Like Waze For Bikes, This App Crowd-Sources Info To Help Cyclists Safely Navigate Their Cities

May 1, 2018

Pittsburgh can be notoriously difficult to navigate. The city's hills and valleys, bridges and tunnels, lack of  street grid, one-way streets and constant construction make getting around a feat, even in a car. 

That challenge is only multiplied while riding a bicycle, when safety becomes a top concern.

“The biggest barrier to people riding a bike is typically uncertainty or fear of the unknown, as well as obviously cars and traffic," said cyclist and web developer Lynsie Campbell. "If we can give people as much information [as possible] about the roads they’re going to travel before they head out, they can make good decisions.”

Campbell had been a bike commuter for years, but when she moved from San Francisco back to Pittsburgh with her young son and started cycling with him, she became especially concerned with finding the safest routes to bike -- and sharing that information with others.

That was the inspiration behind the website and mobile app LaneSpotter, which Campbell hopes will become the "definitive guide" for anyone who rides a bike.

An section of LaneSpotter's online safety map for Pittsburgh.
Credit LaneSpotter

LaneSpotter has three main functions. The bike map shows cyclists where they can find bike lanes or trails in their area. The safety map lets users create and view ratings for any road, ranging from "very safe" to "avoid." The alerts map lets users flag problems like road closures or heavy traffic in real-time, similar to the Waze navigation app for drivers.

Campbell said that while online resources to find bike lanes and routes already exist, having a little more context can be very helpful.

"Just because there's a bike lane on the road doesn't necessarily mean it's the safest road to travel," said Campbell. "My example of this in Pittsburgh is Forbes Avenue, between Braddock and South Dallas. There's a bike lane there, but there's also four lanes of traffic going 50 in a 35 mile-per-hour zone. So it's deceiving, and if you don't know that and you get on that road ... you might not be comfortable."

LaneSpotter has partnered with Bike Pittsburgh and similar advocacy groups in nine other cities across the United States, including New York and Washington, D.C., in order to get the word out to cyclists. But Campbell said cyclists have created ratings on the app in more than 250 cities and communities around the world.

"Anyone who finds the app can get a group of people together and start rating the roads in their city and that’s kind of the beauty of this," said Campbell.

Ratings can be found in European cities such as London and Berlin, and there's an especially active group of users in and around the city of Toyama on the west coast of Japan.

Campbell said the next steps are to secure more funding for LaneSpotter and develop a revenue model that preserves users' rights to protect their personal data.