Have you heard of the exercise app called “Human“? I only learned about it last week when I read an article on CityLab that discusses how the app encourages people to exercise or be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day and in doing so, collects very interesting data on how people move in different cities. The article presents maps taken from Human’s website for the cities of Amsterdam and Houston to illustrate how data collected through the app validate the reputation of the two cities: Amsterdam as a bike-loving city, and Houston as a place where people love their cars and don’t walk much.
As a plannerd who previously wrote about apps for planners and resources to encourage walking in Los Angeles, I was eager to see what Human’s data and maps show for the City of Angels.
According to Human, nearly three-quarters of activity in Los Angeles are via motorized transport. Only 20% walk comparing to the average of 37% in other cities. Cycling only account for 4% of activity, noticeably lower than the average of 10% in other cities. (In case you are wondering, the cycling figure for Amsterdam is an amazing 35%!) When shown visually, the data end up making Los Angeles (sadly, similar to Houston) look like four different cities, depending on the type of movement being displayed. In particular, the data only reveal the Los Angeles we know from an aerial map when driving paths are shown.
So what insights can we gain from these maps? While some may think that this clearly confirms the popular view of Los Angeles as a completely auto-dependent city, I caution against jumping to quick conclusions. The data is surely interesting, but it is obvious that there are limitations that we must consider. First of all, it is unclear how many Angelenos are currently using the Human app. As I asked in the beginning, how many of you have actually heard of the app? I think we are only seeing a partial or incomplete picture of how Angelenos move through the maps above in large part because the Human app is only available to iPhone users and there are probably not that many users of the app at this time. Second, there are similar exercise or activity-tracking apps available such as MapMyWalk which I have used. For us to get a more complete and accurate view, we would need to compile data from all the different apps, and this may not be possible, depending on various factors, including the willingness of app developers to work together and/or release their data. Third, the data collected by Human is not always accurate. For example, I have found that on a number of occasions, Human gave me credit for biking when I was actually just going up the stairs or riding the subway.
Putting my planner hat aside and speaking as an app user, I must say that the Human app is very easy to use and has motivated to be more physically active. It really does help to have this handy tool to track my activity level; even though it is not 100% accurate, it still gives me a very good idea of how active I have been or how much more I need to do to meet my daily activity/exercise goal. Similarly, the MapMyWalk app is also great at tracking my walks. As a plannerd, I enjoy looking over the maps that show the routes I have taken on my walks. A friend even suggested that I try to spell out words like a San Francisco cyclist did using the free software Strava which records routes, speed, and elevation (see this article). For more information about the Human app, please check out this FAQ and/or read reviews like this one.
Screenshots of Human and MapMyWalk apps by author
Data and maps by Human from http://cities.human.co/ (Fair Use Doctrine: review)