New York City crowd-sources bike share station location

London bike share New York City has always been seen as a trend-setter. This time they’re jumping on the backs of two big trends: bike sharing and crowd sourcing. New York City Department of Transportation has collaborated with OpenPlans, a non-profit focus on open government and transportation, to develop software that collects public input for bike sharing stations.

The software, to be called CivicWorks, is behind NYCDOT’s bike share suggestion engine. It is an open source tool that eventually will allow any group to open their own suggestion engine for the placement of anything on a map – street trees, parks, bike parking, new development. It takes a standard, “analog” public participation interaction exercise (involving Legos and printed maps) and brings it into the 21st Century.

At first glance, the crowd-collected data on NYC’s map seems to be rather useless. How much information can you gather about preferences if there is no variation in them? The whole city seems to be covered in dots. But as Neil Freeman of NYCDOT explained, there actually is a fair amount of variation in the data.

Each dot represents a location where one person requested a station, but also embedded in the dot are several votes from other community members. This variation enabled the DOT to produce “heat maps” of station location preferences, highlighting the need to focus first in Manhattan’s southern core, but also a desire to expand into further reaches of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

The data have also been used to perform “proximity tests,” where planners compare the hottest locations with practical measures like the width of the sidewalk or ownership of the land where it would be placed.

The information collected through this online platform will be augmented with feedback collected at many in-person public meetings across the City throughout the year in order to determine the placement of the City’s first bike share stations.

-          Terra Curtis

Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting 2012: Three big ideas from three big names in transportation

So this one time, Gabe Klein (Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation), Janette Sadik-Khan (Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation), and Ed Reiskin (Director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) all walked into a bar…well, not quite a bar, but they did walk in together. Last week, the Transportation Research Board, a research body within the National Academies, held its annual meeting in Washington, DC. These three transportation visionaries spoke about Mobility Strategies for the 21st Century in one of hundreds of conference sessions throughout the week. Most of their presentations were focused on what each had already achieved in their city. San Francisco has smart parking meters, which allow for frequently-adjusted parking prices. Chicago had its first separated bike lane within Klein’s first 30 days in office. New York has blossomed with bike lanes and public seating areas in a mission to reclaim urban spaces for people rather than cars.

Urban Omnibus: NYC pedestrian plaza

The forward-thinking comments came mostly at the end, during a Q&A session. John Robert Smith, of Reconnecting America, hosted the session and posed the question to the panelists, “What one piece of advice would you offer the transportation professionals in the audience about how to achieve change?” Their answers highlight the need for public-private partnerships in the coming years.

Gabe Klein. If you have to have a boss, get a good one, and don’t be afraid to lose your job.

Ed Reiskin. Act short, think long. Communication and marketing are key.

Janette Sadik-Khan. Have a vision and show results.

Each of these comments reflects their individual backgrounds. Klein and Sadik-Khan are most recently from the private sector. Klein worked in several private ventures including ZipCar and Sadik-Khan had been a Senior Vice President of Parsons Brinckerhoff. The spirit in their comments is one of control – control to choose your boss and to put your vision into action. Reiskin, whose career has focused on the public sector, seems to be more political and strategic. He undoubtedly sees the need to leverage others’ power (e.g. politicians, the general public) through communication, marketing, and a baby-steps approach (act short, think long) to achieve his vision.

- Terra Curtis

Station Location

Credit: New York Times New York City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) has been working for years to bring a bicycle share program to the city.  Two weeks ago, they announced they had chosen Alta Bicycle Share (of Boston’s Hubway and Washington, DC’s Capital Bike Share, among others) to implement the system in NYC.

While Alta announced that they would be placing stations in Manhattan south of 79th Street and in some parts of Brooklyn, the DOT is also moving forward with a campaign to gather station location suggestions from the citizens at large. As you may be able to see from the map, stations suggestions are pretty much evenly distributed throughout Manhattan and most of Brooklyn, and even some as far away as JFK airport.

What this means to me is that this citizen engagement request may not be effective for station location, which has been done previously with fairly technical analyses, but that it could be effective at raising citizens awareness of the new program, building momentum and expectation before the launch.  Ultimately, this may be a better determinant of its success that particular station locations anyway.

­- Terra Curtis


Now out: Spanish Edition of our Handbook on Service Innovation in Cities

Living Labs Global is pleased to invite you to the launch of the book “Tu Dividendo de 256.516 Millones”, the updated and Spanish language edition of our handbook “Connected Cities: Your 256 Billion Euro Dividend” be published by the University of Barcelona. The book features a new epilogue by Professor Xavier Torrens, placing the book as a critical contribution in the current debate on local and urban innovation policy.

We will present the book on the occasion of INTA's 34th World Urban Development Congress, in Donostia-San Sebastian (Spain) during the Welcome Reception on Sunday, October 24, 2010, from 19:00-21:00 and the first plenary session on Wednesday, October 27th.

The book is now available to order from the University of Barcelona webstore or can be bought in one of the University of Barcelona’s bookshops.

More Museum Mobile Apps

For those of you who have enjoyed past posts on mobile museum tour applications---you might find this recent article about mobile museum tours in New York City. While the article doesn't elucidate any particularly new nugget of information, it does give us a comparative glimpse of how these applications can change your ability to control your experience when time is limited or when you've got impatient kids in tow. Enjoy.


SoBi is the first public bike share system to rely entirely on wireless technology for tracking, locating and unlocking bikes,” reports Mashable. SoBi stands for “Social Bicycles,” a start-up that plans its first pilot run in New York City this fall.  SoBi has a fleet of bikes equipped with a GPS and cellular device, powered by a dynamo engaged with the rear wheel of the bikes.  GPS technology will allow potential users with online access (either through their computers, mobile phones, or one of several kiosks throughout the city) to locate an available bicycle.  SoBi also tracks the routes bicycles take, allowing administrators to create or redistribute hubs and users to track distance traveled, calories burned, and emissions saved.  It’s also got an element of FourSquare, allowing bikers to see their nearby biking friends.

SoBi also makes the claim that their system will be much cheaper to deploy than other bike sharing systems currently in place.  Part of this efficiency is due to financial incentives they offer the user to return the bike to a lower-density hub (minimizing the need for crews to go out and physically redistribute bikes themselves).  This, in turn, also makes the solution potentially cheaper for users as well.  If you return your bike to one of these locations, you could be rewarded with refunds toward membership fees or gift certificates from sponsors.  A win-win!

-Terra Curtis

UpNext Ups the Ante, NYC

It’s not often that you come across a mapping application that provides equal utility and pleasure in one package.  This spring, UpNext managed to give us just that----Launching the mobile mapping application inspired by its online 3-D map of NYC that made it’s debut over two years ago.  In this user-friendly application, curious New York City residents and tourists alike are likely to find themselves lulled into an addictive series of tapping and clicking, bookmarking and sharing. For- despite the map’s sticky and slick 3-D rendering of parts of New York City (the application doesn’t cover every inch of the boroughs)- -the real brilliance of the application is its building-to-building search capacity which enables users to click on its sophisticated re-visualization of specific buildings and discover what’s inside.  From the comfort of your couch or a cab, recreate the joy of rediscovering your own city by clicking away.  Or, if you’re just visiting, stave off your mid-day meal disaster with a handful of taps.

It's fun too-According to Danny Moon, an UpNext co-founder, the statistics on user-trends suggest that people do really enjoy using this application.  That is, there is a high-level of user-engagement. In June, just two months after the app was introduced in the Apple App Store, each user had used UpNext for more than 80 minutes, averaging over 10 minutes per user-session.

Moon added that trends in the data suggest there are two kinds of UpNext users: the mappers, i.e., those that like to keep track of where they’ve been and the explorers, i.e., those that are using the application to discover the City.  With this app, even staunch, life-long New Yorkers can become an ingénue in their city, re-discovering its gems, block by block, building by building---all from the palm of their hand.

Indeed, this is when the application is at its best, providing a fresh and edifying birds-eye view of the city, allowing new discoveries in a place that many call home.

Take a gander at the UpNext showcase and if you're still curious, check out their website.

Reviving Payphone Footprints, NYC

Public payphones are quickly becoming archaic artefacts, relics of a past-life without mobile telephones [side note: so much so that preservations have digitally organized themselves at the Pay Phone Project, a global initiative to document the dying infrastructure; check out their photo gallery of payphones from all seven continents here.

Walking down the street in NYC this past month, I counted seven defunct payphone kiosks, each booth announcing in wilted signage: broken, out-of-service, dial-tone coming. Really? For whom was this dial-tone coming? In the heyday of fixed-line payphones, Verizon management sent collectors out multiple times each day to high-traffic payphone sites to collect the overflowing coinage. Today, these cashcow payphones of the past are as well as dead: Verizon coin-collectors make monthly trips as opposed to daily trips to the company’s highest-grossing phones, and if Verizon is lucky, it earns 10 dollars in quarters on the head of a highly-used payphone in New York City each month. Hardly a windfall in 2009.

So, for whom are these dial-tones coming? Probably not for me or you.  In a city as densely populated with people as NYC and as littered by advertisements, payphone infrastructure represents a valuable public access-point for ad agencies and product purveyors alike.  In 2007, the New York Times put yearly revenue from payphones at $62 million, 13 million of which goes to the city. [Read the full article here]

As such, payphones represent a dithering relationship between public-service and private-sector utility:  Abandoned or under-used booths become nuisances for pedestrians, eyesores in the cityscape and as is often the case, annoyances to one’s olfactory glands.

Buoyed by my own increasingly cynical perspective on payphone infrastructure,  I met with Tom Touchet from the company City24x7.  City24x7, a start-up based in NYC, is reinvigorating the defunct payphone skeletal system with 26 inch interactive media displays.  Building within the Verizon payphone footprint, the firm delivers  location-specific, time-specific, information to city residents out in the street through their interactive touchscreen installations.

I must admit, I was initially critical of the service: do we really need more interactive signage in the city?  Can’t we confine these kinds of digital barrages to Times Square?  However, after spying two of the beta-installations in Union Square, the utility was instantly apparent.  Passers-by can quickly glimpse the display for real-time traffic or public-transport updates.  Tourists can access a list of restaurants within a 4 block radius.  In an instant, residents can dial 911 for emergencies, or the NYC-specific 311 for municipal queries.    The seamless technology fosters an experience that is neither obnoxious nor disruptive and yet it manages to provide a valuable service to city-dwellers.