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:

http://www.aucegypt.edu/GAPP/CairoReview/Pages/articleDetails.aspx?aid=461

 

‘Smart Cities’ Book Talk


The new book ‘Smart Cities,’ by NYU Rudin Center’s Senior Research Fellow Anthony Townsend, takes an urbanist’s approach to the growth of big data. He spoke at the Rudin Center last night about this labor of love, and his desire “to bring a new perspective to the Jetsons vision of the smart city.” Anthony recalled his budding passion for this topic when creating rogue wi-fi networks with NYC Wireless a decade ago, leading him to study cities and technology, which is he thrilled to have led him to this point.

Check out the book’s website here, and read an excerpt on Boing Boing.

Smart Cities Cover

Taxis, Taxes, and Monorail. The NYC Mayoral Transportation Forum


Earlier today, UTRC hosted a panel discussion to ask mayoral candidates about their transportation policies. In attendance was Sal Alabanese, John Liu, Bill Thompson, and Anthony Weiner on the Democratic panel (Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio were no shows),

Democratic Mayoral Candidates: Sal Albanese, John Liu, Bill Thompson, and Anthony Weiner (left to right)

and Adolfo Carrión, John Catsimatidis, Joe Lhota, and George McDonald on the Republican / Independent panel.

Republican and Independent Mayoral Candidates: Adolfo Carrión, John Catsimatidis, Joe Lhota, and George McDonald (left to right)

Here were some the highlights:

  1. Most candidates support expanding SelectBusService and Express Bus Service in the outer boroughs to provide transit to underserved areas; however none mentioned creating exclusive busways to improve this service.
  2. Anthony Weiner and Paul Steely White (of Transportation Alternatives) got into a friendly debate about cycling in the city. After Weiner mocked the polls indicating support for cycling, White said that bicycles poll higher than the mayoral candidates in front of him.  
  3. Sal Albanese and Joe Lhota both explicitly support the city investing in mass transit infrastructure. Lhota believes that the N/R trains should be extended to Staten Island.
  4. Joe Lhota was the only candidate to bring other transit modes into the discussion, such as Light Rail on Staten Island’s Northern and Western shores. He also supports construction Metro North Railroad stations at Co-Op City and Parkchester.
  5. John Catsimatidis said that another subway line would never be built in our lifetime, but supports constructing “aboveways” (monorails) throughout the city.
  6. The Democratic candidates disapprove of the “Taxi of the Future.”
  7. Bill Thompson supports a commuter tax, but almost all of the other candidates believe that it is unattainable.
  8. Sal Alabanese believes that New York City Transit should be under city control. Anthony Weiner said that the city needs more control of the MTA board.
  9. There was a lot of discussion of tolling in the city, with candidates divided about additional tolls in the city, particularly on the East River bridges.
  10. Anthony Weiner noted that the city pays $7000 per student that takes a school bus. While candidates disagreed about labor costs, many mentioned that inefficient routing was a large reason for the high costs of school buses.

Democratic Mayoral Candidate Anthony Weiner fields questions from the press after the panel.

Short Talks, Big Ideas: Recap


Last night’s Short Talks, Big Ideas event showed us how people are using data, how agencies can absorb public input, and how we should be approaching various modes of transport in the future.

Thanks to the numerous attendees, and our fantastic presenters:
Guillaume Charny-Brunet, FaberNovel, 1.6 Billion Rides: A story of NYC subways, big data and YOU!
Jeff Ferzoco, Owner, Jeff Ferzoco Design and Senior Fellow, RPA, Mapping innovation: The line is the journey
Stephanie Camay, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Public involvement in transportation projects
Bob Leonard, EarthGarage, Standardizing sustainable personal vehicles
Adam Zaranko, NYC Economic Development Corporation, East River Ferry Service
Chris Whong, NYU Wagner, Baltimore Circulatorbuddy
Alexis Perrotta, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Can social fares improve NYCT?
Anthony Townsend, NYU Wagner, New Data for Bicycling Research

Check out the event video here and the pics below: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/31217383

We’ll see you in the Fall with our next iteration of Short Talks, Big Ideas. If you have speaker suggestions for our next Short Talks, Big Ideas event, please get in touch.

Until then, please join us on April 20th for the Rethinking Regulation Design Challenge on April 20th.

Workshop on New Data for Bicycling Research: Crowdsourcing, DIY Sensing & Apps


On March 12, Anthony Townsend of the NYU Rudin Center and Aaron Naparstek of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning convened a workshop on New Data for Bicycling Research: Crowdsourcing, DIY Sensing & Apps to assess the demand and availability for a wide range of data about bicycle ownership and use in New York City. There was active participation from a broad range of stakeholders including the city’s transportation and IT agencies, leading bicycling advocates, and civic tech and hacker groups. In the coming months, the Rudin Center will be developing a research plan devoted to improving the supply and quality of data for bicycle research in New York City.

A Prezi of the workshop proceedings can be found at
http://prezi.com/w6sxxqt7bsgt/new-data-for-bicycling-research/
Workshop Participants

Neil Bezdek, New York City Department of Transportation
Justin Brandon, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Wendy E. Brawer, Green Map System
Alison Cohen, Independent consultant
Neil Freeman, New York City Department of Transportation
Melinda Brooke Hanson, NYU Rudin Center
Frank Hebbert, OpenPlans
Noel Hidalgo, Code for America
Mike Infranco, Transportation Alternatives
Charles Komanoff, IGC
Dan LaTorre, Project for Public Spaces
Stephanie Levinsky, New York City Department of Transportation
Aaron Naparstek, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Andrew Nicklin, New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecomunications
Brian Riordan, Strava
Caroline Samponaro, Transportation Alternatives
Dani Simons, Independent consultant
Claudio Silva, NYU Center for Uurban Science and Progress
Anthony Townsend, NYU Rudin Center
Chris Whong, NYU Rudin Center
Matthew Willsee, Cyclee
Susi Wunsch, Velojoy

Smart Transportation and Sustainability


Rudin Research Associate Sarah Kaufman spoke at yesterday’s Transportation Equity Conference in Albany to discuss the role of smart transportation in environmental sustainability. The topic is more complex than it seems: as driving becomes easier with tools like autonomous cars, traffic sensing and self-aware parking spots, how can we continue to reduce car use, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions? In the United States, commutes are growing ever-longer, as the NYU Rudin Center showed with our Super-Commuter report last year: fast-growing numbers of Americans are traveling more than 90 minutes or 90 miles each way, usually by car.

We can use technology to make transit more enticing:

- Open data lets travelers see schedules before they reach a station

- Social media informs them of delays, so they can re-route

- Open source planning tools, like NYC DOT’s Fourth Avenue project, give travelers a say in future developments

- Advanced fare payment systems, like MBTA’s mobile payments, make it easy to board even when the right fare is unavailable

– Walkability measures, like those provided by Walkscore, allow us to choose our housing locations by the ability to run errands on foot or use transit for a commute, saving money and waistlines.

These are just some basic tools to make transit a more pleasurable and efficient experience (several, like augmented reality, are on the horizon, and will shift our mobility patterns even further). For environmental and economic needs, these foundational technologies must be in place to bring riders over to transit and mitigate automobile dependence.

Tomorrow night: Kickoff meeting of Open Transportation Data Meetup


Tomorrow night, join the NYU Rudin Center, Code for America and the Straphangers Campaign to discover and discuss open transportation data in the New York City region. We’ll have presentations from MTA and NYC DOT, plus an open mike session.

The event is free and open to all. Sign up here: http://www.meetup.com/NYOpenTransport/events/102323472/

Short Talks, Big Ideas: Recap and video


Last night’s Video of last night’s excellent Short Talks, Big Ideas session is now up:
Short Talks, Big Ideas

Thanks to the 100 or so attendees, and in particular, to all of our excellent presenters:
David Mahfouda, Weeels, brought to light the concept of taxis as public transit
Taylor Reiss, NYC Dept. of Transportation, showcased exciting plans for Select Bus Service
Jesse Friedman, Google, proposed new ideas to make bus ridership more appealing
Brian Langel, Dash, presented his new app Dash for personalized car data
Susi Wunsch, Velojoy, discussed the importance of women in bicycling efforts
- Raz Schwartz, Rutgers, showed the compelling urban data that can be gleaned from social media and neighborhood connectivity
Matt Healy, Foursquare, demonstrated the movements of New Yorkers shown through FourSquare checkins

We’ll see you in the Spring with more exciting events. If you have speaker suggestions for our next Short Talks, Big Ideas event, please get in touch!