Developing Social Media Protocols and Policies

The presentation made at TRB based on Sarah Kaufman and Susan Bregman’s book chapter, “What’s the worst that can happen? Developing social media protocols and policies” is now available on Slideshare. Please review and comment below if you have questions. The book is available here.

Developing Social Media Protocols and Policies for Transportation Agencies from Susan Bregman

NYC vs. DC: Pedestrian Showdown

Do pedestrians have more time to cross the street in DC than in NYC? It depends. Both cities have rapidly implemented “countdown” pedestrian signals to give pedestrians a better estimate of how much time they have to cross. This is particularly useful for those who may walk a bit slower than the “average” pedestrian, such as the elderly and disabled.

Countdown Pedestrian Signals in DC display the full cycle length

Countdown Pedestrian Signals in DC display the full cycle length. Source: Eric Fischer, Creative Commons / Flickr

At first glance, it may seem like pedestrians have longer to cross in DC, but here’s the secret: in the District, pedestrians are given the countdown of the full cycle length, whereas NYC pedestrians are only given the countdown for time just before the “don’t walk” phase (the blinking red light or the “clearance phase”).

Countdown Pedestrian Signals in NYC follow the MUTCD and only display "clearance times."

Countdown Pedestrian Signals in NYC follow the MUTCD and only display “clearance times.” Source: Eric Fischer, Creative Commons/Flickr

Why does this difference exist? According to the signal bible, the Manual on Uniform Control Devices (MUTCD) published by the Federal Highway Administration, pedestrian signals should look like the ones in NYC. But wouldn’t you want to know how much time you have total? Not just the “clearance time”?

Are government officials in DC a bunch of rule breakers? Actually, DC was a trial city for implementation of full countdown clocks, but the results of this “test” have yet to be released.

In general, the length of signals for pedestrians depends on volumes of people and traffic on the street. DC usually uses 100-second signal cycles (for all intersection movements) during peak hours, and 80-second signal cycles on nights and weekends. NYC varies much more, with cycle lengths between 45 and 120 seconds.

Sources: Sam Zimbabwe and George Branyan, DDOT; NYCDOT website

NYU Rudin Center at TRB

If you’re heading to the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board next week, don’t miss the NYU Rudin Center’s appearances:

– “Citi Bike Takes New York,” presented by Mitchell Moss (NYU Rudin Director), Lily Gordon-Koven and Nolan Levenson (NYU Rudin Research Assistants) in Session 672, “Striving to Build Consensus Across Transportation Modes,” Tuesday, January 14, 2014, 3:45pm- 5:30pm.

– “What’s the Worst That Can Happen? Developing Social Media Protocols and Policies,” written by Sarah Kaufman (NYU Rudin Digital Director) and Susan Bregman, presented by Susan Bregman in Session 559, “Using Social Media to Improve Urban Transportation,” Tuesday, January 14, 2014 10:15AM – 12:00PM.

This presentation is based on the book chapter by the same name written by Sarah Kaufman and Susan Bregman.

Hope to see you there!

Mobility Factbook: Official Launch

NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation has launched a “Mobility Factbook” to explain how people move in, through and out of New York City. This site conveys, for each of NYC’s 28 modes, precise usage patterns and trends. We highlight the use of multiple modes, the surge in off-peak travel, and the use of information technology to enhance mobility.
You can visit the Factbook at few key facts:

- The Grand Central Terminal Area hosts 750,000 pedestrians every weekday – more than the population of North Dakota (672,391) (See our map of daily pedestrian counts in major Manhattan destinations here)

– 97% of yellow taxi pickups occur in Manhattan or at the airports. (See more taxi facts here)

- NYC’s dollar vans are estimated to be the 20th largest bus system in the U.S. (And usually cost two dollars; see more here)

– NYC averages 0.59 automobiles per household; the U.S. averages 2.2 automobiles per household. See a map of car ownership rates within the city here.

Visit the site at – you will learn something new on every page.

Mobility Factbook

On a recent ride on the B63, two fellow passengers were lamenting the infrequency of weekend bus service. “What they need to do,” one of them said, “is buy more buses and stop buying all those bikes!” There are so many fallacies in her statement: “they” are two agencies, one in charge of buses and the other bikes, the fact that bus ridership is decreasing enough that NYC doesn’t need more buses (already the largest fleet in the world), and that the city is not actually purchasing the bikes – a bank (Citi) is. But most New Yorkers are unfamiliar with both the scope and nuanced ownership of transportation in this city.

We built The Mobility Factbook with these New Yorkers in mind, but also for researchers seeking an up-to-date information repository when most local mobility data is dispersed throughout agency records, federal registers and local news sites. We gathered data from the dozen or so agencies running the 28 transportation modes in New York City to highlight the scope of the New York transportation environment.

New York’s greatest transportation asset is not a single mode, but rather the collection of subways, buses, bikes, taxis, feet and more, so the ten million people moving in, out and through the city every day can choose their best path to access jobs, schools and entertainment. To learn more about how the diversity of transportation makes New York more livable and productive, please visit the Factbook, and be sure to inform your fellow bus passengers about your findings.

On train and car drivers, and their robotic successors

I, for one, welcome our robotic driver overlords.

Positive Train Control, which kicks in to control when human error puts travelers in a dangerous situation, sets the train on a safer course. As federal authorities, politicians and the public call for its implementation on commuter rail, in the wake of last week’s Metro-North train derailment that killed four and injured twenty passengers, I wonder why they don’t demand the same for cars.

Two million drivers in the U.S. fall asleep behind the wheel every week, as WNYC pointed out yesterday, and Ben Kabak of Second Avenue Sagas summarized other startling statistics: “…since 1993, for every 1 billion train passengers, seven have died. In 2012 alone, 33,561 Americans died in traffic incidents. The comparable motor vehicle death rate is 108,000 for every 1 billion drivers.” Clearly, despite the recent tragedy, human error makes trains the safer bet than cars.

Positive Train Control is being planned or implemented by train operators across the United States, by federal mandate. PTC monitors a train’s movement and speed through a combination of on-board computers and wireless communications to assess the train’s speed, location and proximity to other equipment and personnel, and often imposes a speed limit on the train. Hypothetically, if the Metro-North train that derailed had been using PTC, even if the driver “was in a daze situation,” the system would have reduced the train’s speed at that dangerous location, avoiding the derailment. The technology, despite its cost (up to $22.5 billion) and limitations (it only protects against human error, and not, for example, a broken rail), seems like a no-brainer for Metro-North, one of the busiest commuter railroads in the U.S. (and likewise Long Island Rail Road, the busiest in the country).

But where are similar safety measures for cars? There, the human error factor is extremely high, particularly when it comes to driving under the influence and distracted driving; according to the National Safety Council, “21 percent of crashes or 1.1 million crashes in 2011 involve talking on handheld and hands-free cell phones.” As we approach an era of driverless cars, it is time to establish a system that controls cars’ speeds, monitors their proximity to other vehicles and pedestrians, ensures they stop at red lights, de-activates drivers’ texting capabilities, and checks their blood alcohol levels before ignition. While accidents will still occur, the milliseconds of reactive speeds required by an on-board computer will almost always beat out the human computation needs, especially with a cell phone or drink in hand. Many of these safety measures are imminent, if not already possible. Those calling for improved train safety using PTC technologies should be demanding the same tools for personal cars, and sooner. In other words, despite last week’s accident, cars should be operated more like trains, and both should reduce their reliance on unreliable humans.

Sarah Kaufman

Quest for a New Utopia

In “Smart Cities,” NYU Rudin Center Senior Research Fellow Anthony Townsend makes the case for intelligent urban technologies. An excerpt,  “Quest for a New Utopia,” was published yesterday,in the Cairo Review:

In 2008, our global civilization reached three historic thresholds.

The first came in February when United Nations demographers predicted that within the year, the millennia-long project of settling the planet would move into its final act. “The world population will reach a landmark in 2008,” they declared; “for the first time in history the urban population will equal the rural population of the world.” We would give up the farm for good and become a mostly urban species.”

Read more here: