When most people think about transportation, they think about planes, trains, and automobiles – maybe even ferries. But infrastructure, technology, and our transportation networks do more than help us travel. They also have socioeconomic impacts. Getting from point A to point B efficiently is not only a matter of convenience. It can be a matter of life or death – and not just from a traffic safety perspective. The issue of infant mortality clearly illustrates the interplay of health, socioeconomic conditions, and transportation. In this article, I’ll explore this relationship and highlight a few ways that Big Data can be helpful for planners working to address infant mortality.
In my hometown of San Francisco, California I grew up riding the municipal bus home from school with a group of classmates. As a group, we saw the San Francisco Municipal Agency (SFMTA) try a multitude of strategies to make the system more efficient and cost-effective. For example, SFMTA transformed car lanes into dedicated bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes to increase the fleet’s speed. When many of these decisions were made, most of my bus crew was under the voting age, and as teenagers, public forums were not an exciting Friday night activity.
I remember that we complained almost every day about how slow or inefficient the bus was, yet we never did anything to try to fix public transit. We never participated in the public forums or in outreach programs that gathered feedback on BRT. Now, as BRT expands, huge changes are happening to the system that affect my current commute. However, at the same time as SFMTA was inviting the public to share their feedback, I bought a smartphone. To the dismay of my parents, I used that smartphone constantly. Now imagine if my teenage obsession had allowed me to be a more active participant in decisions like the BRT, simply because SFMTA could use the location data created by my phone to develop their future plans.
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When it comes to transportation planning, it seems like Big Data—location data created by connected cars and trucks, smartphones, and wearables—is the next big thing. How public agencies will actually use and implement this data is the big question on people’s minds.
With 2.5 quintillion bytes of Big Data being created daily, and much of this data offering valuable insights for transportation planning, it almost seems negligent for government agencies to not use this information source. Brookings Institution, a non-partisan research institute, recently looked into why government agencies are lagging behind on Big Data adoption. With the help of our CEO, Laura Schewel, the Brookings Institution has brought to light the core disconnects between government agencies and Big Data, and some of their findings may surprise you! In this blog post, I’ll take you through our key takeaways from the report.