Riding Through Divvy Data

| Kevin Wei, MSFT Chicago Civic Tech Fellow

As the weather gets warmer, spring brings a blog post combining two great things in the City of Chicago: bike-sharing and open data!

Since June 2013, Divvy has been Chicago’s official bike-sharing system. You can’t miss the brightly blue-colored bikes and numerous docking stations scattered across the city. With over 6,000 bikes available at 580+ stations, both residents and visitors have a fun, accessible, and efficient option for traveling around Chicago.

In addition to having one of the largest bike-sharing networks in the country, Chicago was also one of the first cities to have an open data policy as well as the appointment of a chief data officer. By publishing the massive amounts of data that the city collects through the publicly available city data portal, Chicago committed itself to becoming a data-driven city that would use technology to identify and promote strategies for social progress and economic growth.

The City of Chicago releases city data across different categories including the Divvy bike share program. Every single Divvy trip is recorded and made available to the public. Whether you’re a bike-enthusiast or policy maker, you can easily digest, use, and gain insights from this free data set. With over 9 million rows of data, that’s a lot of interesting information to explore!

As a civic tech fellow, I thought this was a great opportunity to learn more about my city through data. After downloading the dataset from the open data portal, I opened it with Microsoft PowerBI, an analytics tool that makes it extremely easy to manipulate, visualize, and learn from the Divvy data.

I teamed up with Narrative Science, a Chicago-based startup and a leader in Advanced Natural Language Generation (Advanced NLG) for the enterprise to leverage the company’s Advanced NLG extension for Microsoft Power BI. Narratives for Power BI automatically communicates insights from your data, in natural language.  These smart narratives act as a companion during the data discovery process, highlighting relevant insights in natural language, so you can make faster, more accurate decisions.

We put together a Power BI report that includes narratives to look at some of the insights that open data can bring to improving our city. The report showcases bike usage across different stations throughout the city.

Scroll through the pages above or view the full Power BI report here.

Here are some of our key takeaways:

  • Not too surprisingly, the stop at Lake Shore Drive and Monroe is extremely popular. Nearly 100,000 rides started there in between 2015 and 2016. Then again, what could be better than riding along the lakefront in 85-degree weather along the beach?
  • About one third of stations are very popular, representing over 80% of starting and ending destinations for all trips taken since the Divvy bike share program started. As for the remaining two thirds of the stations that are not as popular, it would be interesting to dig deeper into this sample set and understand how Divvy could promote greater usage across diverse neighborhoods.
  • Nearly 40% of all trips taken, which comes out to 4 million trips, started or ended in two locations: The Loop – Chicago’s central business district and home to a number of tourist attractions, or Chicago’s near north center – the region right above the loop. The Divvy bike program has continued to expand beyond the center of Chicago, adding new stations in new neighborhoods and launching new programs to make Divvy more accessible to people of all income levels. As a result, they hope to see increased Divvy bike usage beyond these two highly concentrated areas.

We love how Narratives for Power BI helps everyone immediately identify the most important insights from data by communicating them in a language that everyone understands – plain English. There’s no way we could have immediately spotted the above insights by looking at visualizations alone. It’s incredible how narratives automatically surface this information in seconds. Even better, they are dynamic and will update as you filter the charts and graphs by clicking on different neighborhoods and changing the time scale.

With the combination of Power BI and Narratives for Power BI, we envision a world where open city data is no longer a mysterious trove of data. Instead people, even the least technical user, can leverage technology to uncover interesting trends in data, understand them, and make decisions that make our cities an even more delightful, better place to live in.

About Microsoft Civic Technology and Engagement

Microsoft’s Civic Technology and Engagement team brings the company’s best assets to help civic leaders — and the communities they serve – use technology and cutting edge ideas to solve their biggest challenges. Microsoft Chicago is committed to building long-term partnerships in local communities to move our city forward and leveraging technology to bring innovative and transformative solutions for critical civic issues.  

About Narrative Science

Narrative Science is the leader in advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) for the enterprise. Quill™, its Advanced NLG platform, learns and writes like a person, automatically transforming data into Intelligent Narratives—insightful, conversational communications full of audience-relevant information that provide complete transparency into how analytic decisions are made. Customers, including Credit Suisse, Deloitte, MasterCard, USAA and members of the U.S. intelligence community, use Intelligent Narratives to make better business decisions, focus talent on higher value opportunities, and improve communications with their customers. Try Narratives for Power BI today here; if you’re interested in an on-premises version, contact narratives4powerbi@narrativescience.com for more information.

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