Archive for March, 2011

Results from a recent study conducted by Latitude & Next American City show somewhat surprisingly that many city dwellers would consider giving up their cars if they had access to mobile applications, transit data, and carsharing infrastructure.

In the study (conducted in late 2010), 18 participants from San Francisco and Boston were asked to relinquish their cars for one week, the vast majority of whom had ranked cars as their most necessary form of transportation. During the week they used public transit, walked, biked, or shared rides, and completed surveys about their attitudes and experiences before, during and after the experience. A detail worth including—3 in 4 participants owned smartphones.

After the car-free week, four fifths of the participants indicated that car ownership was not essential to their daily lives, and over half felt more connected to their community, as well as more aware about what was going on around them. Mark V, from San Francisco, wrote “during my car-free week, I realized that if you live in a city and drive back and forth from work every day, you are missing out on the richness of your community.”

Thankfully there are already a great number of mobile applications designed to make car-free (or car-light!) life a bit easier. Let’s do a brief survey of the extant market for transportation-related apps.

At the head of the pack you have Zipcar, with a free iPhone app that lets you find a car, reserve a car, and even unlock your car. Zipcar is definitely leading the way in the app design and usability department, all while lessening the need for car ownership.

But what if you just need a one-way ride and are feeling flexible? The go520 iPhone application (with a Windows Phone 7 app coming soon) lets you find a ride in real-time by locating drivers headed in your same direction, assigning you a pin number for safety purposes, and has a feature that enables automatic cost-sharing of the ride.

Maybe you’re a tried and true transit rider. Stuck on the side of the road and wondering where your bus is? One Bus Away has apps for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7, and features real-time arrival information for a number of local transit agencies. You’ll get arrival info for every bus stop, and easy access to information across a variety of platforms.

Or maybe you’re a cyclist? Ride The City is a global mobile application that lets users map a bike route in 26 major cities (Disclaimer: Seattle is one of them, Bellevue is not, unfortunately). Even better than the Google map bike route application, it will help you find the safest, fastest and most convenient route (and a way around those pesky hills).

Decided to take public transportation to work, but an emergency means you have to leave unexpectedly? Taxi Magic will get you there. Book from your mobile phone or the web and track the arrival of your taxi, charge the ride to your credit card, or expense the trip with an e-receipt.

Moving and want to take walkability into account? WalkScore helps you determine the “walk score” of any location and even comes with a map of nearby amenities within walking directions, as well as reviews and ratings.

So where is the technology lacking? One participant in the Latitude study indicated they’d like to see an application that “allows you to compare options for getting to different places, and maybe adds information like carbon emissions, calories burned and so on, for each option.”  Another suggestion was for a “somewhat experimental” application that would reward small sustainable choices like riding a bike with points, which could then be exchanged in the real world. There are also much more innovative ideas on ways to package data from transportation agencies to offer a side-by-side comparison of travel options.

One of the most essential takeaways from the study is that when it comes to your transportation choices, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  As one participant pointed out, “you can plan a few days a week to go car free, and you get the benefits like time to exercise and read while reducing your environmental impact.”  In short, mobile apps make it easy and even fun to be “good,” and help to create the feeling of transportation independence and choice among users. Choices which of course can still include a car; you’ll just have a lot more information when it comes time to weigh your options.

Be sure to download a copy of Choose Your Way Bellevue’s Mobile App Brochure, which outlines the features and pricing of the various apps discussed above (and more!) for all types of transportation in the Bellevue-area. Copies are also available at the Commuter Connection Store (Bellevue Transit Center, 10850 NE 6th Street, Downtown Bellevue). >> Download

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 11:50 AM | by admin | Add a Comment
session board

Photo by TransportationCamp on Flickr

We at Choose Your Way Bellevue are geeked (literally) to report back from Transportation Camp, which took place in San Francisco this past weekend. A great mix of entrepreneurs, transit nerds, policy makers, activists, and students assembled under a disco ball to tackle the question: How can we use data to improve our cities and transportation systems?

Sponsored by Open Plans and the Rockefeller Foundation, Transportation Camp is a relatively new concept referred to as an “unconference”(also popular in the tech world because they reflect the culture of the industry) with a hands-on, flexible, a little casual but very hard working and fun to the extreme approach. Instead of a set schedule and droning speakers, every attendee at Transportation Camp had the opportunity to suggest or lead a breakout session, panel discussion or Q&A, and was encouraged to be as creative as possible.  Topics up for discussion ran the gamut of “sexy transit,” “building apps for livable streets,” and “the perils of privatization,” which resulted in delightful and sometimes unexpected conversations. Questions like, what makes a liveable street? Can mobile applications be built that facilitate street life? What are the best practices being deployed by transportation demand management groups across the globe? and How can social media be leveraged to generate more on the ground involvement? were asked.

The majority of the sessions were geared towards addressing the current reality: with accelerating technology and recent census figures pouring in, many municipal governments have unprecedented access to data sets and are trying to figure out what to do with them.  Attendees had the goal of brainstorming how to package this information in a way that is transparent, accountable, and efficient.

While attendees may not have arrived at any answers, there were definitely some concrete conclusions. Consensus abounded that information should be and wants to be made public, and that in order to facilitate and maintain democracy, it should be shared in a thoughtful and meaningful way. Attendees also agreed that nonprofit groups are essential at bridging the divide between public and private entities, and are well positioned to introduce new technologies to a diverse range of constituencies. Everyone acknowledged that web developers are notorious for existing in silos, and deemed it integral that they be encouraged, maybe even incentivized, to talk with citizens about how to build apps that would actually be useful and valuable to them. Groups like Code For America, which collaborates with selected cities throughout the United States to transform data into something which encourages citizen participation and civic building, were featured. 

What are your reactions? Could access to data really improve the transportation system? Are there mobile applications that would make you more likely to use transit? Would knowing the transportation habits of your co-workers make you want to change your behavior? Do you think real-time ridesharing could work in our region? What about connecting your transit pass to a carsharing service? The possibilities are as endless as a data set:  Share your thoughts below!

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 2:07 PM | by admin | Comments (1)

Spotted: Evidence of cycling in Bellevue!Perhaps they are crossing the I-90 Bridge on their commute into downtown from Seattle, or enjoying a lunchtime ride through the lush green of the Bellevue Downtown Park. Or maybe they’re delivering sandwiches from Jimmy Johns to high-rise office buildings, or parking their bikes at Commuter Connection. From CEO’s to janitors, clad in anything from spandex to high heels, they routinely take to the streets: the few, the proud, the mighty.  

As we gear up for Bike Month in May, we want to demonstrate that people do bike in Bellevue—contrary to what the perception may be. So, we’re running a “Spot a Cyclist Contest” from now until April 17th.  To participate, simply take a photo of a cyclist or evidence of bicycle infrastructure—bike lanes, bike racks, or bicycles around town, and post it to our Facebook page along with your email address. Just for posting, you will automatically win your choice of a Choose Your Way Bellevue pen, tote bag or bike/walk safety light! The best photo of all will make it onto our Bike Month promotional materials (with due credit of course)!

Help us give visibility to our bikers! Spot a cyclist—and win!

Thursday, March 17th, 2011 1:35 PM | by admin | Add a Comment

Another day, another story about bike sharing. This one comes to us from Mumbai, and it concerns a college student who got fed-up with his city’s limited transportation system, continued congestion, and toxic pollution, and decided to take action. “I started Cycle Chalao from the basic frustration over not finding adequate transportation here,” founder Raj Janagam tells Fast Company. At about $4 per month, members of his bicycle sharing service primarily rely on it to commute from class to work and home, but Janagam is now gearing up to expand to allow for long-distance and overnight use. And he’s a finalist in the global enterprise accelerator program, the Unreasonable Institute.

The darling of transportation planners and urbanists alike, the bike-share concept is exploding worldwide, as cities as diverse as Minneapolis to Montreal to Mumbai seek to increase bicycle usage and decrease reliance on the automobile, particularly for trips less than three miles. According to Portland Online, Bike Sharing has the ability to “increase number of bicycling trips, introduce new people to active transportation, reduce peak-hour pressure on transit and provide the “last mile” connection between transit stop and final destination, reduce automobile trips, and improve livability.” There are now over 230 bike sharing programs worldwide, and along with them comes an incredible number of success stories: Washington DC’s Capital Bike Share has generated 115,000 trips in just four months, Barcelona’s Bicing has replaced 10% of automobile trips, and Dublin’s DublinBikes has over 40,000 active members.

What does it take to implement a successful bike-sharing program? There as many different models as there are colors with which to paint the bikes! Some are membership only and require a membership Smartcard to check out a bike, though some are credit card or cell phone activated. The most successful programs tend to be a self service model with a progressive rate structure that allows the first 30 minutes of the trip to be free, acting as an incentive to try it out. Another determinant of success is how widely available the bikes are—they must be placed in a high density centers near employment and universities, and their placement must be strategic and convenient. The systems also vary a great deal with regard to their funding sources—some operate as public/private partnerships, some are paid for by exclusive advertising rights on shelters and bikes, and some are the recipients of grant and philanthropic dollars.

Would bike-share be a solution to Bellevue’s traffic woes? Bellevue ostensibly presents a challenge to even the most experienced cyclists because so many of the roadways are designed primarily for cars, with heavy, fast moving traffic at almost any hour of the day. However, what we lack in roadspace we make up for in sidewalks—they’re nice and wide and perfectly legal to ride upon. Another obstacle is the number of hills that grace downtown Bellevue—rendering an intense workout inevitable. But there are a number of innovative new technologies such as the Copenhagen Wheel, which give cyclists a boost when they need it and could be included in the bicycle fleet. And of course there’s the chicken or the egg argument—which comes first, improved bicycle infrastructure, or more cyclists on the streets? Janagram has recognized that a huge part of his programs success is connecting commuters to their ultimate destinations—be it from bus stop to office or park and ride to home—which would be difficult in Bellevue, given the distance from which people commute. But if Janagram’s success is any indication, sometimes all it takes is a good idea and a dedicated individual to get an entire city in motion.

What do you think? Could bike sharing work in Bellevue? Join the conversation!

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 11:52 AM | by admin | Comments (1)

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