The Promise of Data for Improved Urban Mobility

By New Lab / April 10, 2019

This content was originally written by Arnaud Sahuguet of Cornell Tech and published in The Circular City Research Journal Vol 1., edited by André Corrêa d’Almeida.  It has been edited for brevity.

Mobility is at the core of our daily urban lives. Mobility represents the most active sector of the urban technology space, with 61 percent out of an estimated $76B of venture capital investment. Cities and local governments more and more try to make their decisions — including mobility decisions — based on data. But mobility data* is often missing or at least very fragmented. There have been, to date, few successful efforts to share such data, and even fewer to conduct research and answer the two following questions: (a) what is the value of data sharing? and (b) what are the conditions to foster impactful data sharing? New Lab’s The Circular City program is — to the best of our knowledge — the first attempt at answering these questions.

What used to be the exclusive preserve of cities and governments is now being disrupted by the private sector and its permissionless innovations. Data-driven decision-making applied to mobility requires solid mobility data. Unfortunately, such data is often fragmented and hard or pricey to assemble. What if such data could be shared or, rather, circulated between stakeholders?

To better understand the data needs of the city in terms of mobility, The Circular City researchers conducted interviews with the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), which determined that mobility data is currently being used for four distinct purposes: (a) planning, (b) impact measurement, (c) prioritization, and (d) enforcement.

The Circular City start-up, Numina, deployed their IoT sensors in Downtown Brooklyn as part of the program. Data processed on the device is counted and aggregated and then pushed to the cloud every 15 minutes to better understand how people, vehicles, and more move in the streets.

For example, every year, Brooklyn Bridge Park holds Photoville, an annual photography festival. The 2017 edition hosted 92,000 attendees, 600 artists, 75 photography exhibitions. Tickets for the event are managed through Eventbrite. Visitors may choose to use a combination of public transport (bus, subway, Citi Bike) and on-demand transport (Uber, Lyft, taxis) to get from and to the venue. For security and safety reasons, the NYPD, FDNY, and paramedic services may have to allocate extra resources and personnel for the event. Research indicates that data is not currently shared among actors taking part in this event.

If data could be shared ahead of time and/or in real time, ridesharing companies could dispatch more drivers to the event location, Citi Bike could temporarily expand to nearby locations or rebalance existing ones, and NYC safety agencies could allocate the proper resources for the event. The meaningful use of such shared data would improve mobility and use of city resources.

The data contributed by The Circular City start-ups — CARMERA, Numina, and Citiesense is helping to build a framework for New York City agencies when making decisions related to mobility issues and provides key lessons for start-ups and cities to foster such data sharing.

Continue reading about the role of circular data for urban mobility.

*Includes street, curb, sidewalk, street facade data (where) and roads, bridges, benches, trash can, street sign, city fleet, cars, bikes, wheelchair, stroller, trucks, terraces, plants, trees, animals, and special conditions (what). 

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