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!