data from cyclists’ journeys that will be analysed by researchers to provide insights that may inform planning and road policy, including potential future investments by TAC into cycling safety.
This project will essentially trial the technology and develop a framework for analysis of smart bike light data to explore its useability in road safety planning. Ensuring that the data is representative of the whole cycling population is also an effective means of engaging with a broad cross section of the cycling community on an ongoing basis.
It’s an ambitious project due to its size, and it’s an important foundational piece of work as we look to encourage active transport in our communities.
“The TAC is committed to understanding evidence-based, real-life data in order to make informed decisions that contribute to a safer transport network,’ says Dr. David Young, Manager, Vehicle Safety, innovation and Technology at TAC, whose idea it was to bring the technology to Victoria.
“This trial offers not only the largest cycling monitoring of its kind in the world, but an opportunity to connect and engage with the cycling community in a meaningful way that has the potential to improve the safety of all road users.”
How it works
Starting with a pilot group of 100 participants, the trial will run over 12 months and grow to include 1,000 cyclists. Each cyclist is responsible for connecting the light to the trial and switching it on to deliver ride data and reports via the See.Sense App.
Individual cyclists can see high level stats about their rides on the app on their phone. Depending on personal motivation, you can see how much fuel you have saved, how many donuts you have burned off or how much CO2 you have saved. More importantly though, each cyclist knows that the data will contribute towards the goal of improving cycling safety.
Associate Professor Ashim Debnath is the technical LiT project lead at Deakin University. He is coordinating a large research team providing expertise for the project and is across the multi-disciplinary approach needed to get the best outcome.
“We have a multidisciplinary team working on this with expertise in transportation, data privacy, database development, IoT, data analytics, dashboard development, road safety, and more.” he says.
Not only does the research team include a wide range of subject matter expertise, team members are also highly engaged and out and about testing the tech and even generating data on their own bikes in some cases.
As you would expect, the trial covers metro Melbourne with its large volume of cyclists and associated cycling challenges. It also extends to regional areas, such as Geelong, where there are enough cyclists to gather sufficient data and to maintain cyclist anonymity – more on this shortly.
How smart is the light?
Although small and innocuous looking, the light can collect an impressive array of data points about each journey – whilst of course being an extremely bright and effective bike light.
“The See.Sense lights, and app connected to the light, offer capacity to detect cycling insights beyond anything currently available on the market,” says Helen Reddan, Project Manager of the LiT at TAC.
The lights can detect things such as swerve, acceleration, deceleration, speed, road quality/roughness, crash and near-miss events. Combining this with additional information like location, days and times significantly enhances the available datasets on cycling, which until now have been relatively limited.
What happens to the data?
Firstly, incoming raw data is collected from the light and transferred to the See.Sense server. The data is then transferred – minus identifying information – to a Deakin University Internet of Things (IoT) platform called CoaaS, where researchers apply further privacy protection. The CoaaS platform collects and manages data from both See.Sense and from other relevant available sources, including Victorian government open datasets. This additional data adds detail such as the type of road, the speed limit, whether it is a school zone, and even the weather.
Alongside the IoT platform, Deakin University also runs an analytics suite (‘IDEAS’) capable of turning all this data into useful information. IDEAS enables the researchers to cleanse, analyse and visualise the data for meaningful use.
Handling people’s data comes with significant responsibility, and the LiT is collecting very large amounts of data. As of the first week in February riders in the pilot have logged over half a million kilometres on their bikes. This has produced 8.8 billion sensor readings and 88 billion rows of data Privacy and security are crucial elements for the success of the trial and are at the core of everything the team does with this data.
See.Sense is based in Belfast, in the UK and their data is dependent on the rigorous requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) created by the European Union. All partners in the project have also undertaken detailed privacy assessments to ensure that best practice is maintained, and that trial participants’ privacy is never compromised.
The Deakin University team includes leading researchers in privacy and data protection so that the trial is always benefiting from the latest approaches to data privacy.
UPDATE: Project final report
A wrap-up article of this project, with a downloadable copy of the final report, is available at Smart bike lights, data, and improved cyclist safety