washington dc

The Power of Information

UC BerkeleyThis post by the blog Greater Greater Washington (GGW) called to mind a study published earlier this year about Tech for Transit.  We covered the article and highlighted its finding that it’s not so much ownership of an automobile that drives transportation choices, but rather ownership of the trip one is about to make.  Technology, specifically mobile apps that provide information about trip lengths, costs, and directions, can provide people with a sense of ownership over their trip that induces more public transit use.

GGW, in collaboration with the Mobility Lab (a project of the Arlington County Community Services) and OpenPlans, is working on a project to develop mobile apps and physical maps for Washington, DC that could provide people with the information they need in order to feel ownership over their trips.

Using London’s “spider maps” as a model, GGW envisions building software to automatically generate a sort of transportation choice map, which includes the various options such as bus, rail, or Capital Bikeshare, centered around any point in Washington (depending on where the person is standing).  They suggest hotels using it to hand out to tourists or realtors to potential homebuyers.  The sentiment reflected in comments on GGW’s post suggests these maps are needed and wanted.

- Terra Curtis


Bike Share Apps for Capital BikeShare and Others

I’m going to piggyback on a post from the Greater Greater Washington (GGW) blog, which presents several apps (mobile and web) designed to make the use, operation, or analysis of DC’s Capital Bikeshare (or CaBi) system easier.  All of these apps are enabled by open data and showcase how bikeshare operators can benefit from the work of private developers.  Their own website includes a dashboard, which includes system-wide (default view) and individual station (requires some digging) data. Mobile examples include:

  iFindBikes Web examples include:

One astute comment on the GGW post posits the data, as displayed in an app like SpotCycle, could be used as part of an incentivization scheme whereby users are credited with minutes or money to use on the system if they return their bike to an empty or low-inventory bike station.  This would help automate the redistribution operation, which could cost on the order of 20-30 percent of the total cost of the system.  This means incentive credits offered to users could be quite high and still offer a net gain to the operator.

I’m not sure why they haven’t done this yet, but I could also see this data integrated into DC’s (or other city’s) online trip planner.  Currently, DC’s system offers the choice of using bus, rail, or both when searching for a transit trip – why not include bike share?  Why not include it as a result in the search as an alternative by default?  This would be a less direct way of encouraging the use of the system, a way of raising awareness cheaply by leveraging the established use of the trip planner software.  (Side note: it’s not even included in their listing of “alternate transportation” or the “bike n’ ride” link.  Seems like a no brainer to me.)

It might also be interesting to put practical graphics (like the one below) on physical screens in local businesses near to the bike stations, similar to information displays on bus stops.  Imagine if, leaving your hotel, you were first greeted with a bike rather than a cab stand – a quicker, cheaper, and funner travel mode that you might just be convinced to try.

- Terra Curtis


Code for America

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkceyKlYrJo&w=440&h=278] I was surprised when I realized I hadn’t yet blogged about Code for America.  I mentioned it in a post last week about the future of technology and planning, and then came across it again reading Arc User: The Magazine for ESRI Software Users. For those unfamiliar, ESRI is the company that produces the most widely-used GIS software – ArcMAP.  Turns out they’re also advising the Code for America program.

So, what is Code for America (CfA)?  They’re a new non-profit that teams with cities, figures out a challenge the city is facing that could be solved most cost-effectively with a tech/web 2.0 solution, and recruits technologist fellows to spend about 10 months working out the solutions.  The result is that cities get their problems solved cheaper (and faster) than doing it on their own and the technologists get to do good while doing what they love.

This round, CfA has partnered with Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.  The intent is that they’ll solve each city’s challenge in an open and transferable way, creating solutions that apply to any municipality in the US.  Boston has challenged the fellows to improve high school education through an engaging web platform; Seattle is looking for a mechanism to enable more fluid collaboration between and among communities and public safety officials; Washington DC is expanding upon its own Apps for Democracy project, creating a manual to assist other governments in their open data programs; and, Philadelphia has asked for a solution to allow citizen collaboration on neighborhood services.

CfA is currently in full swing, with all fellows working together out of San Francisco.  We should expect the first round of solutions in September with a hand-off to cities in October and November.  In the meantime, they’re already recruiting for the next team of technologist.  Act fast because the early deadline has already passed!

-Terra Curtis