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Measuring trail popularity in the Hudson Valley

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Here's a heatmap showing Mountain Biking activity at 909. The "hotter" lines (brighter, thicker lines) show where there is more recorded riding activity.

This comes from the Strava fitness tracking app. If you have a premium subscription to Strava, you can find it here. It represents all recorded activities by all people who use the app, layered onto one map.

At a glance, you can see which trails are the most popular. Naturally, those closest to the main parking lot (at the north end of the map) are more popular than others. And those at the far Southeastern corner (furthest from the parking lot) are less popular in relative terms.

And clearly some folks forget to hit the "stop recording" button and record themselves driving away on the Taconic State Parkway.

But we can also see some trails in the center of the map that are brighter than you'd expect (if you're judging by distance from the parking area), reflecting more popularity among trail users.

Here we can see Strava activities separated by Bike and Run/Hike, as well as a heatmap using Trailforks, another activity tracking app.

The Trailforks map lacks a bit of nuance, but it it tells a similar story.

Fortunately, Trailforks provides more data than just a heatmap. It also provides activity stats for each trail that a user records during their activities. Since Trailforks is the trail map and activity recording app of choice among mountain bikers, it's a very useful data source.

As a rider traverses the forest, the app records which trails they ride on. Each time they ride a trail, that counts as a "check in" on that particular trail, similar to how people use Facebook or Foursquare to "check in" at local businesses they visit, only the app tracks it for them while they ride. They may ride anywhere from a few to over a dozen trails in one session, but the app tracks and tallies each one and provides the data on their website.

The Trailforks app provides summary data for a trail network overall:

As well as a breakdown of number of rides per year for each trail:

By aggregating this data, we can see how the popularity of the 6 trails that are marked for closure stack up against the rest of the trails at 909.

Note that 2022 data is year-to-date, and was aggregated in early November. It should meet or exceed 2021 totals by end of year.

And here we can see them mapped out individually over time.

This tells the story: the trails that are under review for closure are some of the most popular in the area.

We can also see that the Trailforks app was not as popular in 2014-2015, and has since gained popularity among the local riders, with 2020, 2021, and 2022 all showing a similar number of total rides (2022 numbers are Year-To-Date as of early November, and should meet or exceed 2021 totals by end of year).

If you're interested in more data around trail popularity and local mountain bike networks, check out the full presentation here.

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