CategoryIdeas

Living in a smart city

What does living in a smart city look like?

It might look like this.

When a city can gather data on every aspect of it’s citizens activities, what should we do with it? What products, services and environments should we develop?

Many private and public sector organisations are rushing us towards a future state where every cup of coffee, cell phone, taxi, bus, street and building will be self-aware and communicating with us and each other. Rather than asking when is this future coming, I’d like to ask what will we do once it’s here.

That’s the description of a class taught by George Aye at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I visited the class twice to hear and watch their presentation on minimizing disruptions caused by traffic crashes at a specific intersection, but whose new system elements can be transferred to other intersections in the city. When I came back the second time, the students had figured out a way to animate the intersection using a projector and mirror (which you see at the end of the video).

A static shot of the animation on the 3D paperboard and mixed material model.

The intersection in question is “The Crotch”, or the center of Wicker Park, at Milwaukee-North-Damen. The goal was to imagine how smart processes, policies, and technologies can be used to minimize the disruption of crashes at this intersection and others like it. The first phase of the students’ plan is about preventing crashes and the second phase is about speeding up the investigation. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read the class blog, which documents, through narrative, photos and video, the students’ progress.

Some of their proposal for Milwaukee Avenue in this area included:

  • Barring private automobiles at certain times to give more room to more efficient modes, like buses and bicycles
  • During the ban period, allow taxis and possibly car-sharing cars
  • At all times of the day, deliveries (like beer) would be scheduled in advanced to better use existing and consolidated loading zones; when trucks use loading zones, they aren’t blocking traffic
  • Implement a Barnes dance (pedestrian scramble) at The Crotch to accommodate existing pedestrian crossing behaviors and speed up crossing times of what are now two-leg crossings (like walking north or south on west side of Damen Avenue, which requires a crossing distance of about 180 feet on two segments while the crosswalk signal cycle may not let you do consecutively; a direct crossing is only 72 feet)

View the full Living in a smart city photoset

More evidence of your bicycling culture transition

Low numbers of people in “your” cycling organizations and advocacy groups. From the comments on “Why I’m not a ‘cyclist’ anymore,” a story about moving from a bicycle subculture (United States) to bicycle culture (Copenhagen):

In Amsterdam, 700,000(?) people cycle, only 4,000 are member of the Fietsersbond (cyclist’s union). We always explain this comparing it to the non-existing vacuum-cleaners union. Everybody owns and uses a vacuum cleaner, no-one feels the urge to unite themselves around this.

People riding their bicycles in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Commuting rates in Chicago – a conversation

I had this conversation last night with a friend from Chicago. Enjoy. Data is from the American Community Survey, Table S0801. If you were to rate how much we bike, from a “typical Chicagoan’s” point of view, he would be “eccentric” and I would be “psychotic.”

Photo by Joshua Koonce.

Me
A friend of mine in Europe asked for bicycle commuting statistics for Chicago.
Man, the numbers were sad.

Friend
No shit.

Me
if we look at the 3-year estimates for work trips, then it’s
-2005-2007: 0.9%
-2006-2008: 1.0
-2007-2009: 1.1

Friend
Chicago is also a gigantic, sprawling modern city of hundreds of square miles and wide roads designed for masses of cars.

Me
And if we look at the 1-year estimates, which Matt argued on my blog are useless, it’s
-2005: 0.7%
-2006: 0.9
-2007: 1.1
-2008: 1.0
-2009: 1.1
The 3-year estimate has a MOE of ±0.1 so essentially, it could mean no change from year to year.
And the 1-year estimate has a MOE of ±0.2, so again, it could mean no change from year to year
UGH

Friend
Comparatively, old European cities don’t have a lot of bandwidth for autos and have density where people take short trips.
That’s still probably two or three times the distance people in Copenhagen or Cambridge or Amsterdam.

Me
So let’s say 50% of trips are 5 miles or less, and 25% of trips are 2.5 miles or less.
Yet 1% of all trips are taken by bike
If we could just DOUBLE that, it would be a miracle
The Bike 2015 Plan’s goal is to have 5% of all trips under 5 miles by bike.

Friend
That’s an ambitious goal.

Me
We don’t have any baseline data to show how many trips under 5 miles in 2006, at the inception of the Bike 2015 Plan, are by bike. In the end, we’ll never know if our ambitious goal was attained!

TransportationCamp West

TransportationCamp West was an unconference that took place on March 19th and 20th in San Francisco at Public Works SF and other locations (restaurants, the street, online).

I only went on Saturday and attended four topic sessions (view the full schedule with 28 topic sessions). These are the writeups of my notes and links to others’ writeups.

My writeups

Others’ writeups

TransportationCamp: Real-Time Pedestrian and Bike Location, Session Two

Real-Time Pedestrian and Bike Location How can we get it? What can we do with it? How can it not be creepy?
By Eric Fischer.

My summary of the discussion

There are many existing data sources that are published or have APIs that could stand as reasonable proxies for tracking people who are walking, biking, or just ambling around the city – some of this information is given away (via Foursquare) by those who are traveling, and other information is collected in real time (buses and taxis) and after the trip (travel surveys and Flickr photos). I don’t think the group agreed on any good use for this data (knowing where people are in the city right now), nor did the group come up with ways to ensure this collection is not “creepy.”

Eric’s original question involved the location of people bicycling, but the discussion spent more time talking about pedestrians. However, some techniques in tracking and data gathering could be applied to both modes.

See final paragraph for links on “further reading” that I find relevant to this discussion.

Schedule board at TransportationCamp West on Saturday in San Francisco at Public Works SF, 161 Erie Street.

[Ideas and statements are credited where I could keep track of who said what, and if I could see your name badge.]

Eric, starting us off:
We have a lot of information about where motor vehicles (MV) are in cities.
A lot of experience of city is not about being in a MV, though.

How many bikers going through intersection that are NOT getting hurt.
Finding places where people walk and where people’ don’t.

Where do people go on foot and on bikes?
As far as I know this isn’t available

Foursquare has benefits (awards) so people are willing to give the data, but we don’t want another Please Rob Me.

In SF, there are flash mobs, sudden protests, Critical Mass

Data sources:
-buses – boarding and deboarding – you can get a flow map from this. Someone said that Seattle has this data open.
-CTPP (Census Transportation Planning Package)
-city ped count
-Eric: Where people get on/off taxis.

“CycleTracks” – sampling bias, people with iPhones
-70% of handheld devices are feature phones, not smart phones. So there’s another sampling bias.

Opt-in factor
How do you sample?

SF Planning Dept. had a little program or project ask people to plot on a map your three most common walking routes.
What is your favorite street, and where do you not like to walk?

Eric: My collection tool is Flickr. Geotags and timestamps.
flickr.com/walkingsf

Magdalena Palugh: Are there incentives for commuting by bike? There are incentives for people who vanpool.
If there is incentive, I would gladly give up my data.
Michael Schwartz (SFCTA, sp?) What is difference <> SFCTA/MTA?

-If part of this is to get at where the trouble spots are, could you have people contribute where the good/bad parts are? “This overpass really sucks.”

Tom: Can you get peds from aerial images?
-Yes, but there’re too many limitations, like shade, and tree cover. Also, aerial images may be taken at wrong time (for a while the image of Market/Castro was during festival).

Brandon Martin-Anderson: What strategies have you tried so far?
-aerial images
-Flickr/Picasa location
-Street View face blur (a lot false positives)
Anything you plot looks kind of the same.

People like to walk where other people are. For safety reasons. -Good point on real-time basis.
Eric: Not a lobbying group for peds.
Eric: Find interesting places to go.
Richard: We need exposure data.

Paris bike sharing report showed that “Cycling is faster on Wednesdays.”
Europeans more open to sharing their private details – possibly because of stricter regulation on what agencies can do with the collected data. (There was a little disagreement on this, I personally heard the opposite).

Andrew: Can we use something like Xbox Kinect to track these people?

National Bike/Ped Documentation Project – same format
Seattle – 4 different groups that do annual bike counts. UW bike planning studio.

Who pays for this?
-Transportation planners pay for this.
-Private development projects (from contractor).
-Universities, NSF, Google
-Community groups –

Further reading

People

Mike Fleisher – DS Solutions
Andrew – @ondrae – urbanmapping.com

Notes to self

Is Census question about commuting about time or distance of “most traveled” mode?
Splunk – data analysis tool
What is difference <> SFCTA/SFMTA?

Whatever happened to the CTA express bus boarding lane?

While the Chicago Transit Authority investigates the use of alternative payment methods (like with a bank card or your cellphone), there are some things they can do now to improve the customer experience for the long term. The CTA is also investigating getting rid of traditional fare media entirely. My suggestions are congruent with that goal, although I do not support eliminating transit cards and cash payments, and I believe they can be implemented quickly using existing technology. Without a deeper knowledge of the limitations of the devices, software, and vendors CTA currently uses for fare handling, I present you three suggestions for speeding up the CTA:

1. Expand fare types on its RFID cards

Allow multi-day passes to be loaded onto Chicago Card (CC) and Chicago Card Plus (CCP). Go online and apply a 7-day pass to your card for the same price as it would cost at Walgreens. And since your CCP is already registered in your name, if you lose the card, you don’t lose the value of the multi-day pass. CC customers should register their card to protect its stored value.

I write this now because a friend just told me she lost her 7-day pass. That’s $23 down the drain. But if she lost her more durable CC/CCP she could pay $5 and receive the benefit of having her remaining days restored to the card (remaining days would be calculated based on the time she reported it lost).

Having the touchpad located here on the buses was supposed to reduce congestion in the doorway. But it appears to not have worked as the CTA moved the touchpads on all buses to the normal fare collection device, near the driver (in 2010). Photo taken in 2005 by Christopher.

2. Change U-PASS fare media

Switch U-PASS to be an RFID card like the CC and CCP. This will make it cheaper to replace lost or stolen U-PASSes (students must pay $35 to have it replaced while CC and CCP customers only pay $5), while also speeding up boarding time and decreasing overall travel time. I’ve written about switching the U-PASS media before.

I believe suggestions 1 and 2 can be done within a year and that it will provide immediate benefits, possibly more than those provided by the existing old CC/CCP program. Those cards have been available for almost 7 years now and a minority of repeat CTA customers use them.

3. Integrate

This almost goes without saying…fare media should be integrated with Pace*, Metra, and even taxis. CTA has already taken the wonderful step of integrating the CCP with I-GO car sharing.

Essentially, the existing RFID card program (that’s CC and CCP) should be more like the ORCA card in Seattle (ORCA stands for One Regional Card for All). The ORCA card allows multi-day passes (including a monthly or 30-day pass), youth discounts, senior discounts, disabled discounts, and low-income traveler discounts. It can be used on ferries, trains, and buses. And like the CC/CCP “pay as you go” method, the ORCA can hold “cash” to be used for transfers between agencies or paying for a companion (they call it e-purse).

Click through to read why Oran Viriyincy has four ORCA cards.

The public is nothing short of great ideas for the Chicago Transit Authority. Now if only there was a way where we could present our ideas or have them vetted by listening managers.

*The Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus can be used on Pace buses.

Barriers to getting going on a bike

Open thread:

Gas prices are still predicted to rise and possibly meet 2008 levels. That means more people will be biking and making more trips by bike than by car.

What are the barriers to sustained (read, will be back next year) biking in the city?

  1. Obtaining a bike?
  2. Knowing how to get places?
  3. Knowing other people who bike?
  4. What do you think?

Photo of Annie in Palo Alto, California, by Richard Masoner.

Measuring gas prices and bicycling trips

From the Chicago Tribune: Gas prices continued to rise Monday, driven higher for nearly two weeks straight by the turmoil in Libya, with analysts expecting prices to keep climbing.

Active Transportation Alliance asks, “How can we make the gas price bubble permanent?” -Essentially the same topic I write about below.

I was thinking ever since I first read in the Chicago newspapers that gas will hit $4 per gallon this year (it already has in the City) that there’s a relationship between the price of gas and the number of people on bicycling or the number of trips people make on their bicycles.

As the price of gas rises, so does the number of people out bicycling on the streets. As the price of gas falls, bicycling declines as well.

Chart from GasBuddy.com showing average gas prices in Chicago for the past 3 years.

The data available to us doesn’t necessarily support this hypothesis, but the data available* is nearly worthless. Gas prices were over $4 per gallon in 2008. That was when Chicago started seeing tons of people on the street on their bicycles. The local Fox News affiliate interviewed Mike Amsden, a city planner at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), about the bike counts (first in five years) in a news segment about the influence of $4.65 and a “major peak, almost 350% in pedal pushers this year.”

Several newspapers published articles about the palpable increase in cycling, including a Time Out issue called “Bike Love” with messenger Jeff Perkins on the cover and interviewing 7 local cyclists inside. All of them published “how to get out and ride”-type articles. But despite the many new riders on the street in 2008, few came back the next year!

This graphic describes my point about gas prices up, bike trips up; gas prices down, bike trips down (but perhaps ending at a rate a little higher than where it started).

2009 came and the gas prices dropped – the modern heyday of Chicago cycling was gone. 2008 saw the highest numbers at 2 of 3 locations also counted in 2003, although the difference in study months makes the comparison suspect. I hope that 2011 is the start of annual and accurate counts of bicycling in Chicago.

But it’s reasonable to expect that some of the new people riding their bikes instead of taking expensive car trips will stick with it the following year, even as gas prices decline. Let’s keep these riders bicycling year after year, encouraging more to stay on the bike path than would normally otherwise with strategies like more urban-appropriate infrastructure (separated and protected bike lanes; secure bike parking at workplaces and train stations; traffic calming/slower traffic) as well as enforcement of laws that protect cyclists.

Let’s concentrate less on the “insane”  numbers of people cycling on Milwaukee Avenue at Ohio Street (3,121 bikes on September 15, 2009) and more on how to raise the number of people cycling on our other streets. Milwaukee Avenue doesn’t need anymore attention (except for its intersections). Getting people off Milwaukee and safely and efficiently onto east-west and north-south routes should be the priority. -Photo shows Halsted/Grand/Milwaukee, just 300 feet southeast of the Ohio count location.

*Available data

The American Community Survey (ACS) 3-year estimate for 2006-2008 tells us that 1.0% of working Chicagoans 16+ took their bikes to work (nevermind the tinny sample size that makes this data near worthless – it’s the only thing we have*). The 3-year estimate before (2005-2007) says 0.9% took their bikes to work. Not much of a peak or increase! For 2007-2009, the data shows 1.1% cycled to work.

Also ignore the fact that the ACS only asks about the mode you spent the most distance on. It does not collect data on multi-mode trips. So if you bike 3 miles to the train and the train is 30 miles to your destination, the ACS would only record “public transportation.”

Livable cities in Russia

When you blog, you “meet” a lot of interesting people around the world. Russian blogger Vladimir Zlokazov writes LiveStreets in both Russian and English. Although he doesn’t translate everything into English, what he does is high quality and methodically written.

His latest English article is a critique of a developer’s plan for a neighborhood in Yekaterinburg, population 1,293,537.

Academichesky – is promoted by the developer (Renova Stroygroup) as a project that utilizes the most innovative practices in architecture and urban planning. However the first built blocks clearly show that advertisment promises are not always consistent with the reality.

He offers suggestions for curb radius, intersection design, bicycle paths through intersections, appropriate locations for parking spaces (stay off the sidewalk!) and curb cuts. The draw for his particular critique are the beautiful 3D architectural renderings to show the suggested solutions in place.

“In places where pedestrian and bicycle crossings are located afar from the intersections additional measures should be taken to make them clearly visible for motorists. Such as using coloured asphalt for instance.”

Why did women in Chicago stop bicycling to work? And other stories about data

Why did women in Chicago stop bicycling to work?
Or is our data unreliable?

Showing relative cycling-to-work rates between 2005 and 2009 in Chicago. Data from table S0801 in American Community Survey, 1-year estimates. Read the comments on this post for why this is not the best data source – 3-year estimate shows same decline in women cycling to work.

Note: The sample size is puny – data was collected from 80,613 housing units in Illinois. I don’t know how many of those were in Chicago (and we have 1,063,047 housing units). The American Community Survey only collects data on transportation modes to work for ages 16 and up.

But we simply have no other data! Maybe the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning can release the Chicago data they collected for the 2008 household travel survey to show us bicycling rates for all trip purposes (they divided the report into counties). The sample size would still be small, but we could compare the work rates to find some support between the datasets.

We should look into how New York City counts bicycling as an additional way to gauge trends in Chicago (it has limitations of geography and area).

They conduct two types of counts. The first is the screenline count for bridges, Staten Island Ferry, the Hudson River Greenway, and all Avenues at 50th Street. They do this three times per year. Then, seven more times a year, they count at the same places (except the Avenues) from April to October.

While this data does not give them information on who cycles in the boroughs, it does give them a good indicator of cycling levels in Manhattan. It also disregards trip purpose, counting everyone going to work, school, or for social activities.

Sidenote: The New York Police Department will begin making monthly statistical reports on bicycle crashes in the city.

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