Frequently Asked Questions
Installing the App
Safe Lanes is something called a Progressive Web App which basically means it's just a regular website that's super optimized for mobile so there's nothing to install. Rather than going to a traditional app store and downloading an app, you simply add Safe Lanes to your home screen similar to how you would bookmark a website. Here is how you add Safe Lanes to your homescreen on both Android & iOS.
Installing on Android
Installing on iOS
Note on iOS: There is a bug in Webkit that prevents Safe Lanes from accessing your camera in fullscreen mode hence why you will still see the browser's navigation bar after adding Safe Lanes to your home screen. We understand this is annoying and we're tracking this bug hoping that Apple will soon resolve it. Thanks for your patience.
Granting & Resetting Permissions
The first step to reporting a violation is to grant Safe Lanes access to your location & camera. You should be prompted to allow access the first time you attempt to open the camera or click the recenter map button in the lower right hand corner of the screen.
Once Safe Lanes has access to your location & camera the map will center on the city you are in and you can start the reporting process by either taking a photo in the app or by uploading a previously taken photo from your camera roll or computer.
Note: You must be physically located within the United States to report blocked bike lane violations to Safe Lanes. If you are outside of the US and would like us to bring Safe Lanes to your country you can let us know here.
If you accidently deny Safe Lanes access to your location or camera see how to reset your permissions here.
Why Isn't Safe Lanes in the App Store?
Safe Lanes is built using modern web technologies that allow it to run virtually anywhere. If we had set out to build a native iOS and Android app, you wouldn't be reading this as we would still be several months out from launching the platform. We understand that many people immediately look to proprietary app stores such as Google Play and the Apple App Store to download apps and we're currently looking for someone who can help us bring Safe Lanes to those platforms. If this is something you are interested in helping us with, please get in touch.
We have designed Safe Lanes to make reporting blocked bike lanes as fast, safe and accurate as possible. Most blocked bike lane reports are submitted in under six seconds from the time someone opens the camera to hitting the submit button. Of course you can take your time and fill out a lengthy description, which is always appreciated but not required.
Taking Photos in the App
Simply open the camera and take a photo. Once you do so it will be sent to our servers where we'll attempt to read the license plate using object character recognition. Once the photo is analyzed the app will advance to the next screen with the state and license plate fields filled in if they can be determined.
Uploading Photos from your Camera Roll or Computer
Many phones provide a 'hot key' or 'quick camera' shortcut to open your camera while the device is idle. On Android and iOS this is typically achieved by tapping the power key twice in quick succession. Opening your camera this way elimimates the need to wake the device, launch the app and then open the camera within the app thus allowing you to quickly snap a photo to be uploaded at a later time.
To report a violation via a photo taken outside of the app, simply open the camera in the app and select "upload photo". Note the native camera on your device must have access to your location to upload photos to Safe Lanes. When the uploaded image is received, Safe Lanes inspects the embedded EXIF metadata to determine exactly where and when the violation occurred. This allows us to ensure the accuracy of your report. If this metadata is missing, Safe Lanes will prompt you to select a different photo.
If you are getting a GPS error saying that Safe Lanes cannot determine where your photo was taken, ensure that the camera app on your phone has access to your location. Here is how to enable location services on iOS and Android.
Note: If you believe your photo contains the required metadata and you are still getting an error when attempting to submit it, please email us the photo so we can inspect it and help you troubleshoot.
Tips for Reporting (and Staying Safe)
By participating in the act of photographing and reporting a fellow citizen for illegal behavior you acknowledge that you are potentially putting yourself in a conflict situation. Here are some ways to help you stay safe and accurately document the violation.
- Focus on the vehicle not the person driving it. The optimal photograph contains a clear view of the license plate and some context as to where the vehicle is in relation to the bike lane it is obstructing.
- If you are approached by a motorist while photographing their vehicle or submitting a report, kindly and calmly explain that you have observed them blocking a bike lane and that you are collecting data for the city that will be used to make our infrastructure safer for everyone.
- Understand that it is perfectly legal and that you have every right to photograph someone's vehicle when you are on public property aka your city streets. No one can demand your camera or mobile device from you. If you are aggressively confronted or attacked immediately contact your local authorities.
Tips for Automatic License Plate Recognition
Safe Lanes uses object character recognition to try to automatically determine the license plate number and state in the photos you take. This feature works best if you take the photo of the vehicle head on from between 5 and 15 feet away and in good lighting. The quality of the camera in your device is also an important factor. We monitor how often Safe Lanes is able to determine the license plate in a photograph and are continually working to improve this feature using various sets of training data.
USPS & Other Special Situations
Certain vehicles such as USPS mail trucks typically do not have license plates, instead they'll usually have an identification number somewhere near the top of the truck. Enter this number in the license plate field and select the state the vehicle is in.
Privacy & Data
We take data privacy extremely seriously. What you chose to share on Safe Lanes is entirely up to you and we will never disclose any information that can personally identify you to anyone, on or off the platform unless you specifically opt in and choose to make specific information publicly available. The following breaks down what we save on our servers and what we publicly share.
What We Save & What We Share
We save nothing on our servers until you actually submit a report. So if you upload a photo and then exit out of the reporting process before hitting "submit" the photo and any information you entered into the form fields is immediately destroyed. If you do submit your report, we retain the following information in perpetuity:
- Your IP address – This allows us to blacklist anyone who abuses the platform
- The geolocation of the violation (lat/lng)
- The time and date of the violation
- The physical address of the violation – We obtain this by reverse geocoding the lat/lng you provide us with using Google's geocoding API
- The license plate & state extracted from the photo (or entered by you)
- The category you assigned the violation, if you selected one
- Any comments you enter in the description field
After you submit a report, all of the above (with the exception of your IP address) become publicly viewable and searchable on our platform.
Integration with City Agencies
If you report a violation in San Francisco, we automatically forward your report to San Francisco's non-emergency 311 service via their Open311 API. If you report a violation outside of San Francisco, your report is simply added to our database. In either case your report is immediately viewable and searchable anywhere on our platform.
We're often asked: "Why bother reporting blocked bike lane violations if you're not forwarding them to our city's DOT service?"
Well, we actually are forwarding them if you think about it as your city's DOT service can view in realtime every report on the map just as you can so it's really on us to get them to look at the data we're making available. Imagine if your City's DOT enforcement officers had our live map mounted on their dashboard and received an alert whenever a blocked bike lane violation was reported near them. This would allow them to near instantly respond and cite the driver, which is practically impossible to do when reports are phoned in or tweeted out on social media.
We have two jobs here: To document the dangerous and illegal obstruction of our bicycle lanes and pressure our elected officials to look at and respond to the data we are providing them with. We can and we must do this. Assuming that your city is evaluating and responding to any data that is coming in through an existing 311 service is both naive and dangerous.
Data Analysis & Repeat Offenders
Our fundamental and primary goal is to collect data that will ultimately allow more people to confidently traverse their cities by bicycle via well designed, protected bike ways. As such we do not and will not tolerate any abuse of the data we are collecting for the purposes of publicly shaming someone or any similar action. We record license plates for two reasons:
- Check reports against citation data to understand how our cities are responding to the data we are providing them with. Simply put, if you report a violation was that driver eventually cited? The only way we can know is to search our citation data for the license plate you reported.
- Identify egregious, repeat offenders and take action as necessary.
"Taking action" can come in a number of ways. If a delivery vehicle accrues numerous violations and citations in a relatively small area, that we believe well frames an argument to install an appropriate loading zone for that vehicle. If a business is consistently exhibiting dangerous driving by racking up violations or citations all over the city, we believe that merits a public conversation that can help the business correct their behavior. If a private vehicle has been recorded consistently demonstrating dangerous or reckless behavior, we believe that information should be shared with local authorities and the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Account & Profile
While you can report a violation anonymously, we encourage you to create an account so we can help you track your reports and contributions to this project. One of our primary goals is to help each other advocate for safer streets by sharing resources, tips and strategies that can bring about real institutional and cultural change. What you chose to share on Safe Lanes is entirely up to you and we will never disclose any information that can personally identify you to anyone, on or off the platform.
Creating an Account
You can create an account simply by linking Safe Lanes to an existing social media account (currently Facebook or Google). Doing so will provide us with your public profile photo and email address which we use as a unique key to group your reports. We do not request, nor have the ability to view any other information associated with your social media accounts. Likewise, your connected social media account has no ability to view your activity on Safe Lanes nor can it access the reports you submit or any other data you provide us. You can disconnect Safe Lanes from your linked account at any time within the "authorized apps" settings of your social media account.
Viewing & Editing your Reports
We are currently working on this feature. Please check back soon.
Sharing & Editing your Public Profile
Your profile and reporting stats are currently private and only available to you although we are working on adding support for custom usernames & profile photos at which point you'll be able to opt into making your profile public.
Downloading your Data
Any reports you submit to Safe Lanes will always be available for you to retrieve. We're working on providing this as an export in both JSON and CSV formats. Please check back soon for more info.
Deactivating your Account
Simply contact us if you ever wish to deactivate your account.
How Can I Help?
The #1 thing we hear is "This is awesome, how can I help?!" The #1 way you can help is to simply use the app to report blocked bike violations as you see them as this not only helps us collect data points in your city but it gets other people excited about the platform. The #2 way you can help is to help us get the word out about Safe Lanes via social media, word of mouth etc. If you're following us on Twitter, like, retweet and comment on our posts. Also simple words of encouragement go a really long way. We're a small team, bootstraping this with our own personal savings. Words of support really do mean a lot.
Our Immediate Needs
In addition to the above, here are areas where we could really use some immediate help. However if you're particularly good at something, just let us know what you're awesome at and we'll find a way to plug you in.
- Platform Advocate – Do you work in transportation, public policy, urban planning or your local government? Are you excited about the potential for crowd sourced data to help your city optimize its enforcement resources and design smarter, safer infrastructure? If so please reach out to us and let's talk about how we can support you.
- Direct Action Coordinator – We're planning a number of "point in time" blocked bike lane counts in cities throughout the US. If you're interested in organizing or participating in one reach out to us for more info.
- Data Ambassador – We're currently requesting illegal parking citation data from a number of cities that have open data / sunshine ordinances. This is an arduous process that requires a lot of back and forth communication which we could really use some help with.
- Data Visualist – We have data & we have charts but we need to take it to the next level. Are you someone who can visually make data sing? Seriously, get in touch with us now. We need you.
Organize an Event
One easy way you can quickly cast a spotlight on a dangerous corridor that needs a protected bike way is to organize a "point in time" count to document unprotected bike lane violations during a weekday rush hour. We can help you with this. Contact us and we'll help you pull together volunteers to conduct a point in time count, analyze the data we collect and help you take it public. Many cities rely on point in time counts to make infrasture and enforcement decisions, however they're often arduous and expensive to conduct due to antiquated auditing systems that rely on manual data entry, paper and pencil. Safe Lanes eliminates all of that and makes the process simple, effective and believe it or not fun!
Become a City Ambassador
Are you active in your local cycling community and excited about what we're doing? Let us help you help us! Drop us a line and let's talk about how Safe Lanes can support safer street initiatives in your community. We built this tool for you and we need your help to realize it's full potential.
Sponsor a Contest
Do you make a product that you think would be of interest to people who care about street safety and unobstructed bike lanes? We're working on a series of monthly contests to reward the most active contributers to the platform and we'd love to partner with you!
Help Us Get the Word Out
Do you write for your local news outlet or host a podcast about transportation justice and safer streets? We'd love to help you introduce Safe Lanes to your readers & listeners. Contact us to schedule an interview.
Something not covered here? Having trouble with the app or need additional support? Drop us a line and let us know what's on your mind.