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Day in the life of the NYC Taxi Data

29 Jul

Here is the quick story of the NYC Taxi data. It’s a good example of how messy and fun civic technology can be.


What’s next for this data set? Got something interesting to build off of it?

Smart Bus Stops Done Dirt Cheap

8 Oct

Check out the latest Hack Your City project! Smart Bus Stops Done Dirt Cheap!

San Francisco’s Bus stops are already kinda smart, they have those cool Next Bus arrival signs, and some detailed maps of bus routes. Those help answer a few questions people have when they are stuck at the stop. Smart Stops is a project to help bus stops answer all kinds of local questions though. Think of it like Siri for the block.

You’ll be able to ask your favorite neighborhood smart bus stop all kinds of things. Just text in a question and your bus stop will send you a answer. How do I take the bus to Golden Gate Park? You’ll get SMS directions you can carry with you on your trip. Who’s got the best burritos in this hood? Where’s the local health clinic? We’ll ask around and find out for you. Smart stops will also collect stories from the neighborhood to share if you ask nicely.

This project came about because of the always awesome GAFFTA and their upcoming Urban Prototyping Festival. Hack Your City was invited to submit a project. We are honored to have Smart Stops included in the selection of urban interventions for the festival. All of the projects chosen have a mix of open source technology, public art, and had to be easily built by others in any city.

We chose to make Smart Stops a text message app so that it would be more accessible to people who are riding the bus. I’m not really feeling making a smart phone app, it just doesn’t seem as important. The spirit of this festival is create open source art that any one can clone and easily reproduce in their own city. By creating a SMS service, our Smart Stops art project can easily be built in any city in the world. There are parts of the globe where text messaging is used way more than the internet. Smart Stops is ready for these places already, no digital divide, no expensive hardware, just any easy code base to upgrade your bus stops.

We’ve got a talented crew of Hack Your City hooligans making this happen. We got people coding the backend, the questions, and the SMS service. You can check our work in progress code at

We’ve also got urban hackers hand building our signs from reclaimed materials. We’re hand painting them with classic hand styles. The’re gonna be fly.

Embark NYC wins best Transit App

9 Feb

The App Quest
The New York MTA hosted an App Quest contest to see what the tech community could build on top of recently opened transit data. This contest arose from the newly revealed experience that hackers and designers can create apps that are more attractive and accessible, for far cheaper and much quicker than transit agencies themselves can.

Embark NYC

iBART Custom Map
The winner of the the App Quest contest was Embark NYC. Embark is an app that routes you all over NYC and looks great. I’ve been using their iBart app for San Francisco for a couple years now. I’ve always admired their custom map of the BART system.

My work, Urban Mapping, also entered an app into the App Quest contest. We developed and submitted TravelShed, a visual way to see how far you can travel on transit in a given amount of time. I didn’t personally work on it at all, yet I think its a great iteration of the isochrone map.

A runner up of mention is NotifyME. Its an Android app that will send you updates if the trains you usually take are delayed. I’m mentioning this one because I just built the same sort of service as a text message app, here in SF. Check it out at Late BART.

Taking Back the Streets of NYC

14 Oct

When your city understands that its shape and feel should be focused on people instead of cars, there is less need for us to do our DIY Urban Design hacks in the middle of the night. This video is about such a place. All the city agencies in New York have been working together to reclaim the streets from the automobile.

The changes they’ve made in just three years are incredible. Some are small improvements like just painting the asphalt differently, while others such as the protected bike lanes are expensive infrastructure projects. All together though they have a serious impact on quality of life, transit speed, the environment, as well as public healthy and safety.