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Streetsblog LA
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Bay Area’s New “Vital Signs” Website Tracks Transportation Stats

Data lovers can now nerd out on a new website that collects Bay Area transportation data and puts it into customizable maps and charts to play with.

MTC’s new Vital Signs website provides data on bicycle commute rates and other transportation states for the Bay Area. Image: Metropolitan Transportation Commission

Vital Signs is part of an effort by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to make its performance measures and data more accessible to the public. It also lays the groundwork to measure the effects of Plan Bay Area, which was adopted in July 2013 after a state law mandated each region to produce a plan for smart growth oriented around transit.

The first rollout of the interactive website includes transportation data from a variety of sources, including the US Census. Land use data is scheduled to be added in March, followed in June by stats on the economy and the environment including job creation, housing affordability, emissions, fuel sales, and traffic injuries, according to Dave Vautin, a senior planner at MTC who is managing the project.

“This project is about transparency,” said Vautin. “We’ve opened up the data so anyone can do an analysis, mixing and matching data in about forty issue areas.”

Currently, users can inspect and play with data on commute mode, congestion, transit ridership, vehicle miles traveled, and pavement and road conditions.

Read more…


San Francisco’s Downtown Commute Patterns, Animated

Note: Use the top left drop-down menu to select “Bay Area” and get a view of San Francisco.

A new interactive map provides a glimpse into how San Francisco workers and residents commute — where they go, which modes of transport they use, and how much money they make. The map, created by UC Berkeley planning Ph.D. student Fletcher Foti, uses travel survey data to display transportation patterns using colored dots that designate respondents’ transport mode and the rough location of their home. Foti created maps of the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York regions.

The map helps illustrate some of the findings in the SF County Transportation Authority’s congestion pricing study, which reported that 97 percent of driving in downtown SF is done by people with household incomes of more than $50,000 per year. Using the map to sort commuters by annual household income, very few blue dots (car commuters) can be seen in SoMa and the Financial District below the $75,000 bracket. There are a whole lot of red and yellow dots — walking and transit trips — commuting into downtown among all income brackets, but it’s apparent that among households earning less than $75,000, most avoid car commuting.

There’s a lot more to be gleaned from this map. A couple of other observations that jump out to me are that much of the car commuting in SF is between neighborhoods that lack convenient transit and bike routes. Meanwhile, some commuters appear to drive very short distances that could be done by Muni, bicycling, or walking if those options were more enticing.

Catch any other observations on commute patterns in SF or the rest of the Bay Area? Share them in the comments.


This Pavement Condition Index Map of San Francisco is Amazing!

Data_SF_map_of_pavement_quality_small.jpgClick image to enlarge SF's Pavement Condition Index map. Go to their website to use the fully interactive map feature.

The incredible design and data teams at SimpleGeo and Stamen, known among other things for Polymaps and Cabspotting, recently teamed up to tackle a data set only the wonkiest of us could love: San Francisco's Pavement Condition Index. I assume Neal and Michael at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalitions's Good Roads pothole fixin' Superhero HQ have already checked this out and gushed over the results. 

For best results, click through to the Polymaps website to utilize the fully interactive map feature that allows you to zoom in to your block. While there is some lag in PCI data on Data SF, i.e. Valencia Street from 19th to 15th and Divisadero's face lift don't show up accurately smooth, this is nonetheless an amazing map.

I wonder if the SimpleGeo and Stamen team would consider an even bigger challenge: How about mapping the real-time NextMuni data set? I don't know nearly enough about programming, but I would imagine it's geometrically more complicated. Tell us what you think of this map and what other hypothetical maps you'd like to see in the comments.


Streetsblog NYC
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Walk Score Goes Multimodal With the Addition of Transit Score

TransitScore.pngLike much of Manhattan, Streetsblog HQ nets a "Rider’s Paradise" rating from Transit Score.

of the simplest and best tools for promoting walkable development has
branched out into the full range of car-free transportation. Walk Score,
the website which measures how many neighborhood amenities are within
walking distance of a given location, has added a wealth of information
about other forms of travel, including transit and cycling. The improved
Walk Score provides a more complete sense of what is accessible from
your apartment or workplace. 

Like the original Walk Score tool, the Transit Score
feature computes a rating based on a 100-point scale. It’s available
for locations in the more than 30 cities that have released their
transit data for the program. A location gets points for being closer to
transit stops. More frequent service counts more in the algorithm, as
does rail service compared to bus transit.

A second tool allows you to enter two locations and see what your commute would look like
across all modes. The data is the same as you’d find on Google Maps,
but displayed in a side-by-side comparison that makes it easier to see
the differences between modes. One bonus feature: a graph showing the
change in elevation along your route in each mode, allowing you to see
the hills you’d negotiate while walking or biking.

According to Walk Score’s Chief Technology Officer Matt Lerner,
those two tools will help users learn something fundamental about their
prospective neighborhood: how they’re likely to get around. It helps
people answer the question, "If I move to this house, will I start
driving everywhere, or will I get transit as an option?" he said.

Read more…

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A Case for Open Data in Transit

Ever find yourself waiting for the next bus, not knowing when it will arrive? Think it would be great if you could check a subway countdown clock from the sidewalk? Or get arrival times on your phone? Giving transit riders better information can make ridng the bus or the train more convenient and appealing. And transit agencies are finding that the easiest and least expensive way to do it is by opening data about routes, schedules, and real-time locations to software developers, instead of guarding it like a proprietary secret.

I recently got the chance to dive into the topic of open data in transit with my colleagues at OpenPlans. We went up to Boston to see what transit riders got out of the transportation department's decision to open up its data. We also talked to New York MTA Chair Jay Walder, City Council Member Gale Brewer, Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase, and Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely White to paint a full picture of what it would mean if cities shared their transit and transportation data. The information is there, waiting to be put to use to help people plan transit trips, waste less gas driving, or make their streets safer.

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San Francisco and Washington DC Announce Adoption of Open311 Platform

SeeClickFix_screen_grab.jpgA typical request on SeeClickFix, which will now be routed to San Francisco's 311 center and automatically added to the customer relationship management (CRM) system.
The trend of local governments embracing data transparency and opening their vast sets of information to the public takes a huge leap forward today with the announcement that San Francisco and Washington DC have embraced a common open source data platform for 311 service requests, or the Open311 API.

This should at a minimum save the cities' 311 systems a great deal of money and improve the transparency of government responsiveness to citizen complaints. While San Francisco doesn't have a concrete estimate for how much Open311 will save taxpayers, the current 311 system costs approximately $11 million a year to operate, much of the expense coming from the labor costs of staffing the call center.

Beyond operational cost savings, however, city technology officers and software developers involved in creating Open311 hope the platform will transform the way citizens engage with local government.

City technology officers in Washington and San Francisco compared the Open311 work to early efforts to establish 911 as the nationally recognized number to call in case of an emergency. Before 911 was the standard, callers had to either know the number for the local fire and police departments or rely on an operator to connect them.

The situation for government service requests is even more complicated. Not all cities have 311 systems and none of the current 311s share a common customer relationship management (CRM) system to oversee service requests. Until today, the work flow for 311 systems in Washington and San Francisco were incompatible, let alone New York City's system with Chicago's.

"It's important for the same way you can call 911 in any city and get an emergency response, this platform could be a unified way to access services and use new technology," said Dmitry Kachaev, Director of Research and Development for Washington DC's Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO).

Kachaev said he hoped the Open311 API in San Francisco and Washington DC would become the standard API for every city currently operating a 311 system and any city considering adding one.

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NY MTA Opens Data, General Transit Feed Specification Formalized

As we've reported, the last bastion of closed transit data had been the New York Metropolitan region, served by the nation's largest transit operator, the NYMTA, which is comprised of the Long Island Railroad, Metro North Railroad, and the NYC subways system. Today, with the redesign of its website, the NYMTA also opened its data to third party developers and unveiled its new Developer Resources page.

The agency's new policy -- a major turnaround -- does away with time-consuming data-sharing procedures and burdensome licensing requirements that had stymied many third-party developers.

"We need to get out of our own way and instead get out in front of the data sharing revolution," NYMTA Chair Jay Walder said in a statement. "By making access to our data directly from our website, we are encouraging the developer community to do the work we can’t to create apps that benefit our customers at no cost to the MTA."

The NYMTA coordinated its data transparency measure with Google's announcement that it has formally changed the name of the industry standard data format from "Google" to "General" Transit Feed Specification (GTFS).

"Google applauds the MTA's efforts to open up their route and schedule data to all app developers," said Joe Hughes, lead developer of GTFS at Google.

Hughes added, "Today's release of the MTA data, combined with all the other data that has already been opened up, means that the vast majority of transit routes in the US are now available as open GTFS data. Even though there are many agencies here and abroad who are still on the fence, I think it's increasingly clear that opening up transit data to app developers is a very cost-effective way to improve the quality of life for transit riders."



How Google and Portland’s TriMet Set the Standard for Open Transit Data

With national data transparency efforts like President Obama's Open Data Initiative and municipal projects like New York City's Big Apps or San Francisco's Data SF, government agencies across the country have been opening their raw data sets, some more reluctantly than others. With the debut of City-Go-Round and media coverage generated about transit data transparency, many transit operators have taken steps to release their schedule and route information to third party developers, who in turn use the data to develop an array of applications to improve rider experience.

If those agencies haven't already formatted their data in the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), the industry standard, they are likely rushing to do so now. How Google's specification became the common language for transit data is an interesting story and, as with many tales of transit innovation, it begins in Portland, Oregon.

After traveling internationally in the summer of 2005, Bibiana McHugh, an IT Manager at Portland's TriMet transit agency, was frustrated that she couldn't access transit information on a mapping program like Mapquest and certainly couldn't plan a trip by transit with the same ease as a driving trip. When she returned stateside, she sent inquiries to Mapquest, Yahoo!, and Google, asking each if they had plans to incorporate transit data into their mapping services and if TriMet could partner in the endeavor.

Of the three, only Google replied. As it happened, software engineer Chris Harrelson had been using his 20 percent time to interface transit data with Google Maps, what became the Google Transit Trip Planner. TriMet worked with Google to prepare TriMet's data set in a format that would work for Google Maps, a difficult task, according to McHugh.

"Transit data is extremely complex," she said. "There is a temporal element and spacial element and it takes a relational database in order to manage all of that information."

She added, "A lot of agencies have this fear that it will be misrepresented or won’t be used accurately."


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New Website Prompts Transit Agencies to Open Data to the Public

The software developers and open data advocates at Front Seat, known more familiarly for their Walk Score rankings of the most walkable U.S. cities, have turned their focus on transit agencies that have resisted opening transit data to third-party, open-source developers. Their new website, City-Go-Round, is an effort to encourage agencies to release their schedules in Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), the standard for programmers. With the data, Front Seat expects software developers will continually improve the interface between operators and their riders.

"We're trying to figure out the best way to get transit agencies to open up their data and figure out what the best way is to get customers to use the site and see what apps are there [so they] pressure their transit agencies," said Matt Lerner, Chief Technology Officer for Front Seat.

The website offers lists of all 748 transit agencies around the country, grouping them by those that have open data (96, including many California agencies) and those that have not released their data (New York metro operators are the top four by size). The list of agencies that don't release data is meant to encourage operators to voluntarily comply with open data and the site has a petition that users can sign to help Front Seat reach out to operators and demonstrate the demand from riders.

Lerner was proud to announce that since the launch of the website two weeks ago, a number of transit agencies have opened their data to developers, including the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), which had been number four on their list of largest operators.