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The cycling projects helping to shape Manchester’s future

8 May 2018 

Cyclist

Two pioneering Manchester bike initiatives, which both work using Internet of Things (IoT) technology from BT, are promising to make life better for everyone - and not just the city’s cycling community.

The projects form part of the city’s trailblazing smart city CityVerve programme, which brings together a range of organisations, from local authorities to technology partners. The CityVerve consortium is applying the latest in IoT innovation across Greater Manchester.

The first cycling project, known as Mobike, is a bike sharing scheme which began in the summer of 2017.

Mobike differs from other bike share schemes because it doesn’t rely on docking stations or designated parking zones.

Because Mobike is IoT-enabled, each one of the scheme’s cycles is connected to a network which tracks and records location. Users are free to leave bikes in any public place. There’s never a need to worry about finding a parking point. Cyclists simply find the nearest bike using an app - and away they go.

Connected bikes

The other project has seen BT team-up with SeeSense, an innovative cycling company from Northern Ireland that makes intelligent, connected lights for bicycles.

For this project, SeeSense’s ICON smart cycle lights were installed on the bikes of 180 cycling volunteers who ride across the city every day.

This data collection and sensor communication works in two ways: Firstly, to make the bike light flash brighter and faster in riskier situations such as crossing busy junctions or approaching roundabouts, and secondly to feedback environmental data.

This could be about the quality of the road surface, or highlighting events such as near misses or traffic accidents - flagging up particularly danger-prone sections of city cycling routes.

The collected data is now being used to help guide decisions around everything from upgraded cycle routes to accident prevention.

Attracting interest

John Davies, chief researcher, Future Business Technology, BT, has been closely involved with the CityVerve project since it first began more than two years ago.

He says the two IoT cycling projects are attracting a great deal of interest from other cities up and down the country.

“Mobike is using BT’s IoT technology to make it easier for anyone to use a shared bike which in turn makes cycling more accessible as a casual form of transport in the city. Meanwhile the ICON initiative is keeping cyclists lit up and visible on the road.”

“However,” he adds, “both projects are serving a greater purpose as they are providing data into the BT data hub where it’s collated and organised and made available to the wider CityVerve consortium.”

“All this data is giving some valuable insights into how Manchester’s cyclists are using their city - not only from a travel and transport perspective but also feeding into things like energy and environmental planning and health and social care themes too.”  

Informing and improving

The BT data hub imports around 200 separate travel and transport data feeds and makes sense of them. Information can be presented in a useful and applicable way to organisations like Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM).

“The two cycling projects are already proving to be valuable tools for TfGM,” confirms John Davies. “The insights they deliver can inform its strategy and investment for building and improving public transport in the city.

Quicker and more safely

“For example, we’ve discovered that there’s one part of the city, in and around Oxford Road, which has an abundance of more formerly constructed cycle lanes built by the side of the roads. Here, the average speed of cyclists is 4 MPH faster than other parts of the city, including zones where cycle lanes tend to be more informal."

“Not only, that,” add John, “But the data reveals that in these areas cyclists behave much better - for their own safety and the safety of others.”

More fun, less congestion

While the BT-run IoT cycling projects are showing city planners how cyclists can get around the city faster and more safely, the hope is their insights can help encourage more cyclists in the city and therefore less cars and congestion.

Says John Davies: “More people are recognising that it’s easier, safer and more fun to cycle in Manchester. This will inspire even more folk to get on a bike instead of driving, which will reduce the number of cars on the road and subsequently improve air quality.”

So, introducing IoT-enabled cycling has done more than simply empower Manchester’s bike enthusiasts. It promises to make life in the city better for everyone.