Transport for London only launched 'the world's-largest database of cycling infrastructure' this month, but startups are already using the open data to improve their journey planning services.

The Cycling Infrastructure Database contains the details on more than 240,000 pieces of cycling infrastructure in London, including 2,000km of cycle lanes, 960 traffic filters, 58,000 wayfinding signs and 480,000 photographs of the city landscape.

© iStock/Pakorn_Khantiyaporn
© iStock/Pakorn_Khantiyaporn

Beeline is one of the startups integrating the dataset into its product, a navigation device that attaches to the handlebars of a bicycle.

"It gives us access to a lot more information about the routes and the different elements of cycling infrastructure in London, and that enables us to build far more effective navigation for our users by having access to that data," Beeline cofounder Mark Jenner tells Techworld.

Transport for London (TfL) believes this access will bring big benefits to both the economy and the public, and has a track record to justify its ambitions.

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The organisation has provided open transport data to developers since 2007, and now offers more than 80 feeds through its free unified API to the likes of Citymapper, Waze, Google Maps and over 600 other travel apps in the UK.

Deloitte estimates that the provision of open data from TfL adds £130 million a year to London's economy.

Critics argue that TfL has lost potential revenue streams by open-sourcing its data to the private sector rather than using it to create its own new services, but for third-party developers, it could be a boon to their businesses.

The cycling market is estimated to be worth £2 billion and forecast to grow by two percent per annum, but participation rates remain among the lowest in the European Union.

Cycling remains the least popular mode of transport for Brits, according to a YouGov poll that found only 40 percent of people have a positive view of riding a bike.

In London, that figure drops to 34 percent, despite the growth of public bicycle hire schemes and investment in new cycles routes and other city infrastructure.

Claims that laziness is the cause of their aversion can be dispelled by the finding that walking is the most popular transport method. Safety is frequently cited as the most common reason. A government survey found that 62 percent of the British population believes it is too dangerous for them to ride on the roads.

Jenner believes that the dataset can help reassure them of their safety.

"The feedback we get from our users is that if the route is good, on quiet streets, in a pleasant place, and not stressful with traffic, it can be a massive game-changer for whether people will even cycle at all in London," he says.

"There are lots of people who commute that have a very specific route that they know and they only do that journey because they know that it's a good route and it's safe. If we were able to offer that for all of their journeys so they could be confident and trusting of the fact that the routing is going to be good, I think that would be quite the game-changer."

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A TFL spokesperson told Techworld that the level of detail provided in the dataset will allow third-party developers to provide personalised route planning for cyclists, whether their priority is speed, safety, scenery or clean air.

Beeline is one of the companies planning to harness this capability.

The startup has previously used third-party routing providers to guide its navigation system, but is now developing a proprietary routing tool built on OpenStreetMap for London.

Jenner is confident that his company's service will surpass those offered by competitors with equal access to TfL's open data by surveying its existing users to refine its routes.

"We think that the user input that we can get from our own existing users is where it really distinguishes itself," he says. "Because we'll then be able to really validate that it is in fact a nice route because someone told us it is."