Calling city runners to crowdsource run-ins and amenities

Alon Abramson wants to help Philly become the best running city possible – and runners, he wants your help.

Abramson, who organizes the West Philly Runners club, lists trails and running clubs on his growing website, Run Philly. Now he’s added two new tools to crowdsource information about making runs around the city safer and easier.

First, he wants runners to file incident reports when something negative happens – from catcalls to collisions. It’s a place to mark down every time a pedestrian unleashes a stream of explicatives at you, if you tangle with a cyclist’s handlebars, or if a car taps you. (If it’s worse, file a police report.) Runners say they experience these sorts of things all the time, but anecdotal evidence is unlikely to drive change.

The idea for the incident report form came through the Run215 Facebook group, Abramson said, where runners were commiserating over incidents with nowhere really to put that information. Unreported incidents mean it’s hard to quantify and ultimately improve the running experience in the city. But even in extreme incidents like crashes, pedestrians and runners are not differentiated in police reports, plus only a small fraction of incidents are actually reported. Abramson’s project is looking to build up a better record.

“It’s only an effective tool if people use it,” Abramson said. So he’s encouraging runners to report incidents throughout high running season – now through fall.

The easy interface on Run Philly is a form built by ESRI, the company behind powerhouse mapping program ArcGIS, and all runners have to do is characterize the type of incident, time of day, and pinpoint the location on the map. Sometime this fall Abramson will start analyzing the data to see if there are patterns in terms of incidents or locations. The project is a natural fit for Abramson who, in addition to being an avid runner, works at Penn’s Institute for Urban Research on energy issues and is studying Urban Spatial Analytics at PennDesign.

With enough participation Abramson hopes he’ll be able to use the information to “appeal to our decision makers to improve intersections or increase patrols.” In some areas, incidents could be precipitated by pinch-points in shared spaces so solutions could be design-related. If verbal harassment is most common, that be confronted through etiquette campaigns, something like the city’s Give Respect, Get Respect campaign.

Runners are a more diverse group that we might think, Abramson said, and they’re a good demographic to test street or trail safety because they cover a lot of ground citywide. Abramson also hopes to leverage all of that coverage through another crowdsourcing campaign identifying running-related amenities, like water fountains and bathrooms close to trails. 

The vision for the amenities project, Abramson said, is to “build the Yelp of Philly running, but without the reviews.” The more runners share amenities, the more Abramson hopes he’ll be able to build better running maps to help people navigate different routes around the city.

“When I started this website it was really about the parks and where to run in Philly,” he said. “I want Philly to be the best running city in the country.”

His favorite route? As a West Philadelphian, Abramson prefers a long loop in East and West Park, starting at Belmont Plateau, crossing the Schuylkill at Strawberry Mansion Bridge, running down the Boxer’s Trail and back over. 

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