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TandemTrip: a potential “Waze for cycling” app

If you ever wished your phone could give you real-time updates about cycling or walking conditions, that’s what TandemTrip wants to do.

TandemTrip is a smartphone app that integrates navigation, route condition information, and social connection for people traveling on bike or by foot into a singular platform – focused on trip safety, convenience, and reliability. Our goal is to help you get moving and maintain an active lifestyle by reducing barriers and connecting you with others in your community.TandemTrip partners with local government and organizations to provide two-way communication on trail and bike facility conditions so you’re prepared if barriers are on your route and maintenance crews can respond more quickly to these issues.

The app is currently in the “exploratory” phase. That’s the phase before funding, then development, and finally launch. Their website has links to surveys for potential users and partners, so you can go send them your thoughts if you’re interested.

I’m always glad to see more support for bike riders, so I think TandemTrip may have a lot of potential. Apps with bicycle directions aren’t new (Google Maps has offered it for years), but they’re serviceable at best and dangerous at worst. If you try to use Google Maps for bike directions, you’ll quickly learn that the app probably has a different idea of which streets are “bikeable” than you do.

I’m not sure if that’s a problems that TandemTrip can solve, but I suppose we’ll see. When biking, most of the difficulties don’t come from unexpected traffic or roadblocks. The biggest difficulty is finding new routes, and that stems from infrastructural problems.

Car-centric apps, like Google Maps, don’t understand all of the routes available to bicycles. Bicycles and pedestrians are free to cut through parking lots, alleys, and empty lots. Near my commute, a bike path runs just a few feet past a small side-street but doesn’t officially connect. Apps can’t “see” these potential connections, even though they’re obvious to humans.

On the other hand, existing map apps can pick routes that are unsafe or stressful for all but the most fearless cyclists. A human navigator will take a detour through a quiet neighborhood rather than bike straight down a high-speed artery, but computers, in their unswerving logic, prefer the shortest route.

Can an app provide accurate and safe GPS directions for people on bicycles? I don’t see why not, but the problem is economic rather than technical. Someone needs to do the work to make it happen.