The Sidewalk Weekly: what we're thinking, doing, and reading about the future of cities.
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17 Feb 2017

For all the advances of the information age, cities tend to have a pretty limited understanding of where, when, and how people travel within the local transportation system. That information gap matters a lot. Without much insight into movement patterns, it's harder to design streets, manage transit service, or plan infrastructure projects to help people get where they need to go.

Smartphone-collected data offer a big potential step up from current travel survey methods. It's still early days for this approach, but Transport for London recently conducted a pilot to enhance their understanding of travel demand by tracking Wi-Fi phone data from Tube riders, and a new report details some "utterly fascinating findings" related to rider movement across the system and within stations (Gizmodo UK).

TfL did a good job explaining how it would use and protect the data, and how the insights might benefit travelers (TfL Digital Blog). Smartphone-collected travel data aren't perfect, and they shouldn't guide big transportation decisions alone, but they can help cities ask critical questions about the services they provide and shape ideas for improvements. More travel data:

  • ICYMI - Improving urban mobility starts with better data (Sidewalk Talk)
  • Explainer: How to use the National Transit Database (TransitCenter)
  • Smart City Challenge finalists Denver and Austin are moving forward with data-driven mobility ideas (Governing)
(Image: Merlijn Hoek / Flickr)

What we're thinking

Commuter vision: We tend to measure commutes in time, but they also cost money, and in cities without great alternatives to driving, those expenses can get pretty high. If it takes you an hour to drive to work, and you pay an hour's worth of salary in gas, insurance, wear and tear, tolls, and parking along the way, your commute "time" has effectively doubled. That's the key takeaway from a sharp piece this week exploring the equity concerns of investing in new roads to the detriment of other modes (Inverse). When access to a city requires owning a car, the true costs of a commute go way up. More accessible links:
  • Transit vs. Auto Access to Jobs for 49 U.S. Regions (McGurrin)
  • Measuring and exploring the global dimensions of access (Brookings)
  • Riding Transit Takes Almost Twice as Long as Driving (Governing)
Innovation machine: "Cities are not just containers for smart people: they are the enabling infrastructure where connections take place, networks are built and innovative combinations are consummated." That's Richard Florida and colleagues arguing that urban environments aren't just where innovations tend to occur — they're why they emerge (Regional Studies). A diversity of ideas needs density to flourish. More urban-tech research reads:
  • Emerging robotic regions in the United States: insights for regional economic evolution (Regional Studies)
  • The Quantified Community and Neighborhood Labs (JUT)
  • Access to Taxicabs for Unbanked Households: An Exploratory Analysis in New York City (JPT)
  • Testing Newman and Kenworthy’s Theory of Density and Automobile Dependence (JPER)
  • An investigation of IBM's Smarter Cites Challenge: What do participating cities want? (Cities - $)
  • Beyond prediction: Using big data for policy problems (Science - $)

What we're doing

Citi sensors: A lack of parking data is one of the key barriers to reducing the congestion created by cars circling for spots. As part of our ongoing exploration into parking, Sidewalk Labs recently challenged students at Cornell Tech to come up with a way of counting double-parked cars (Cornell Tech). Their savvy solution? Outfitting Citi Bikes with sensors capable of detecting vehicles blocking a bike lane. That's a great workaround to the data problem — and a great workout to boot. More free parking:
  • SF Streetscape Design Will Discourage Parking In Bike Lanes (Hoodline)
  • SF to developers: the more parking you provide, the more travel alternatives you must offer (Wired)

What we're reading

Techonomics: The AI Threat Isn’t Skynet. It’s the End of the Middle Class (Wired). In Seoul, a new sharing economy takes hold (Qz). Welcome to the 'Great Divergence' (CityLab). “The Relentless Pace of Automation” (Tech Review). Cowen: Industrial Revolution Comparisons Aren't Comforting (Bloomberg View). Hoteliers would like to employ more robots (Economist).
Home front: Americans are moving at historically low rates, in part because Millennials are staying put (Pew). Or are they? (City Observatory). Airbnb’s Profits to Top $3 Billion by 2020 (Fortune). A PSA Campaign for the NIMBY in Your Life (Slate). Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing (NYT). Can city planning help prevent wars? (Esquire). The meaning of blight (CityLab).
Civil servers: Our expectations of what civic engagement looks like don’t match reality. (Vox). Arming Underserved Communities With Anti-Surveillance Tools (Motherboard). Q&A - "Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow" (FastCo). How Silicon Valley can take down Trump (Vanity Fair). How social innovation is helping South Korea solve its biggest challenges (SSIR).
Walk this way: French people are 20 times more likely than Japanese to cross the street on a red light (Science). As jobs grow in downtown Seattle, workers are turning more to transit (Seattle Times). Elon Musk Is Really Boring ... a Traffic Tunnel (Bloomberg). How to Teach a Car a Traffic Sign (CityLab). Pedestrian shift challenges traffic signals (Edmonton Journal).
Clear the air: Is the worst air pollution in the US about to get worse? (The Guardian). The scientists figuring out how to lower L.A.'s temperature (LA Times). How NYC gets its electricity (NYT). The Kentucky Startup Teaching Coal Miners to Code (IEEE Spectrum). What if Trump’s wall were solar powered? (FT Alphaville). U.S. Solar Installations Soared in '16 (Tech Review).
Long: The Compost King of New York (NYT Magazine)
List: Announcing The 2017 World's 50 Most Innovative Companies (FastCo)
"As people live in denser circumstances, more innovation happens, more patent creation happens, and it is because people are running into each other, and there is serendipity as a consequence."
— Vishaan Chakrabarti (GeekWire)
Copyright © 2017 Sidewalk Labs, All rights reserved.
The Sidewalk Weekly Newsletter is written by Sidewalk Labs Editorial Director Eric Jaffe. 

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