Upcoming events at the NYU Rudin Center

Please join the NYU Rudin Center on the evening of November 4th for our next edition of Short Talks, Big Ideas, showcasing innovative work and ideas at the frontier of transportation innovation. Free registration is now open: http://wagner.nyu.edu/events/rudin-11-04-2013

We’ll cover streets, bikes, transit, dollar vans, data, wi-fi, photography, and more. #BigIdeas13
Also, we’re co-hosting the November 19th event “Closing the Enforcement Gap to Save Lives on NYC Streets” with Transportation Alternatives. Register here:



Hope to see you in November!

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.

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.

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 http://seetra.in.  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.
Seetra.in 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

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.

Last night’s event: Short Talks, Big Ideas

The presentations at last night’s event, Short Talks, Big Ideas: Transportation at the Tech Frontier, were extremely successful- informative, thought-provoking, and even charming. A range of thinkers, ideas and projects showed the audience new ways to consider the present and future of getting around. Here are some takeaways from the presentations:

When thinking about transportation, consider: what is the purpose of travel? What are the best tools people can use for navigation? Andrew Mondscheim (of NYU Rudin) showed that when people have mobile phones, they walk further from home. Sophia Choi (of NYC DOT) is exploring taxi ride patterns through GPS data, and told us that 13 million taxi trips are taken every month. John Geraci (of faberNovel) explored tools for getting around cities, and what we can expect from future navigation tools, while Elizabeth Paul unveiled MTA‘s plans for a future fare payment system that will one day work in cities across the globe.

Don’t overestimate the power of the grid. Communications infrastructure needs better buildouts and policy revisions to account for the increased data requirements of smartphones, tablets and other devices, according to Anthony Townsend (of NYU Rudin and Institute for the Future).

Disruption can be unifying, as shown by Mark Krawczuk (of WeMakeCoolSh.it) in his L Train Notwork project, in which he connected passengers in the morning rush hour.

Thank the people doing the thankless task of getting us around, reminded Lizzy Showman and Kathleen Fitzgerald (of School of Visual Arts) in their IHeartM15 project, in which they gave seat pillows to M15 drivers.

The future is promising if we maintain the increase of collaboration in city planning, involving communities in transportation decisions and share information between neighbors, noted Frank Hebbert of OpenPlans.

Hopefully all attendees came away with new ideas and insights about the future of transportation. Feel free to leave comments below.

For those of you unable to attend the event, presentations will be posted shortly.

We’ll be doing another Short Talks, Big Ideas event in September; feel free to suggest speakers or themes in the comments section below.

And please join us on May 1 for our next event, Technology and Urban Mobility: Perspectives from the Front Lines. Thanks to City College’s University Transportation Research Center for their sponsorship of both events.

Here are some photos of the event:

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: http://wagner.nyu.edu/events/transportation-02-21-2012