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!

Event Recap: The Wisdom of Transportation Crowds

Last night’s panel, The Wisdom of Transportation Crowds, showed us the power of large groups in improving transportation through participation, advocacy, and funding. Our esteemed panelists taught us a few lessons:

Robin Lester Kenton, of NYC Department of Transportation, showed us that the crowds don’t always come up with the best solution; but with 10,000 bike share location requests on the web portal, plus nearly 400 community meetings, numerous key and popular locations emerged for New York’s forthcoming landmark system.

Jeff Maki, of OpenPlans, discussed the role of the “third sector” – between public and private – to create solutions, particularly their forthcoming Kickstarter-funded iPhone app, JoyRide, which uses combinations of official data and user input to create trip planners across modes.

John Raskin, of Riders Alliance, posed the notion that an alternate sector exists for communities interested in making incremental transit improvements, even when reforming the entire transit system is overwhelming.

All panelists agreed that when people were shown their direct benefit from crowdsourcing their efforts and funds, they were more likely to participate. And it seems that the third sector is emerging as the best place for innovation and collaborative wisdom for transportation improvements.

Thanks to all who attended and participated, and we hope to see you at our two upcoming events, Social Media, Transportation and Hurricane Sandy and Short Talks, Big Ideas: Innovations in Transportation.

New Post: The Importance of Information in Transportation

NYU Rudin Center Research Associate Sarah Kaufman has posted a new piece on The City Fix blog, about how information moves cities, and the rise of the third sector. Here’s an excerpt:

Information and transportation are so intricately intertwined that smartphones and other technologies have reshaped how urban dwellers get around in cities all over the world. In fact, two of the most important transportation innovations of the last five years have been the opening of data and the use of social media tools for service updates. Open transportation data, now provided by more than 500 US cities, has led to a large, powerful sub-economy of third-party applications (an estimated half-million app downloads have come from the NY MTA’s data alone), while social media and third-party websites have become the primary means of communicating with transit customers (JetBlue has 20 Twitter followers per weekday passenger, according to forthcoming NYU Rudin Center research).

See the entire post here:

Transportation Geek Events

join the NYU Rudin Center on the evenings of November 7th and 14th for some fantastic transportation geekery.

Nov 7th, 6:30pm: Short Talks, Big Ideas: Innovations in Transportation: a series of lightning talks on  new work, theories and projects at the frontier of transportation innovations. Free registration is now open at:
We’re using hashtag #BigIdeas12

Nov 14th, 6:30pm: The Wisdom of Transportation Crowds: a panel discussion about crowdsourcing, community organizing and technology to improve mobility in the New York region from the ground up. Free registration is now open at:
We’re using hashtag #TranspoCrowds

Hope to see you in November!

A Day in the Life: How the Sept. 11 TweetMap Was Created

Yesterday we showed you Chris Whong’s tweet map from September 11th, 2012. Here’s how he did it:
A Day in the Life is a dump of 15,000 geocoded tweets, all from a single day, all from the five boroughs of New York City.  Created by NYU Urban Planning Student and civic techie Chris Whong, the map is labeled a social media experiment, a visualization of social media interactions that allows a user to freely explore the city and see who was tweeting what, and most interestingly, where they tweet from.  Our online social networks tend to mirror our real world networks, and A Day in the Life offers a peek into thousands of other networks that share the Urban Landscape, even if their many nodes and linkages don’t cross paths often (online or in real life).
The addition of latitude and longitude coordinates to the normal tweet data has some powerful implications, and adds a spatial element to the typical analysis of tweets by keyword or hashtag, and even see the movement of individual tweeters around the city over the course of the day (provided they tweet regularly of course).  A Day in the Life is meant more for exploration, but other static maps and visualizations of links and specific keywords can be produced from the same types of data sets. (Eric Fischer released a series of maps highlighting movement corridors through cities using geocoded tweets earlier this year)  The New York map is based on a similar one for Baltimore ( that also features layers for Census data and Baltimore’s Vacant properties, giving the user some context for the location of the tweeter.
Interesting? Yes.  Entertaining? Of course!  Alarming? Sometimes (tweets about violence, drug use, truancy, etc can be seen here and there), but is this data really useful for drawing real conclusions about a city and effecting change?  Maybe.  It should be noted that this collection represents only a small sample of all tweets, 2-4% by some estimates.  While there is certainly a broad geographic representation, with no corner of the city left out, the only people on these maps are those who had location services on, and the picture might be very different if all tweets were considered.  Those who tweet their location, for whatever reason, may not be a representative sample of all tweeters.
The data source for these maps is Twitter’s streaming API, which allows a user to specify a bounding box.  Any geocoded tweets that occur within the box are sent in real-time, and can be stored in a database for future use.  The Baltimore Map was a result of impromptu civic hacktivism born on a Facebook group called Baltimore tech.  Dave Troy, a local tech entrepreneur and urbanist wrote a script to pull Baltimore tweets from the API, and then published a link to the data for any who could find something useful to do with it.  The results included animations of user movement overs time, aggregate tweet trail maps that highlight frequently traveled routes, word clouds that attempt to highlight themes, A Day in the Life, and more.  So, we used Facebook connections to do twitter data analysis.  Social Media begets Social Media.

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!

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