Boston and Minneapolis-Saint Paul Maps Show Bikeshare’s Transportation Impact

Boston Hubway Trip Visualizer

After building the CaBi Trip Visualizer for the Capital Bikeshare system in Washington D.C. and Virginia, I looked for other cities I could do similar analyses with. I found two other systems that posted the open data that would allow me to create maps showing where their riders are coming and going.

I got the trip history data from Hubway in Boston and Nice Ride in the Twin Cities. Neither was part of a regularly-scheduled release of data, but it’s a good start. Wikipedia lists 375 systems worldwide in their list of bicycle sharing systems, so I am hoping others will follow suit.

Most systems do provide a list of station information, and a few more also provide real-time dock-status information. That’s great for helping riders navigate the system. But having access to historical usage helps us study patterns and make better-informed decisions about how to plan for the future.

The conflict usually arises because the systems are run by private companies on behalf of public agencies. It can be a struggle to get data out of the operators unless the government contract has a stipulation for open data and – better yet – specifically mentions trip-history data.

Every system should follow the model of Capital Bikeshare, which regularly publishes quarterly chunks of data on its web site’s Trip-History Data page. No need to ask for permission. That’s the essence of open data.


Boston’s Hubway system is a great example of the creativity unleashed when data is made available. Last year, the Hubway Data Visualization Challenge garnered 67 entries. The website features all the wonderful creations made using the system’s data.

Hubway went further than CaBi, including demographics for a trip’s rider, if they were registered with the system, including the member’s ZIP code, year of birth, and sex.

Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council told me the contest helped to raise awareness and engage new communities, and has the potential to influence operational decisions. Though there’s not yet a schedule for future data sets being made available, they do plan on releasing more data.

Minneapolis-Saint Paul

Minneapolis-Saint Paul Nice Ride Bike Visualizer

The third system I found with trip history data was Nice Ride, in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The data (April 2 to November 2, 2012) is a one-time set of data, and not (yet) part of a regularly-scheduled release of data.

In fact, last December, Nice Ride retracted a data set when it was found people could de-anonymize the data by linking a specific trip for a known person to their anonymous user ID, which had been included to enrich the data. As much as analysts would love being able to have access to trip patterns for individuals, it’s understandable that many would consider that information private. The data has been cleaned up and re-posted.

It’s incumbent upon the public to ensure that the stewards of our public-transportation systems share the systems’ data. The Open Data Foundation advocates for this, and has more information.

Sharing data is the cool thing to do!

Know of other bikesharing systems with open data? Let us know in the comments below, and we can expand the Trip Visualizer tool.

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