Crowdmap Helps Give Cyclists A Voice In Saskatoon

This week The Star Phoenix printed a story on the recent launch of the Ushahidi iPhone and iPad app, and how’s it’s being used in Saskatoon for cyclists to report incidents.

A website set up by a local man is allowing Saskatoon cyclists to report on the bicycle friendliness of different areas of the city.

Saskatoon Bike Map, located at saskatoonbikemap.crowdmap.com, lets users report bicycle-related incidents and information such as collisions, bike thefts or locations of good trails and displays the reports on an easy-to-understand map of the city. Dots on the map represent various report types, allowing site visitors to get a visual representation of what other cyclists are saying about areas of Saskatoon.

“Being a cyclist, I hear a lot of stories,” said Bryn Rawlyk, who started the website in August. He got the idea after seeing a similar bike map of Los Angeles.

“It’s such an open, accessible way for people to collect info about bicycle incidents,” said Rawlyk.

Rawlyk estimates that 20 to 30 users have contributed to the site. So far there are 50 reports posted, with the most common types being complaints of harassment and areas where bike paths are insufficient or not observed by non-cyclists.

“I regularly bike downtown, and I continually come across courier vehicles and trucks parked in the bike lanes blocking our path. It is especially a regular occurrence outside the police station on Fourth Avenue,” said one user in a post on the site.

The website was created using Crowdmap, an open-source mapping platform built by Ushahidi, a non-profit technology company. The software was first developed to document post-election violence in Kenya in 2008. Since then it has been used for many reasons and in a variety of locations, such as Haiti during the aftermath of last year’s earthquake, Russia during widespread forest fires last summer or London during a transit strike. Anyone can set up a map on the Crowdmap website for free. The technology is currently being used in southern Sudan to report on the independence referendum. In two days, the Sudan VoteMonitor map has received 15 reports, ranging from arrests and violence to polling stations that are particularly well-organized.

“It can gather these reports on the spot,” said Zak. The program uses the GPS abilities of handheld devices to precisely position the reports on the website map. It also allows users to take pictures of whatever they are reporting and post them. “People on the ground, they’re the ones who know best what is happening,” said Zak.

The Ushahidi iOS app was downloaded 500 times during its first two days online. It’s already being used to report the locations of animals stranded by the recent flooding in Australia.

Zak is excited to see the software he worked on being used in his home city, and said bicycle-related issues need addressing. He returned to Saskatoon after spending time abroad and noticed how difficult it is to get around in the city without a car.

“I spent three years in places where you could walk everywhere,” said Zak. “To come back and see the major congestion problems was a wakeup call.”

The visual nature of the website makes it easier to spot trends in the reports.

“If you can identify exact locations, that can help,” said Zak. He also believes having one site that collects all of the data could help local cyclists in future bids to city council.

“I think there are a lot of improvements we could do,” said Rawlyk. “(The website) will give a good picture, from a cyclist’s perspective, of issues in the city.”

According to Rawlyk, Saskatoon Bike Map allows the voices of local cyclists to have some permanence.

It’s great to see Ushahidi getting local coverage, let’s hope Saskatoon Bike Map can help improve the cycling situation in Saskatoon.