data collection

Things that would make transportation planners’ jobs easier

I’m spending the summer working for a large municipal transportation agency, the city agency that manages public transit, parking, bicycling, walking, and taxis.  Grad school is enlightening, but can be quite removed from the day-to-day work of transportation planners.  So, throughout this experience, I’m trying to gain insight into what it’s like “in the real world” of planning. Given the focus of this blog on digital services and tech solutions, I wanted to posit a few things that would be nice-to-haves given the work I’ve been a part of so far this summer.

  1. Automated Speed / Count Collection While this is technologically possible already, purchasing and installing automatic speed detectors and automobile / bicycle counting devices is expensive and time-intensive enough to make it scarce within the city.  For pedestrians, it’s not even technologically possible yet that I know of.  It’s been incredible to see just how much information about our City goes unknown.  Even if we had these data, they are point-specific, and therefore only provide best-guesses about how traffic, bicycles, and pedestrian move dynamically throughout the city’s urban fabric. 
  2. Location-Based File Storage Because so much of what we do in transportation planning is location-specific, why not organize our internal file structure on a map-based user interface (UI) rather than the traditional file tree?  This would enable people working on different projects but at the same or similar locations to collaborate more easily.  It would raise awareness about simultaneous projects.  It could allow for the consideration of a broader set of existing conditions data for a particular location because the planner would, in one click, know all of the available information for that location.  
  3. Location-Based Data Merge This might be provided as a consequence of the UI developed above.  What I imagine is a relational database that links files that deal with overlapping physical locations.  This database could be queried using SQL to produce quick, comprehensive reports for particular attributes of a location. 
  4. Open and Visualized Crash Data Bicycle and pedestrian planners examine crash data in great detail in order to recommend and implement capital improvements for safety.  While fairly detailed public records exist, in its current format it is often difficult to visualize in the physical setting and as such, hard to understand trends over time and appropriate solutions to the safety issues.

I’m sure I will have more nice-to-haves as the summer goes along.  Is there anything that you would add to this list?  Are any of these solutions already in existence?  Please share your experiences.

- Terra Curtis



As I’ve noted in some posts before, there is a real lack of data for bicycle and pedestrian planning.  Modeling non-motorized travel behavior is difficult simply because (relatively speaking), not many people are traveling this way.  Therefore, in random sample surveys, very few (if any) people are picked up.  There’s no way to model and predict behavior when no behavior can be observed in the first place. [youtube]

That’s only one of the reasons why I’m so encouraged by a new product called ZAP! by Dero.  ZAP! employs RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to count and track bicycles passing by its sensors.  The technology is similar to that used in FasTrak or EZPass for automobiles in toll lanes.

Because bikes (more accurately, bicyclists) can be tracked, Dero has brilliantly devised a scheme whereby data is collected and users are encouraged to ride more often by being offered incentives and discounts based on how often they cycle.  Individuals get their own online dashboard that reports miles biked, gallons of gas and tons of CO2 saved, and calories burned.

The solar-powered, wireless, and web-based solution is sold to employers who can now offer $20 per month in tax-free reimbursements for bicycle-related expenses under the Federal Bicycle Commuter Act.  According to Mike Anderson of Dero, “some companies just get it,” and they want to encourage bicycle commuting because it makes sense.  Dero itself offers bicycle riders a $3/day incentive for riding!

They’ve recently won the 2010 Commuter Choice Award from Minneapolis for being a company who successfully manages employee commuting (they’ve employed their own solution).  I can see this concept going a long way not only in Minneapolis, but in other settings as well.  It offers the possibility of robust, frequent data collection and the type of encouragement that could really induce more demand in the bicycle travel market.

As the bicycle regains its place of popularity, we may be heading toward a time where bicycles have to be licensed like automobiles (wishful thinking?).  This requirement could provide an opportunity to install RFID chips in each bicycle, tracking bicycle movement similar to San Francisco’s CycleTracks App, but with no action required by the user.  In the short term, though, Dero’s ZAP! provides the type of innovative, elegant solutions to encouraging

-Terra Curtis