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How can technology help grow cycling? Hack the Commute may take on the challenge

hackcommute600pxThe City of Seattle is a seriously connected city. So much information flows through the city’s databases, and the city wants to help people innovate applications to use it. And transportation is one of the best practical applications for all this data.

That’s the idea behind Hack the Commute, a three-day hackathon March 20 – 22. Software developers will brainstorm ideas and develop some of them, maybe even into fully functional applications. There are still a few spots open for mentors/experts and visual or UX designers.

If you are not a developer or can’t go, you can submit ideas to the project Reddit. And, of course, you can share them with us in the comments below! I’ll start:

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  • A bike traffic visual (real-time or sped up) estimating bike trips using the city’s hourly bike count data and perhaps other bike commute and count data.
  • More Find It Fix It options, like dangerous stormwater grates, worn-off bike lane and crosswalk paint, missing bike route signage, traffic signals that don’t detect bikes or take too long to change, and on and on…
  • A bike/transit combo routing app. What’s the fastest way from A to B using a bike and a bus. As an alternative: A Pronto/transit routing app.
  • A map of safe streets low-hanging fruit: Streets with way more/wider lanes than traffic volumes require.

If you want to see the end products, here’s how to do that from Hack the Commute:

Just want to check out the end results? Get your ticket for our demos on Sunday 3/22 at 6:00 pm at hackthecommutedemo.brownpapertickets.com, and please spread the word to your networks. We have room for just 35 additional guests, so we expect these tickets to go quickly.

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12 responses to “How can technology help grow cycling? Hack the Commute may take on the challenge”

  1. Andres Salomon

    I’d love to help out from home, since they’re sold out of developer spots.

    As far as ideas, here’s what I’d personally like to see:

    1) A FindItFixIt replacement that’s Free Software (as in, the code is open and redistributable that anyone can modify). Filed requests can be saved to a location accessible to the general public, and displayed in searchable list form or on a map.

    2) Work with SPD to get SeaStat data available to the public (on data.seattle.gov). I especially want to see stuff related to transportation – collisions (with data including # of people and vehicles involved, injuries, etc), moving citations (speeding, not yielding to crosswalk users, etc), and non-moving citations (parking tickets).

    1. Matthew Snyder

      I totally agree re: FindItFixIt replacement. The city shouldn’t spend any more money to add features or options to a closed-source product that’s not so great to begin with. In a city with so much tech talent, we could almost certainly put together a free, open replacement in 6-12 months, and then we wouldn’t be stuck throwing more money at the app every time someone had an idea for a new feature. Ideally it would be a product that could be adopted by other cities as well.

      I’d also like to see infrastructure to create a crowd-sourced version of the next Seattle bicycle map. The new version of the bike map might be OK for downtown, but in the more residential areas, I was surprised how little the map mirrored my own route choices. In many cases, I found that simply inverting the map gave better results — i.e., I actually prefer to ride on any parallel street where there *isn’t* a highlighted bike route than on the designated bike route itself. For example, I could ride on the signed Phinney/Greenwood bike route with its dangerously narrow combination parking and bike lanes, or I could move over one or two blocks to Palatine or 1st Ave NW, which has slower and less traffic and generally better sight lines.

      A bike map consisting of routes where everyday cyclists actually choose to ride could potentially lead to a better product. You could even potentially have different maps or map layers this way: family biking routes, experienced commuter routes, that sort of thing.

      1. JB

        > A bike map consisting of routes where everyday cyclists actually
        > choose to ride could potentially lead to a better product. You could
        > even potentially have different maps or map layers this way:
        > family biking routes, experienced commuter routes, that sort of
        > thing.

        Sounds great! People place themselves in one of four or five categories, then an app tracks where they actually bike. That would make for a fascinating and very useful map, as data builds up over a few months.

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        I’ve been thinking about how to make a crowd-sourced bike map! I’d love to do that through SBB somehow if anyone can think of a good medium.

        My goal would be a simple map that shows good bike route options that actually work today. Maybe the color of the route lines would signify danger or facility protection level so we can highlight where problem spots are, but again, I don’t want to make it too complicated.

        I’m sure there would be some disagreement on the exact routes, as well. but providing too many lines just confuses people.

      3. Josh

        While it has a bias towards competitive cyclists, rather than transportation, Strava’s heat map system can at least point out frequently-used routes that are ignored by current maps.

        Any chance they’d donate data in exchange for credit/ad space on a crowdsourced map?

      4. ODB

        I agree that the Strava heatmap is very cool:

        It looks like Strava has already developed the “Strava Metro” service to market its data to city DOTs: “Strava Metro data enables DOTs and advocacy groups to perform detailed analyses and glean insights into cycling and running patterns dissected by time of day, day of week, season and local geography.”

        Another level of analysis to avoid any bias towards competitive cyclists would be to disaggregate the data by relative speed (somehow adjusting for gradient?), so you can choose to see what routes are favored by relatively faster and slower riders. Maybe that’s already available in the Strava Metro service, although according to Strava: “Through our own analysis of the data, it is evident that cyclists of all types tend to use the same ‘best available’ roads and paths while cycling in metro areas.” http://metro.strava.com/faq/

      5. GPS-based crowdsourcing isn’t necessary or sufficient to make a good bike map. It’s not necessary because the scope of knowledge accumulation required to map a city the size of Seattle (incorporated) is not beyond a few people (Seattle Transit Blog’s Frequent Network maps are primarily the work of Oran Viriyincy and represent the synthesis and presentation of a similar amount of information a good bike map of Seattle would). It’s not sufficient because it doesn’t indicate the characteristics of popular routes — sometimes a high-stress or even dangerous route is relatively popular because of its location relative to important destinations or other bike routes! A good bike map indicates the existence of such connections and their badness — and this is still a matter of human judgment and craft. It’s also not sufficient because it doesn’t show you how to get anywhere unpopular (that is, unpopular among “the crowd”, whoever that is).

        Philosophically, I also think it’s a good idea for a bike map to have a clear perspective. False objectivity is a flaw of many maps, and it’s a fatal one for a bike map because of the uneven quality of bike facilities today. Typical objective standards (“Are there bike lanes?” “Is this a trail?” “How many people ride past this spot?”) don’t really answer the question, “Do I want to bike here?” Similarly, a traditional highway map doesn’t tell you how much time you’ll spend stuck in traffic, and Waze has become somewhat popular by gathering that data by crowdsourcing. The big difference is that drivers’ safety and security needs are largely met, so their primary concern is time, which is nice and objective. When biking, even safety is a subjective question, and comfort doubly so. A book that takes a clear perspective helps me think about issues and refine my own opinions even when I disagree. A map that takes a clear perspective helps me navigate in the same way.

        A practical bike map of Seattle would be a great contribution, and this is what it would take:

        – One clear vision and perspective. We could make many different maps, but each needs to have one clear vision and perspective
        – Someone that knows how to draw maps well (one way or another) and is willing to spend time doing it
        – A small number of people to ride around evaluating routes according to the perspective and standards of the map, and to distill all these routes into a network that opens up the city

        Route suggestions from “the crowd” could be an early input

      6. AG

        There’s an app for that. Of course not very well marketed.

        Atlanta used the code to map out most-used paths based on cyclist type

  2. JB

    I’d like to see a grade for the quality of the surface of every street/every block in the city, and probably incorporated into routing/mapping software. Maybe on a 1-10 scale, with new asphalt being a 10 and cobblestone being a 1. Nobody likes potholes, but I think rough pavement is particularly troublesome on a bike, for ride comfort and effort required; and at some point, safety. Not only would this help us choose better routes in the short term, but seems like it would also lead to problems getting fixed more quickly in the medium term; in the spirit of Find It Fix It.

    As an aside, while I find cobblestones pretty charming, I wish they could pour a narrow strip of asphalt for bikes on them. These streets are nice quiet side routes where you don’t have to worry about cars; but even so cobblestone is just too bone-jarring and scary to ride on unless you absolutely have to.

  3. Josh

    Re “traffic signals that don’t detect bikes” — leading up to the Legislature’s consideration of allowing motorcycles to proceed through dead red lights last year, one of the local-government associations in Washington asked member cities if this was a serious issue. Almost nobody thought it was, because they never hear from the public about defective signals. They heard the same this year about adding bicycles to the vehicles allowed to proceed when stuck at a dead red — we don’t get any complaints, so it must not be a serious issue.

    People wait, go against the light, gripe about it, but actually getting it reported to the right department is a rarity.

    Putting that on Find It/Fix It would not only make it easier for most people to figure out how to report the defective signals, but having it as a separate category would make it much easier to document how widespread the problem really is.

  4. Josh

    Another vote for an open replacement for Find It/Fix It, with a bigger reason than saving Seattle money: make it available to other jusrisdictions, easy to sign up, easy to route reports to the right department.

    Many small towns have nothing close to Find It/Fix It.

    Many people on bikes don’t know which town they’re actually in at any given moment.

    Back when Bikewise.org was up and running, it would take reports anywhere. It would let you know if they didn’t have local contacts, but it would take the report anyway, generating a public database of problems.

  5. Scott A

    My suggestion for the hack a thon would be an app or web site that revealed the programming or just the logic for what controls each SDOT traffic signal. This would especially help me walking when I have no idea what finally allows the ped only signals near my house near Rainier to turn “green”.
    Comments/suggested adjustments could be submitted for review, maybe rated by other users.
    I’d at least like to have an idea if time of day plays a role in why signals finally turn or if they’re connected to the nearby intersections.

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