Strava is a scrappy, fitness-oriented startup that burst onto the scene roughly four years ago, aimed at a niche market of city-dwelling athletes that might be able to benefit from heat map technology. Little did they know, the interest that would be waiting for them, not only in their target market, but beyond – in the offices of city planners, developers, public transportation officials, and more, it was easy to capture the attention of tall buildings and bustling infrastructures almost everywhere.
First thing’s first – to understand why people are running (and biking) to sign up for this app, you’ll need to understand what it offers its users. More or less, Strava is like a social media network for those who are active, especially in heavily populated areas. In their own inspiring words:
“If you’re active, Strava was made for you. Our mobile app and website enhance the experience of sport and connect millions of athletes from around the world. We’re the social network for those who strive.”
The app works to help athletes get better, with GPS-assisted assessments. If you go out on a run, for instance, and use Strava, you will reach the finish line perhaps huffing and puffing, but armed with a multitude of metrics that can help you later improve your fitness. You will be able to see the speed you went, your overall pace, distance, as well as compare your performance to past runs and more. Plus, you can be “friends” with people on Strava, keeping an eye on your competition as well as keeping tabs on what other active members of your community are doing (and of course, how you stack up). Perhaps the most helpful feature is being able to explore well-traversed routes. As a runner or a biker, it can be hard to find what you want – which sometimes is the path most traveled, and other times might be a trail off the beaten path, where you can forge your own way and not worry about passersby.
The app is competitive by nature, allowing (if security settings permit) users to see who they passed on the trails, participation in “leaderboards” for commonly cruised thoroughfares, and goal setting for events such as half marathons and marathons. It’s easy to see why serious runners and aspiring athletes alike have been easily drawn to sign up, and the fact that it’s free doesn’t hurt, either.
And while Strava was proud to have quickly acclimated users and fans, they also found themselves sitting on a treasure trove of information that could be useful if placed in the right hands. And so, another branch of the company was born – Strava Metro. Within that branch, Strava quickly coined the term “commutes count,” which they use to express how frequently a route is traveled. Speaking to Fast Co Design about how they came to see their data’s unique value to cities, team member Brian Devaney says:
“We had a lot of transportation departments reaching out to us, saying ‘Hey, we could actually use a deeper dive into the saved data, so we can better lobby for new infrastructure. We need to prove behavior change after new infrastructure is built, and we really need to drill down to rider counts, and temporal detail of time of day and day of week. That really launched us into figuring out, okay, how dow we aggregate and anonymize and provide it back in a format that’s helpful for city planners?”
Fast forward to Strava in the present day, where the Metro teams works alongside 125 different agencies and departments for data sets on how the people in their cities bike and walk, in order to hopefully serve inhabits better through things such as metro planning, bike paths, policy changes, and more. The data is paid for to Strava through a subscription-style licensing fee.
How might a city like DC benefit from information collected from an app like Strava? If the city’s runners and bikers sign up and keep doing their thing, perhaps we will soon find out…