John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Marvel at these global heat maps of popular cycling and running routes.
Where on the planet do people jog most often? Where are the most popular routes for cyclists?
A glimpse into the geography of elevated heart rates and sweaty pits is now available thanks to Strava, maker of GPS-enabled exercise-tracking gizmos. Over time, the San Francisco-based company has collected a lot of user data. Now it's put the info in play in a giant, visual way, with these global heat maps showing the movements of the hardcore huffing-and-puffing populace.
The maps include 77,688,848 rides and 19,660,163 runs for a blink-inducing total of 220 billion data points. (You can see my two points at the corner of Guerrero and 25th Street in San Francisco – just kidding, I don't exercise.) There's the option to switch between bike and running data as well as change the route colors, and Strava engineers are considering adding the ability to see direction of travel, too.
Obviously there are limitations: Not everybody on the planet has one of these trackers on their person. (Although there appears to be one Strava nutball biking around the rocky shores of Greenland.) But in terms of providing an overview of popular urban-exercise destinations, this digital cartography does the trick. Here are a few looks at metropolitan zones, beginning with runners in the Bay Area. They love to hug the shoreline and zip through Golden Gate Park, but aren't much represented in residential 'hoods like Richmond and Sunset (or Chinatown, for that matter – but who ever jogs in a Chinatown?):
This image, just north of San Francisco, shows what anyone driving through the extremely hilly, hot, and narrow-roaded terrain already knows: the Bay Area's cyclists were somehow born invulnerable to pain:
Runners in New York appear to accumulate in major arteries and the city's carefully carved-out warrens of green space, like Central and Prospect parks, and swarm along the banks of the East and Hudson rivers:
Though according to the map, this parking lot behind a barbed-wire fence in Red Hook is a hotbed of running activity. Not sure what's up with that:
Cyclists in the upper half of Washington, D.C., blaze heavily traveled paths through Rock Creek Park, around East Potomac Park, and along the C & O Canal:
And biking in Detroit is alive and well among Strava users:
Not so much running, though: