Over the past few years, fitness trackers have become go-to helpers for athletes and fitness fans around the world. But their data does not only help users optimize their individual training goals. Fitness app Strava already supplies urban planners of over 70 cities with their big data.

“The Social Network for Athletes” is software specialist Strava’s slogan and promise. With its app, the San Francisco-based fitness company emphasizes the social aspect of sports, targeting athletes from a wide range of disciplines: from skiing, snowboarding, surfing, and kite surfing to Crossfit, climbing and rowing. Not to forget popular staples like swimming, running, and biking.

woman running in a race, man spurring her on
The fitness app Strava motivates athletes across the board.
Photo: Alexis Berg

Strava’s product? A smartphone app for Android and iOS devices. For added scope and flexibility, Strava can also log and analyze data recorded by wearables.

More than 70 cities across the globe use Strava Metro for bike path planning.

Within the Strava network, it’s easy for users to follow others and give them “kudos” – mutual respect for impressive achievements. And regular challenges allow athletes from around the world to compete against each other, vying for virtual medals and the international community’s respect – a successful example of gamification in action.

three iPhone Screens with the app strava
Connected to a wearable, routes can be tracked.
Photo: Strava

Movement data for urban development

Just how useful the logged movement data can be, even outside of the Strava community, is highlighted by the Strava Metro project. For several years now, this project has focused on evaluating and exploiting big data for urban development concepts.

An entire city’s route data can be used to create so-called heatmaps – movement profiles that are especially valuable for urban planning.

When and where do you get the most bicycle traffic in the city? Where do cyclists reach the highest average speeds? How do rush hours affect overall traffic flow? The collective data of millions of users can make a sizeable contribution to improving urban mobility.

More than 70 cities across the globe already use Strava Metro for traffic analysis and bike path planning. Yet the people behind the app admit that, when they first launched Strava, they didn’t realize the value their collected data might have.

heatmap of Hamburg
Hamburg, Germany: Movement data results in insightful heatmaps.
Photo: Strava

“We are no city planners, but we noticed just how important such data can be for urban planning,” revealed Michael Horvath, one of the company’s founders, as part of a Guardian interview. “Up until now, most planning offices had almost no data to work with, so our data sets provide them with a decent baseline and guidance.”

Cities from Glasgow and Johannesburg to Seattle, Stockholm, Brisbane, and Reykjavik now use Strava data to create and design more sustainable infrastructures. An interesting side benefit for athletes who appreciate using digital technologies not just for their own self-improvement, but also to make their city a better place for everyone.

For more information on Strava, click here.

Price: free
System: Android, iOS 10.0
Size: 149 MB