15 posts categorized "Maps & Traffic"

A Bus Too Far

It's inspiring to hear that the creator of One Bus Away will be moving on to new challenges and a bigger canvas.

One Bus Away is a set of smartphone apps and other tools that let people in King County, Washington, know where and when to head for the next bus. I've blogged about it before and the iPhone app has been one of my favorites. I probably would not use the bus at all, were it not for One Bus Away.

5354178823_54c0b9e732_bIf I'm not mistaken, it plots the arrival times of your bus by referencing the odometer reading of the given bus at the start of its route. That is, unlike programs for other municipal bus systems, it does not use GPS to track buses. But it works reliably -- in my experience, buses arrive within plus or minus one minute of the time estimated (and it can be frustrating when the bus arrives and leaves a minute early!).

In any case, the approach works and it improves quality of life in Seattle.

The project's creator, Brian Ferris, wrote this yesterday on the One Bus Away blog, about where he is going next:

"I'm going to work for Google. Specifically, the Google Transit team [in Zurich]. If you've ever used Google Maps to plan a trip using public transit from point A to point B, then you're familiar with their work. Why Google? To put it simply, Google has done more to improve than usability of public transit than any other company I can think of. Their transit trip planner has made trip planning possible for hundreds of agencies where it wasn't before, and dramatically improved the trip planning experience for many agencies with planners of their own. What's more, projects like OneBusAway would not even be possible without the work of Google engineers. Their efforts to establish the GTFS spec for exchanging transit schedule data really launched the open transit data revolution that has lead to apps like OneBusAway and countless others. And perhaps you've heard they're getting into real-time?"

Congrats to Mr. Ferris, congrats to Google for nabbing such a leader, power to the people and may more and more information help break America's dependence on oil.

Photo: Portrait of Chico Alvarez and June Christy, 1947 or 1948, by William P. Gottlieb.

Parking It

The NYTimes has a story today about the iPhone app from the San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency that helps drivers find a parking spot.

Picture 10The piece calls out the tension between (a) cutting down the time drivers spend circling city blocks, which is a hazard, and (b) looking at their iPhones while they are driving, which is a hazard.

Maps are fun and can be beautifully designed. Digital versions can pick up on the allure that maps always had in the analog era, and make maps even richer imaginative portals. Mapping movement and real time information to location is particularly compelling.

Also exciting are the beginnings of organizing crowdsourced intelligence via maps. Among the many implications are, I think, the eventual demise of advertising as a feature of commerce.

But simple intuition suggests that a map that requires a screen on a hand held device is not the optimum means to disseminate real time information about available parking spots.

The right solution might not be screen-based at all.

It probably makes more sense for a location aware radio to talk the information to the driver. And the system could alter the kind of information depending on the driver's familiarity with the area. Ideally, the driver and the parking radio could have a conversation. "Is there anything near that park a couple blocks," she might ask. "Not today. All packed up because of a concert across the street. You'd do better turning left and heading west." Something like that.

If screens are the intermediate solution, then a screen on the dash, or a projection on a lower, tinted portion of the windshield, might be less hazardous than manipulating a hand held device while driving.

Of course, the ultra-optimum solution might be to leave the car parked at home and take public transport. I don't do that as much as I should, but the One Bus Away iPhone app has significantly increased my use of buses in Seattle. That's because it lets me know what options I have with reference to my current location, and it tells me, within about one minute of accuracy, when the next bus will come. That's accurate enough that I can eliminate the frustration of heading to a bus stop too early or too late.

Also interesting (below): a tweet from @nytimesbits that appears to be looking for some last minute sources or quotes for today's NYT article.

Picture 9

Location Based Self-Service

WhereWuz, a GPS application for iPhone and Android, launched this week. I bought it from the iTunes store and tried it out Thursday morning. Here are some initial impressions. (Disclosure: my law firm represents the company, Sunny Day Software, that makes it.)

The app tracks you wherever you go. Check that: it tracks you wherever you go with a powered up phone.

Search for parkingAnd it is very, very precise! Here's a map of my search for street parking Thursday morning. (I didn't know my garage would be closed for Veterans Day.)

The app is collecting data continuously. For my total trip into work this morning, starting from my favorite coffee shop (seat of my only impregnable Foursquare mayoralty), with a fruitless stop at the UW/Husky ticket office (closed; again, Veterans Day), through the aforementioned search for parking and a short walk to the office, the app reports that it logged my position 356 times. This in the course of 35 minutes.

I wonder how my battery will take the workout the app will be giving it.

In an email to friends and family announcing the launch, Sunny Day founder Craig Rosenberg describes the app as "your own personal GPS time machine." His intent is clearly to put the tracking data to the service of the person being tracked. The functionality of the app and the reports it generates reflect this.

For instance, the app lets you expand or contract a rectangle over a map, to define a geographic region. You can then generate a report on when in the past you have moved through that region.

One imagines gray areas down the metaphorical road. Will the reports eventually be portable to other services, many of which have antiquated, ad-based business models? Will data from other location based services be pullable into WhereWuz? At the outset, though, I very much like that the tracking here is robustly reported and all at the service of the trackee, and not marketers.

From the Road in Vermont

Two depictions of the main street in Stowe, Vermont, rendered from the same perspective 35 years apart, show  how continuously oil has dominated transportation in America.

The first is a print from 1975 by Vera Beckerhoff. The second is a magazine cover featuring an oil painting by Meryl Lebowitz. From the date of the magazine, the style of the cars, and the traffic volume I see in Stowe, I assume the Lebowitz scene is of today.

In the first picture, oil's influence is marked by no fewer than three oil company logos. In the second, the brands don't matter as oil-fueled cars have completely taken over.

The way information moves changes every month. But the way people move, at least in this country, that hasn't changed. I won't give up road trips but it does seem odd that, all my life, oil has been the only way to fuel them.

    From the Road in Vermont

    From the Road in Vermont

Gov't Worried That if Warrantless GPS Tracking Not Okay, Camera Surveillance Could be Questioned

Last month I wrote about a federal appeals court decision striking down a criminal conviction obtained in part from the prolonged use of a GPS tracking device surreptitiously placed on the alleged criminal's vehicle.

That decision, United States vs. Maynard, was delivered by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

Surveillance_cameras The government is now asking the other judges of the DC Circuit to rehear the case en banc.

The government's petition for rehearing argues that the three-judge panel is in the minority and that other courts of appeals have construed controlling Supreme Court precedents differently. Cases referenced include a recent decision of the 9th Circuit, a case getting a lot of attention due to the forceful, pro-privacy dissent of that court's Chief Judge, Alex Kozinski.

The government's petition also argues that the decision could cause problems for other types of law enforcement surveillance, including those involving cameras:

". . . [T]he panel’s holding calls into question the use of many common and accepted forms of surveillance of public places, such as visual surveillance and fixed cameras. Numerous federal appellate courts, for example, have held that the use of cameras capturing images of areas exposed to public view does not violate the Fourth Amendment. See, e.g., McIver, 186 F.3d at 1126-27 (use of fixed camera capturing images of area exposed to public view was not a search). If the panel’s opinion remains in force, well-accepted investigative techniques such as physical and photographic surveillance of persons, places, and objects exposed to public view could be called into question if the use of those techniques were sufficiently 'sustained' or 'prolonged.'"

One can imagine that the government may be concerned with the admissibility of information it derives from the use of facial recognition and other pattern matching software on photo and video feeds and databases.

I learned about the government's action yesterday from a post on the Wired Threat Level blog. Thanks to a link (pdf) on that post, I was able to read the government's petition for rehearing and to quote from it here. Image is by Quevaal, used under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Seattle Tech Neighborhoods From the Air

"The aerial view is something entirely new. We need to admit that it flattens the world and mutes it in a rush of air and engines, and that it suppresses beauty. But it also strips facades from our constructions, and by raising us above the constraints of the treeline and the highway it imposes a brutal honesty on our perceptions."

IMG_0078Under the wing and at 2 o'clock from the football stadium, offices for Vulcan. 

"It lets us see ourselves in context, as creatures struggling through life on the face of a planet, not separate from nature, but its most expressive agents. It lets us see that our struggles form patterns on the land, that these patterns repeat to an extent which before we had not known, and that there is a sense to them."

IMG_0079To the right of the wing strut and behind the Viaduct (elevated highway), Pioneer Square, neighborhood of many Web startups. To the left of the wing strut and behind the Viaduct, the Pike Place Market area, where Facebook recently opened an office.

"I have imagined teaching the aerial view. The best approach would be to apprentice young children as I was apprenticed, to teach them without elaboration simply by flying them to different places, encouraging them to navigate, and to make the translations between maps and the world. Effortlessly they would develop the habit of seeing the world from above, and the more subtle trick while on the ground of understanding the scale and orientation of their surroundings."

IMG_0097Offices of F5 Labs, in the complex of reddish-brown buildings, left of center frame, along the shoreline.

"Flying at its best is a way of thinking."

IMG_0113New site of the Gates Foundation, lower right. Kitty corner is Paul Allen's EMP, designed by Frank Gehry of Disney Concert Hall fame.

Quotes are from pages 4,7 and 8 of Inside the Sky: A Meditation on Flight, by William Langewiesche, published in 1998. (I think that predates Google Maps and Google Earth.) Pictures were taken by me on an iPhone a week ago today, from the right side of a Kenmore Air seaplane piloted by Michael.

IMG_0116In the foreground, South Lake Union neighborhood, new home to Amazon and other tech companies.

One-Way Buses

The garage downtown I normally park at is closed for the week. So, rather than park somewhere else and fuss later for reimbursement, I've been bussing to work.

"To" is the operative preposition.

From where I live, it's easy to get downtown in the morning. A fleet of Metro buses flow south on two arterials, Roosevelt and University Avenues. The stream is so steady, you don't need to check timetables. You just show up, and a bus will show within 5 or 10 minutes.

Getting home is a different story.

To get home, not only do you have to know the schedules, you have to keep a schedule yourself. The express buses are done by 6pm. The local routes are all tangled up with all the other routes leaving a congested downtown. If you have a drink with a friend, you're soon in a zone where you might wait 45 mins. for a bus to show. I won't do that; I'll take a cab, or I'll walk home.

More to the point, I'll be sore and be reminded again that it's better to drive!

Though it isn't better to drive. Skip the environmental reasons and go straight to the social ones. We don't have a subway in Seattle, but we have buses, and if we had more of them, they might serve a similar, civic, leveling function. Democracy = free public libraries (closed this week), firefighters and public transportation (not roads, vehicles).

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