What’s at the Intersection of Transportation and Technology?

Ken McLeod – Legal Specialist, Advocacy Advance
January 2013

Source: BikeLeague

Transportation Camp Logo

Transportation Camp Logo

What lies at the intersection of transportation and technology? In a word: TransportationCamp.

Put on by OpenPlans, I attended the most recent event last weekend in Washington, D.C., which brought together professionals, advocates and nerds like me who gladly give up their Saturday to delve into wonky discussions about urban transportation. Of course, balancing the wonk was the unconference structure: An interactive and spontaneous forum in which each attendee is empowered to propose and lead a session on a topic of their interest.

Not surprisingly, bicycles featured prominently into the lively and informative discussions.

My day started with a session called “Are we representin’? Bikes, infrastructure, crowd sourcing, equity, digital divide.” The session was led by Georgia Tech students who were involved in creating the CycleAtlanta smartphone app to collect bicycle ride data and apply that data to planning and prioritizing bicycle infrastructure projects. CycleAtlanta is a joint project between the City of Atlanta Department of Planning & Community DevelopmentGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlanta Bicycle Coalition and Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC).

CycleAtlanta app

CycleAtlanta app

There was a lot of discussion about the need for data on actual trips to see where bicyclists ride and how current infrastructure affects route choice. Much of the conversation focused on whether data obtained by a smartphone app would be representative of average cyclists and how equity could be maintained in planning if our data is skewed towards engaged cycling enthusiasts likely to discover and use the app. Many outreach methods were brainstormed and everyone agreed that the data will be valuable, especially as the app’s functionality is expanded.

In the next session I learned about the difficulties that were faced by transit advocates in Atlanta while campaigning for a referendum. Equity issues were again a prominent part of the discussion and I was amazed by the complexities that face advocates as they deal with local and state governments. The strong showing from Atlanta-based groups was great to see, considering the setback of their failed referendum — and is a good sign for the upcoming TransportationCamp South on February 9th.

After lunch I saw great visualizations of Capital Bikeshare data from MV Jantzen (see below) and innovative hardware from Social Bicycles. Capital Bikeshare is one of the few bikeshare systems that provides data to the public on a regular basis. It was amazing to see the different ways Jantzen worked with the data to make it meaningful and interesting. Seeing the data visually made me appreciate the work to ensure bikes are available throughout the system and where people need them.

Trip Visualizer Screen

Trip Visualizer Screen

My day ended with a discussion of how we communicate about funding for transportation projects. Much of the discussion centered on historical distrust for transportation funding and a lack of knowledge amongst the general population about how much they pay for transportation — and what they get as a result. Developing better data and transparency were key tools that came up repeatedly in developing better messaging about transportation funding and engaging public ownership of our transportation network.

Overall, I had a great time interacting with members of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Toole Design Group, and other organizations that believe that bicycles are an essential part of our transportation system. The unconference format not only encouraged participation, but made me feel at ease while attending my first transportation conference and it was great to see the energy of so many people directed at important transportation problems. For those that are interested in learning more about TransportationCamp and the things that were discussed visit: http://transportationcamp.org/.