Tapping Traffic: Bike Counting 2.0
The premise is simple: embrace the power of the smartphone and harness the power of regular people to count bikes and pedestrians everywhere. From the smallest residential street and backlane to the most important artery, we all want cycling infrastructure changes everywhere. This is a simple way of taking the first step wherever you are, tracking things as they progress and proving it works.
We are building an app that links regular people and their engineering and planning overlords via the one method of communication that all can agree on : hard facts. This is a way for regular people to play a meaningful and indispensable part in the ongoing revolution in active transportation through the simple and direct art of observation.
Imagine yourself somewhere you care about. It might be near where you work, it might be near your child's school, it might be somewhere random in your neighbourhood. It could be somewhere that you think is ripe for a cycletrack. Or maybe its somewhere where vehicle speeds are just a little too high. Or maybe you've just built a trail and are about to finish a report - but need some metrics.
Imagine pulling out your phone. (Those of us with cellphones probably spend a few too many minutes on them multiple times a day. And we aren't always uber-productive - nor do we always want to be.) But instead of checking (again) for an email or text that you know isn't there, or rereading the morning paper or checking a latest tweet you decide to spend a few moments of mindless activity doing something that just might actually make a difference in the end.
You decide to count traffic and join myriad strangers in an attempt to help describe the world around you.
As far as apps go, it isn't that complicated. The end output is a map and a database full of counts. Records of people coming/going in a specific place in a specific location. Except that this time traffic includes everybody. Broken down. Little kids on trikes count this time.
We've knicknamed the mechanics "watchtowers" and "lazers". But, there is no tower. Or lazer. No sonar or infrared, either. Watchtowers are really just spots where counts are done repeatedly. Lazers are just way of showing which direction to look, so that you know where to sit and where to look - and when to push a button when a car, bike, wheelchair, etc. crosses your point of view.
A 4 year old and a 40 year old can both use it. The rewards are simple. Nothing more (or less) than the joy you might get playing angry birds - but perhaps with the added satisfaction that you just took a few moments to make the world a better place.
A watchtower can indeed points its lazer anywhere. Outside a school near a crosswalk. On a trail in a park. Outside your office window looking across the street. And if you think you need one near you, you can set one up yourself. Watchtowers become permanent landmarks. Testaments to a potential change in the way your community moves. Others can find the same spot and join in.
It might not be popular at first - but if it does catch on, we have left room to grow. Regardless, it will be worth it because your watchtower(s) matter to you, don't they? One watchtower with a few count represents a valid snapshot in time. Always useful. Always comparable. Imagine these everywhere.
You are on duty. You might be at a bus stop, passing time, wishing you had a bike route to get you to work. Oh well, at least you can do something, you say. Or, you might be volunteering for your local bike advocacy group. You might be at a big special event simply counting to see how many people have chosen to walk or ride that day.
Then, although you aren't necessarily sure who is on board, but you watch as "your" watchtower slowly gains data and becomes a more reliable touchstone for progress. Over time, a few moments of a whole bunch of people's time adds up. You start to be able to see patterns. That bike lane sure is working - I mean, just look at 'em all since August, says your local engineer. Boy, there are a lot more kids travelling on foot in this area since the speeds went down - says your local politician.
A fun, gamefied tool with some serious undertones that fills a big gap in our knowledge base. We need this. We need to catch up to a data-laden motorized transportation system that has a 5 decade headstart. We need it now.
Category: Science, Research and Development