NACTO Conference: Opening Plenary Recap

The National Association of City Transportation Officials was held October 24-26. This Opening Plenary summary was written by NYU Rudin Center Research Assistant Nolan Levenson, and delayed due to Hurricane Sandy.

“Janette Sadik-Khan has put Robert Moses in the back seat” – Mitchell Moss, Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation

Three heavy hitters in Transportation sat together on the morning of Wednesday, October 24th —Ray LaHood, USDOT secretary; Janette Sadik-Khan, NYCDOT Commissioner; and Mitchell Moss, Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation—to kick off the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Designing Cities conference. Sadik-Khan noted that cities are in a “seminal moment” in history where, due to lack of federal support and attention, they are taking the future into their own hands to “speed the pace of innovation” in transportation.

Mitchell Moss emphasized this innovation trend in transportation. “People used to be interested in housing, but there hasn’t been an innovation in housing in 20 years,” said Moss, “all of the young and talented people are interested in transportation.” He touted Sadik-Khan’s transformation of New York City saying, “Janette Sadik-Khan has put Robert Moses in the back seat.”

New York City, through the leadership of Sadik-Khan with, among others, her staff at NYCDOT, MTA, and support from the Rudin Center, has launched a wide array of innovative solutions to transportation problems such as low-cost pedestrian plazas, bicycle infrastructure, and rapid (“select bus”) bus service. These ideas have both improved transportation efficiency, safety for users of all modes, and have boosted the local economy. After the installation of a new pedestrian plaza in DUMBO, Brooklyn, the adjacent retail sales increased 172% in 3 years, noted Sadik-Khan. These temporary plazas become part of the capital program, and will eventually be built out permanently with fixed infrastructure.

Ray LaHood commended Sadik-Khan for her work and the work of all other city transportation officials attending the conference. Despite a lack of federal financial support for transportation infrastructure funding, cities and USDOT have found ways to collaborate, primarily through TIGER stimulus money, to continue building and repairing the nation’s transportation infrastructure. LaHood noted the flaws of new federal transportation bill, MAP-21, stating, “the best part of MAP-21 is that it’s only 2 years.” He encouraged mayors and city residents alike to pressure their congressional representatives to fund necessary transportation improvements to bring our country into the 21st century.

In order to create world-class cities, LaHood is committed to restoring bi-partisanship to transportation issues in order to fund another round of TIGER grants, explore new funding possibilities such as real estate value capture in relation to transportation improvements, move the federal livability partnership forward (along with EPA and HUD), and incorporate safety and design initiatives such as NACTO bikeway guidelines into USDOT guidelines.

Even with LaHood’s federal support, the message was clear: cities themselves must be the innovators to find solutions to transportation needs. These solutions do not only provide transportation benefits, but can help stimulate the local economy in a challenging time.

New Report: How Social Media Moves New York

We’re thrilled to release a new report, “How Social Media Moves New York,” focused on how social tools, particularly Twitter, are used for transportation in New York City. From the abstract:

The goals of social media in transportation are to inform (alert riders of a situation), motivate (to opt for an alternate route), and engage (amplify the message to their friends and neighbors). Ideally, these actions would occur within minutes of an incident.

This report analyzes the use of social media tools by the New York region’s major transportation providers. It is focused on the effectiveness of their Twitter feeds, which were chosen for their immediacy and simplicity in messaging, and provided a common denominator for comparison between the various transportation providers considered, both public and private. Based on this analysis, recommendations are outlined for improving social media outreach.

Download the full report here, and leave your comments below.


National Perspective on the NYC Subway Fare

Just how far does a single ride ticket get you in subway systems across the U.S.? In light of the MTA fare hike discussions, the NYU Rudin Center decided to investigate:

Even if the base fare is raised to $2.50, you’re still able to go about six times farther on a MetroCard than the MBTA Charlie Card, WMATA SmarTrip or any other city fare. As Americans’ commutes get longer, NYC Subways remain one of the best bargains in the country.

UPDATE: Based on feedback via Twitter followers: True, most people don’t ride the entire track length. But the system’s size determines the costs to run, maintain and secure it. A system of NY’s size can’t afford to run on the same fare as Chicago’s.

The Importance of Twitter to Transportation

NYU Rudin Center researcher Sarah M. Kaufman gives an early look at her forthcoming research on social media use and transportation today on Google’s Policy By The Numbers Blog. Here’s a snippet from the piece; read it in its entirety on the blog:

Social media tools, such as Twitter, allow transportation providers to  communicate directly with users: alert customers about  service changes, suggest alternative routes, and amplify the message to friends and neighbors. Ideally, these actions would occur within moments of a delay’ Twitter is superb platform, since it is free, fast and packed with dynamic features.


But our research at NYU’s Rudin Center indicates that transportation providers in the New York Metropolitan region have yet to use Twitter to its fullest potential. Our research, based on all tweets from May 1 to June 30, 2012, offers policy recommendations for using Twitter in a transportation setting.


How do you use social media for transportation? Let us know in the comments.

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!

How will NY move in 2040?

Our colleagues at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council are hosting a series of events to involve the public in a 2040 plan, which are open to the public. From their website:

This Plan will be the 25-year blueprint for transportation strategies and investments in the NYMTC region, which includes the five boroughs of New York City; the lower Hudson Valley counties of  Putnam, Rockland and Westchester; and Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long island.  It will cover all modes of surface transportation from a regional perspective including highways, streets, public transportation, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, goods movement and special needs transportation. In addition, it will also address key transportation activities such as operations and management of the transportation system, safety, security and air quality conformity analysis.

You can learn more about the events on the website here, and let us know if you plan to attend – we’d love to hear about your experience.

Transportation Headlines from Around the Web

Harlem subway riders may be fighting a losing battle against rats in their station (via NY1).

New York legislators are proposing installing street cameras to catch city speeders (via NY Times).

More Bronx residents are heading north, rather than south, in the mornings (via Transportation Nation).

Adrian Benepe, called the most ambitious Parks Commissioner since Robert Moses, is stepping down to work for a non-profit (via NY Times).

Some neighbors of the UN building are concerned that nearby bike share stations could be used by terrorists (via Gothamist).

Mobilizing the Region argues for the importance of the MTA’s Capital Program, which funds many of the Authority’s improvement projects.

– Catherine Dwyer

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!

Mitchell Moss interviewed in AM NY

Welcome to our summer research assistant, Catherine Dwyer! Here’s her first post of the season; we look forward to many more.

An interview with Mitchell Moss, Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, was featured in this morning’s AM New York. Moss touched on a number of topics, including plans for congestion pricing, the Second Avenue subway, and the problems with weekend parking in SoHo.

Moss advocated for the widening of narrow and overcrowded downtown sidewalks, noting that New York is a city of pedestrians. Congestion is a problem that affects both walkers and drivers. Street parking, he argued, “impedes the flow of pedestrians and auto traffic,” ultimately contributing to higher congestion levels in busy areas like SoHo. Moss discussed Sam Schwartz’s congestion pricing plan, remarking that raising public concern of the issue was an admirable accomplishment. Moss said, though, that the specifics of his plan would not succeed due to the financial inner-workings of the MTA.

Moss was somewhat critical of the progress made on the Second Avenue subway, explaining that “It’s taken half a century to get from 96th St. to 53rd St. Actually, it’s taken 60 years to go 30 blocks, so it might take 200 years to finish it.” He believes that the difficulty in completing the project comes from the complexity of construction in an established urban environment, as well as difficulty in procuring adequate funds.

A native-born New Yorker, Moss discussed some favored spots around NYC (including Miss Lily’s on Houston Street), as well as the best way to invest yourself in the city. For Moss, “it’s just walking and enjoying the city. There’s always something to discover. There’s no other city that gives people the opportunity to walk like we do.”

The full article can be found here ( on AM New York’s website.