safety

“Hot or Not” for Cities

MIT from aboveMIT is full of cool labs.  SENSEable City Lab brought us the Copenhagen Wheel.  Now the Media Lab brings Place Pulse – an ongoing project to identify society’s perception of the safest, most affluent, and most unique places. The website is the front end of an impressive back end algorithm.  Geo-tagged photos of particular city scapes are presented to visitors of the site in pairs.  Users are asked to click which place looks safer, more unique, or more upper-class.  The algorithm uses the resulting binary data to classify places into these three categories.

That may not seem impressive, but check out the results.  Among all cities surveyed (Boston, New York, Vienna, Salzberg, and Linz), Boston and New York have the most unsafe-looking places, while the Austrian cities have the top 10 safe-looking places.  Just quickly looking at the photos categorized this way provides amazing insight into particular characteristics that draw people to, or send them running from, a public place. A sense of enclosure, vegetation, street-level retail, and other human beings are common characteristics among the safe-looking places.

As the developers note, these associations become even more powerful when mapped and correlated with other characteristics of their surrounding neighborhood or community.  These visualizations are not on the website, but will be published eventually along with a fully-featured, interactive website allowing anyone to participate in or create their own study.  If you’re in Austria, you should check out the exhibit in the meantime.

 

“Hot or Not” for Cities

MIT from aboveMIT is full of cool labs.  SENSEable City Lab brought us the Copenhagen Wheel.  Now the Media Lab brings Place Pulse – an ongoing project to identify society’s perception of the safest, most affluent, and most unique places. The website is the front end of an impressive back end algorithm.  Geo-tagged photos of particular city scapes are presented to visitors of the site in pairs.  Users are asked to click which place looks safer, more unique, or more upper-class.  The algorithm uses the resulting binary data to classify places into these three categories.

That may not seem impressive, but check out the results.  Among all cities surveyed (Boston, New York, Vienna, Salzberg, and Linz), Boston and New York have the most unsafe-looking places, while the Austrian cities have the top 10 safe-looking places.  Just quickly looking at the photos categorized this way provides amazing insight into particular characteristics that draw people to, or send them running from, a public place. A sense of enclosure, vegetation, street-level retail, and other human beings are common characteristics among the safe-looking places.

As the developers note, these associations become even more powerful when mapped and correlated with other characteristics of their surrounding neighborhood or community.  These visualizations are not on the website, but will be published eventually along with a fully-featured, interactive website allowing anyone to participate in or create their own study.  If you’re in Austria, you should check out the exhibit in the meantime.

 

Bicycle Helmet Standards

When I get the chance, I love to take 15 or 20 minutes to watch a TED talk.  They cover an incredible array of topics, and amazingly no matter which one I watch, it always feels like it is perfectly related to one of my interests.  Mikael Colville-Andersen’s talk from a TED event in Copenhagen was one of those ones I went into knowing it would strike a chord.safety Titled Why We Shouldn’t Bike with a Helmet, his talk ran the risk of alienating some who are typically in his bicycle-advocate camp.  He argued that we live in an increasing culture of fear – which is serving us more harm than good, potentially discouraging biking and walking rather than making them more attractive.  This culture of fear is so pervasive, he argues, we’re even researching (and promoting) motorist helmets and pedestrian helmets.  We even have this “stylish” attempt at a helmet.

Colville-Andersen references conclusions from several studies suggesting that those who wear helmets are actually more likely to be involved in bicycle accidents.  Though, he does admit that the scientific community is almost completely split on the issue.  But what I found most perturbing was that, at least in the US, the test used to measure the safety of a bicycle helmet doesn’t strongly relate to the situations it would be tested under in reality.

From the Center for Disease Control website: “Helmets are tested for the amount of impact protection they provide by dropping the upper torso and helmeted head of a crash-test dummy (i.e., a "helmeted headform") onto a metal anvil and measuring the amount of force on the headform.”  Helmets are literally tested for front, low-speed impact only. How many people slowly fall off their bike, forwards?  Bike-car crashes occur for a number of reasons, but many of them involve more than front impact.  Motorist right-hand turns can be especially problematic for through-traveling cyclists.  All of this is to say that our metric of what is a “good” helmet may not really be telling us anything.  Thus it is even more difficult to say whether or not wearing one in the first place will decrease your risk of injury.

-Terra Curtis