NARC Meeting Recap

Rudin researcher Sarah M. Kaufman attended the National Association of Regional Councils‘ Annual Meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida, last week to present the Open Transportation Data Guide. With a crowd composed mainly of small city representatives, the presentation focused on traffic-related applications, like highway incident data, crowdsourced stop sign locations, and road condition alerts.

A common question following the presentation was whether a market existed for app development in rural areas: the answer is yes, mostly because transportation data usually exists in universal formats that can be plugged-and-played in many applications (which may already have been developed elsewhere, and could be tweaked for another location). To that end, transportation agencies of all sizes are encouraged to open their data in standard formats and let the developers modify it as needed.

Other presentations of note included a primer on transit project funding mechanisms by Kevin DeGood of Transportation for America, in which he discussed the pros and cons of federal grants and advocated for increased public-private partnerships. The presentation is part of a financing guidebook set for release this summer.

Finally, Kevin Harrison, Director of Transportation Planning at South Alabama Regional Planning Commission, presented an ongoing project that will use travelers’ mobile phone activity (anonymously) to track transportation around the region. This data will will used for travel demand forecasting, helping the region determine priority needs. The project will conclude in several months, but is already proving beneficial, Harrison remarked.

The NYU Rudin Center is eager to participate in future NARC events.

PDF Hackathon

The Personal Democracy Forum:Applied Hackathon was held last weekend, an event that attracted dozens of participants from nonprofits, activist groups, hackers, developers and government agencies.  The event was a lead-in to PDF’s two-day conference, held at NYU on Monday and Tuesday, with themes focused around technology, politics, government and civic life.

Representatives from the MTA also attended the event, with a special treat for any hacker: The first sample of real-time data for the New York City Subway, which is set to be released in Fall 2012.  For our NYU Rudin Center rep at the event, the idea for a real-time visualization of this data, with animated trains moving along the screen and stopping at stations, evolved into a mobile web app called SeeTrain, by Rudin graduate research assistant Chris Whong, along with front-end developer Sam Richard and back-end developers Jeremy Baron and Graham Brooks formed a team to create an app that could make use of the real-time data.
The team faced challenges converting the data from Google’s GTFS-realtime format, an accepted standard for real time transit data, but not the most hacker-friendly.  With just under two days of development time, the team was able to create a simulation of what real-time subway visualization looks like, available for viewing at  The app includes animated icons for trains traveling in both directions on the 1-2-3 trains between 96th street and Chambers street.  Beyond this demo, the team hopes to add stop specific arrival times, trip planning and more. tied for third place at the hackathon, earning the team the right to present their new app to an audience of 800 people at the Personal Democracy Forum.
View all applications from the event here; the other winners were:
1st: Pollwatch - a real-time reporting app for people to report mischief or other unfriendly conditions at polling places on election day

2nd: Open Up NYC – an app that automates FOIL requests for the NYC government, ensuring that they are in the right format, sent to the right agency, and tracked every step of the way.
3rd (tied): Crowdshift -  an app that allows protest participants to sign up for shifts, and allows organizers to know where/when they need more participants.
Congrats to Chris and all of the contest winners!

Event Recap: Walking and the Life of the City Symposium

The Walking and the Life of the City symposium was held last Thursday at the Rudin Center. The event put walking back at the center of urban life by presenting research from six transportation scholars on why people walk, its role in urban life, and how walking is likely to change in the future.

The event was led off by journalist Tom Vanderbilt, who gave a keynote about the challenges of walking in America, while showing that even in the suburbs, the need for more walking and better pedestrian infrastructure exists. He set the stage for the research presentations, which presented some of the latest findings on walking in transportation research:

Kevin Manaugh from McGill University in Montreal described the relationship between walking and socioeconomic status, showing a complex relationship between income and walking, where those at the high end of the spectrum walk when they want to fulfill a personal attitude or desire, but those at the low end walk far more because they have to.

– Dick Ettema, Associate Professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, explored the relationship between walking and personal feelings of well-being, showing the close relationship between walking and quality of life.

David King, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University, presented an argument for refocusing transportation policy and finance on walking, relative to our current focus on other modes such as cars and transit.

– Andrew Mondschein, research fellow at the NYU Rudin Center, described how information and communication technologies (ICTs) may facilitate walking in previously unexplored neighborhoods, while still presenting a potential threat to the quality of our personal cognitive maps that we traditional have relied on to travel.

– Sarah Kaufman, also an NYU Rudin Center research associate, extended the discussion on ICT and walking with a presentation on augmented reality (AR). She showed that AR has already arrived with smartphones, and she discussed the positive and negative potential consequences of augmenting a life on the street with so much new information.

– Robert Schneider, a post-doctoral researcher at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, wrapped the symposium by describing future walking research needs. He described the need for going beyond traditional travel surveys and counting all walking trips, including the ones that often get missed.

Overall, the presentations and the audience’s response showed that walking is a central part of urban life, and that transportation research and policy is just now beginning to catch up to that fact.

Thank you to all the presenters and attendees! The six research presentations, as well as an event summary, will be compiled into an edited book, which will be available later this summer. Please check back for more information, and in the meantime, check out our event photos here, and the Storify summary here.

The event was excellently summarized by The Atlantic Cities here.

Posted by Andrew Mondschein

Geeks on a Train

Last Thursday, 25 programmers, developers, and entrepreneurs representing Baltimore, Maryland’s flourishing tech community boarded Amtrak trains in an effort to create unity among their fellow geeks in the northeast megalopolis.  The event, called “Geeks on a Train”, sat at the intersection of transportation and regional economic development, was dubbed a ”rolling tweetup.”, and fell on the anniversary of the first telegraph transmission (sent between D.C. and Baltimore, it also followed the route of the railroads). It was hosted by the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, an organization that encourages technological innovation and tech startup activity in Charm City with events and other resources.

The train numbers were advertised, and geeks were encouraged to board in their own city, wherever Amtrak’s Northeast Regional stops between D.C. and Boston.  A tour of The Hatchery, a New York  business incubator on 7th Avenue was planned as a lunch break.  From NYC, a second geektrain would carry the tweetup to Boston, where the group would crash an established weekly happy hour at the Cambridge Innovation Center’s Venture Café.

The original geektrain had an engine failure between D.C. in Baltimore.  D.C. geeks tweeted their frustrations from the stationary train while the Baltimore geeks made arrangements to change their tickets, noting the irony in Amtrak’s initial message that the original train was delayed due to computer issues.  The Baltimore geeks were switched to a Vermonter and continued to NYC without further delay, occupying the dining car.  Verizon Wireless donated several mobile hotspots for use during the event, as no self-respecting geek could be productive on Amtrak’s spotty wifi.

The Hatchery’s founder, Yao Huang, gave a guided tour of their new offices, complete with coworking spaces, conference rooms ranging from living-room to board-room style, and a “programmer’s den”, where developers can don headphones, tune out the world, and maximize efficiency.  Huang emphasized that good attitudes not only go a long way in their incubator, they are required.

Amtrak sorted out the engine troubles, allowing the D.C. geeks to arrive in New York just in time to link-up with the rest of the group and board the next train to Boston.   After arrival at South Station and a short ride on the T, the group was greeted by the Cambridge Innovation Center with ribs, an open bar and a great mix of entrepreneurs, developers, venture capitalists, and business coaches.  The Venture Café is a sort of high-tech happy hour, complete with its own web app that cycles through attendee bios on a big screen TV.  One of CIC’s recent startups, a web service that unites athletes and coaches, was in the spotlight, and had a chance to publicize their product and sing the praises of the incubator.

Geeks on a train accomplished its mission, showing Baltimore’s geeks what a wealth of resources for tech startups exist in their neighbor cities, and showing the rest of the corridor that there is a talented and vibrant tech scene just a few stops away in Baltimore.

More information is available at

- Written by Chris Whong

Event Recap: Congressman Bill Shuster at the Rudin Center

The following event recap was written by Peter Derrick, transit historian and a visiting scholar at the Rudin Center.

Yesterday, May 14, Mitchell Moss, the Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, hosted a luncheon for Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster, who is on the House committee that is dealing with the Transportation Authorization bill. Shuster is a Republican who understands the importance of transportation and
other government infrastructure to the nation’s economy and society. He reminded me of a Republican New York State Senator, John D. Caemmerer, who was Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee from the mid 1970s to early 1980s, and who was instrumental in getting Richard Ravitch’s proposals regarding the funding and scope of the
first five-year MTA Capital Program for 1982-1986 approved in Albany, among many other accomplishments. I had the privilege of working for Senator Caemmerer (I should also note that I am a Visiting Scholar at the Rudin Center). The luncheon was well attended by a wide diversity of people in transportation and other infrastructure.

Schuster discussed the importance of transportation and then went on to talk about what is happening with the Transportation bill and other Congressional matters. He noted that Adam Smith (often held up as the godfather of free-enterprise capitalism) argued that there were three essential functions of government–security, justice and transportation. (Smith’s “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” was first published in 1776.) . He then went on to say that for 200 years the federal government has supported expansion and improvement of the nation’s transportation network, often under
Republican presidents. What must be done now is to rebuild public and political support for improving the nation’s public infrastructure, and to come to a long-term agreement as to how to pay for this. He also said that the project approval and implementation process needed to be greatly streamlined, aimed at reducing the time it takes to do a project by half. This would, he noted, save at least 10 to 15% of project costs resulting from inflation.

Shuster said that funding was a huge issue. He noted that the federal motor fuel tax is producing less revenue, but that for the moment “We’re not going to raise the gas tax.” He did say, however, that over the longer term all potential revenue sources needed to be examined, including raising the gas tax, a tax on vehicle mile traveled, tolls
on interstates, PPPs, etc. The intention is to look at all the options once the Transportation Authorization bill is approved later this year.

As for Authorization bill, Shuster said that he expected it to be approved by Congress and signed by the President in September or October of this year. The House bill now includes ongoing funding for transit as well as the road system. The final bill, he said, would
include the Keystone pipeline. Funding  for transportation might include tax revenues from off-shore oil drillings. I can’t remember exactly how long the Authorization would be for, but I believe Shuster said it would be for up to 36 months. (Comments/corrections welcome
here–as well as on anything else.) He also said that he had not replaced Congressman Mica as the lead on the bill, but that, rather, he had become “Vice President of Marketing and Sales” with the intent of getting other Republicans to agree to it.

Lastly, Congressman Shuster made a strong argument that the transportation community and others need “to educate the American people” with respect to the importance of transportation and other infrastructure, such as water supply systems. For most citizens,
transportation is not even in their list of the top ten things government has to do. He said that transportation is “a core function of government,” but to build support for increases in long-term funding “the awareness of the American people” needed to be raised. He
urged a coordinated effort by transportation and other infrastructure professionals to do this. (Several speakers at the recent Regional Plan Association conference a few weeks ago made the same point.)

In the question and answer period, I asked the first question, about whether Congressman Shuster agreed with the statement made my Congressman Blumenauer (Democrat, Oregon–who is on the committee working on the Authorization bill) at the RPA session on financing that there would be a “grand bargain” on a host of fiscal/financial issues facing Congress later this year. Shuster said that he also thought this would happen, but that the main focus would be on changes to the tax system, with the funding of transportation being a lesser focus. He said he believed this would happen in November or December
if President Obama is reelected, and early next year if Mitt Romney is elected.

Somewhere during the meeting, Congressman Shuster said that he had visited the LIRR East Side Access project at Grand Central earlier in the day, and said that he believed that the project is essential for Long Island–including Queens–as well as for the Manhattan economy. He sidestepped a question about the cancellation of ARC, saying that “He (that is, Gov. Christie) didn’t have the money.”

Responding to a question about high speed rail in the USA, Shuster said that the California HSR project “is a terrible idea,” and that spending $60 to $100 billion on the middle piece was a form of blackmail to people in San Fransisco and Los Angeles. That is, that it
was intended to force them to come up with more money in the future to finish the project. He believes the only HSR project in the USA that makes sense is upgrading the Northeast Corridor so is can run trains at 130-150 mph.

Regarding the forced (by the feds) installation of automatic train control on rail transit (not commuter rail) lines, Schuster said this should not be done, since it would use up funds needed for more important projects. He said that the problem with the accident that
caused this potential  requirement was with the operator, who was not following the rules.

There were also questions about several other issues. (Those of you who were there should feel free to add more.)

For another account of this meeting, see Andrea Bernstein in Transportation Nation:

Event Recap: Technology and Urban Mobility

Technology in Urban Mobility Panel

Panelists Monica DaCosta (PA NY & NJ), Brian Ferris (Google), Adam Ernst (iTrans), Ernest Tollerson (MTA) and Jeff Maki (OpenPlans), and moderator Sarah Kaufman (NYU Rudin Center) discuss technology in transportation management on May 1 at the Rudin Center.

This morning’s panel, Technology and Urban Mobility: Perspectives from the Front Lines, covered the successes and challenges from the views of transportation agencies, non-governmental associations, private companies, and app developers. Some takeaways from the event:

– Releasing data for customer information is often perceived by the public as a luxury expense in the face of service cutbacks, but in actually, expenses related to data releases are negligible compared to those of transportation services. Providing extensive data makes the best use of the resources currently available.

– What is openness in transportation? Open data, transparent administrative documents, and the use of open source management systems.

– Transportation agencies are often so wrapped up in building tools with ever-decreasing resources that they often neglect coordination with adjoining agencies. It’s something they’re working on.

– What we’re most concerned about: the digital divide among those with and without smartphones, the dwindling resources of transportation providers, and a catastrophic event resulting in failures of transportation and communications infrastructure.

– Where we’re headed in the future: Real-time data, information customized for each user, and use of emerging communications tools for enhanced transportation management.

– Providing transportation services is a thankless task, and is not sexy enough for adequate public attention or resources. Remember to thank your transportation providers today!

Thanks to all who participated and attended, and we look forward to seeing you at the next event, Walking and the Life of the City, on June 7th.

Two Events on Transportation at the Technology Frontier


Registration is now open for two exciting transportation-technology events in April and May:

Short Talks, Big Ideas: Transportation at the Tech Frontier: a series of five-minute talks on transportation issues, tech-enabled and optimistic projects and theories.  April 9th, 6:30 p.m. Register here.

Technology and Urban Mobility: Perspectives from the Front Lines: How are transportation managers incorporating technologies into our cities’ streets, vehicles and transit networks, and what are the outcomes, successes and pitfalls? May 1, 8:30 a.m. Register here.

Look forward to seeing you! Learn about all Wagner events here.


Event Recap: A Conversation with Council Member James Vacca

Council Member James Vacca spoke at Rudin this morning about his transportation initiatives, including pedestrian safety, unlicensed taxis, slow speed zones, commercial cyclists, and improving transportation for the visually impaired. He is anxious to work with new MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, and optimistic about their future joint endeavors.

To learn more about Council Member Vacca’s initiatives, visit his site here:

Want to learn more about taxis? Register here for Rudin’s next event on March 20th with David Yassky:

Upcoming Event: A Conversation with Council Member James Vacca

Join us on 2/21/2012, 8:30am-10:00am, at The Rudin Center for a conversation with James Vacca, who represents the Bronx’s 13th Council district, which includes the areas of Pelham Parkway North and South, Pelham Bay, Country Club, City Island, Throggs Neck, Allerton, and Morris Park. As chair of the New York City Council Committee on Transportation, Mr. Vacca plays an integral role in the transportation and infrastructure policymaking.

Register here: