Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. 

Mar 24 2020
Data Analytics

Why Cities Should Apply Data Analysis to Transportation Systems

Data analytics tools can help make transportation systems and city life more efficient.

Being able to accurately assess public transportation ridership and vehicular traffic is more important to cities now than ever in the recent past as transit volumes in cities plummet due to social distancing. 

New York City’s public transportation system, the largest in North America, reported last week that ridership dropped 60 percent on the subway and 49 percent on buses on March 16 compared with the same day last year. The Metro public transportation system in Washington, D.C., has seen its ridership plunge by 85 percent. And in Boston, only 22 percent of the average weekday riders took that city’s subway system, known as the T, on March 17. These declines could have profound and long-term implications for public transit and city life more broadly, as CityLab reports

Using data analytics tools to assess public transit usage is critical as cities strive to determine adequate service levels and how much they may need to cut back. However, such tools are always incredibly useful to improve transportation systems and the quality of services as well as reduce traffic. 

“Intelligent transportation systems will produce a large amount of data,” an IEEE white paper notes. “The produced big data will have profound impacts on the design and application of intelligent transportation systems, which makes ITS safer, more efficient, and profitable.”

Big data analytics, IEE adds, can be used for a variety of smart city transportation projects, including but not limited to “road traffic accidents analysis, road traffic flow prediction, public transportation service plan, personal travel route plan, rail transportation management and control, and assets maintenance.”

Chicago Examines How Curbs Are Used via Analytics

In Chicago, the City Tech Collaborative launched a months-long project to collect data related to curb activity to help the city better manage how curb space is used, according to Government Technology

The initiative is designed to create a “practical, usable, scalable analytics tool to better understand the curb,” which has been described as phase one, Jamie Ponce, director of strategic partnerships at City Tech Collaborative, tells Government Technology

The publication reports:

The project will include private sector partners like Bosch and HERE Technologies to provide various levels of support and expertise. For example, HERE Technologies will analyze traffic movement, congestion and other data points to identify bottlenecks “and areas of friction,” Ponce explained. The data gathered will enable the researchers to take a closer look at what’s causing some of the curb space management problems, all part of Phase I, which will largely be a mapping exercise to digitize the curb. 

The next phase of the project will analyze all of that data and help the city craft new approaches. Curbs are often used for parking in cities, but data analysis of curbside usage can help them determine how curbs are used and how to price access to them differently, Billy Riggs, a researcher and professor with expertise in transportation and smart mobility at the University of San Francisco, tells Government Technology

“It’s also important to think about the curb as barrier but a continuum of the street,” Riggs says. “And given the trends in many locations to support car-free cities, many municipalities also need to take a hard look at what type of travel should be allowed on certain corridors — not just thinking about using the curb, but thinking about if it should even exist.”

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out why connected intersections are the backbones of smart cities. 

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, just seconds after a rider unlocks a dockless electric scooter with a smartphone app and starts motoring around, information about the trip is fed to a city-operated database, according to the New York Times

Then, just after the trip ends, another alert updates the database, noting the location. A day later, the Times notes, the exact route the rider took is uploaded and logged for analysis. 

As the Times reports, that kind of data is also a key to solving congestion in cities, since knowing “what route riders have used historically makes it possible for policymakers to plan infrastructure.”

“Cities have to assure that their resources are used efficiently, and that includes the shared spaces,” Stephen Zoepf, chief of policy development at Ellis & Associates, a consultancy that advises cities on the intersection between transportation and technology, tells the Times. “The effects of crowding, in noise and emissions, are a tragedy of the commons.”

LeoPatrizi/Getty Images

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT