Chicago Urban Scouts Reimagine Transportation for the “Mother of All Transit Apps”

Author: Zak Stone

“Public transportation doesn’t begin when you get on a train,” says Chicago-based engineer and designer Sara Aye. “It begins when you choose transit instead of another mode.” She believes passengers need more than just maps and departure times to help them navigate public transit. How we chose to get around is affected by everything from the weather, to traffic, to our own personal schedules. While a deluge of apps has risen up to fill the information void for public transit users in cities around the world, according to Sara and her husband George, the duo behind social design firm Greater Good Studio, not very many are doing a good enough a job.

In response, they’re using Kickstarter to raise funds for “the mother of all transit apps” for Chicago. The project, called New Tools for Public Transit, promises to be a more holistic approach to accessing the mass of information needed to make public transportation more user friendly. Gearing up for the research phase, they plan to cull the knowledge of Chicago’s transit system from the brains of those who know it best—daily passengers—through a series of workshops and activities in the field. The final product will be an app that’s not just crowdfunded but crowd-designed as well.

In Chicago the need for basic information is real; no tool other than Google Maps has connected the city’s train schedule with the bus schedule to make for one easy-to-use guide to multi-modal trips. But even Google doesn’t use realtime information. “It’s not information that you can trust from the standpoint of time,” Sara says. (She adds that Apple is axing Google Maps from its next release of iOS, which means the next iPhone won’t have Google Maps built in.) Plus a new administration led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel is more tech-savvy, according to George, and has made it easy for web developers to access city data from a central repository.

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Commuting to Disneyland

Author: Will Doig

Minneapolis’ Great Northern Depot was never as boastful as its palatial East Coast cousins, but its well-appointed, spartan, Midwestern reserve was gorgeous nonetheless. Sterling white walls overlooked long, dark benches, and an enormous naturalist painting depicting pre-fur trader Minnesota hung over the ticket counter. But like much of the city (40 percent of downtown Minneapolis was leveled for urban renewal), the Beaux-Arts train station found itself on the business end of a wrecking ball in 1978.

On Monday, 99 years after the Depot welcomed its first locomotive, history came full circle as the city broke ground on what’s being called “an open-air version of New York’s Grand Central.” That’s a slight exaggeration, but in some ways the new hub, called the Interchange, more accurately reflects today’s urban ideals than those monumental terminals of the railroading era. “Minnesotans do describe this as their Grand Central,” says Peter Cavaluzzi, principal at EE&K, which designed the complex. “But the difference is that this really functions in the new wave of transit hubs where we’re trying to blend transit and culture.”

Imagine talking to Pete Campbell as he’s schlepping home on the 6:45 to Cos Cob about blending transit and culture. But that’s what’s been happening over the past several years. For better or worse, transit is coming to be seen as one more urban consumption option, a lifestyle choice almost as defining as buying a car was 60 years ago. Ridership is soaring, going car-less is cause for bragging rights, and people are clamoring for transit options that suit their aesthetics and values, from streetcars to bike shares. And the new transit hubs are striving to reflect this. “In the old days you had the station house, an iconic edifice associated mainly with transportation,” says Cavaluzzi. “Now the definition of the station is being broadened to make it a larger ‘transit environment.’”

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Brookings compares transit accessibility across 100 metro areas


MDOT launches new Mi Commute web site

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The 13 Best U.S. Cities for Public Transit

Author: Jay Walljasper

Bicycles shine today as the symbol of vibrant cities—they pop up in fashion spreads and movies having nothing to do with transportation as signifiers of youthfulness, coolness and sexiness.

Copenhagen and Amsterdam win worldwide kudos for their fabulous network of bike lanes. Paris, Lyon and Montreal have demonstrated the efficiency of bikesharing systems. Portland and Minneapolis have put themselves on the map as “happening” towns, in part because of their blossoming bike cultures.

But great cities also depend on public transportation.  Images of buses and trains may never be as sexy as fashion models astride two-wheelers, but they are just as important to the future of sustainable, shareable, livable cities.

Public transit has experienced a quiet renaissance over the past two decades as the number of transit systems nationally has jumped from 1044 to 7700.   Transit use began climbing in the mid-1990s as light rail systems sprang up in many cities and bus service was beefed up in other places. Before the economic slide in 2008, public transportation was carrying more passengers than any time since automobiles began to rule American cities a half-century ago.

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How Smartphones Can Improve Public Transit

Author: Keith Barry

Smartphone apps may be the key to getting people out of their cars and onto mass transit.

An interesting study of commuters in Boston and San Francisco found people are more willing to ride the bus or train when they have tools to manage their commutes effectively. The study asked 18 people to surrender their cars for one week. The participants found that any autonomy lost by handing over their keys could be regained through apps providing real-time information about transit schedules, delays and shops and services along the routes.

Though the sample size is small, the researchers dug deep into participants’ reactions. The results could have a dramatic effect on public transportation planning, and certainly will catch the attention of planners and programmers alike. By encouraging the development of apps that make commuting easier, transit agencies can drastically, and at little cost, improve the ridership experience and make riding mass transit more attractive.

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