How Many Of These Cities Can You Identify Using Only Their Transit Stops?

Can you “Guess The City” with nothing more than bus stops and train stations?

image via "Guess The City" screen capture (Portland, OR)

I can still remember the city bus route that took me home every day after high school (good ol’ B-84) and, if hard pressed, could probably rattle off at least 60% of the stops it made along the way. Public transportation is unique in its ability to bring people together while easily letting them explore the contours of their shared metropolis. There’s something about public transit that sticks with you, and helps define your very understanding of what makes a community tick. Spend enough time on mass transit and it becomes impossible to separate your time on the rails or roads from your sense of the city as a whole.

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Many, many years ago, as a freshman in college, I had a fairly simple morning commute. After the alarm at ten to nine, I would roll out of bed, brush my teeth, grab a notebook, walk out the door of my dorm building, take three steps, and walk right into Barnard Hall for my 9 a.m. Biology class. Sometimes I changed out of my pajamas, but I usually rolled in dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt, a real fashionista in the making. (Ah, the beauty of attending a women’s college!)
In the U.S., most undergraduate students live on or near campus, meaning that they don’t need to worry about the costs, or environmental impact, of commuting to school. Faculty and staff, however, rarely live so close, forcing universities either to build sprawling parking lots or come up with alternative systems of bringing in their employees. Aware of the costs of this kind of construction, as well as the traffic problems that all of these drivers can create, most schools now employ some form of transportation demand —or TDM—programs to lower transportation costs by reducing driving. A few schools, though, are going beyond the basics, developing comprehensive and effective TDMs, and acting as models for campuses all over the country.
Perhaps not surprisingly, considering its overachieving student body, Stanford University’s TDM, which has reduced its faculty and staff commuters from 72% to 42% since 2000, is smart and successful: a perfect model to borrow from. Though the school has had a TDM program since the mid-nineties, it’s current version was launched in late 2002 after Santa Clara County gave it an ultimatum: it would either have to find a way to expand its campus without increasing traffic, contribute financially to improving 15 intersections in the region, or put its plans on hold.
Not the type to shy away from a challenge, Stanford began employing a number of programs to encourage drivers to leave their cars at home. According to Brodie Hamilton, director of parking and transportation at Stanford, “We developed a program that dealt with what I call the ‘yes buts,’ trying to deal with commuters’ barriers.” Looking at the reasons people stayed away from public transportation, they sought solutions. When people would say, “‘I’d use alternative transportation but,’” Hamilton says, they “tried to look at all those barriers and come up with programs that would deal with them.”
So far that has included providing employees with “Go Passes” for unlimited access to CalTrain – driving the commuter rail’s usage by faculty up from 4 percent to over 22 percent—as well as bringing a 61-car Zipcar program onto campus. The “Commute Club” is another popular option, paying anyone who doesn’t buy a parking permit $300 in cash. That Club has grown from 3500 members in 2000 to over 8300. But not everything has been successful. One transit pass would allow people in the East Bay to connect to CalTrain through BART, another public transportation line. “We thought this was just going to be fabulous,” Hamilton says, “but it went over like a lead balloon.”
The key to Stanford’s success, according to Hamilton, is providing variety and options for commuters. Other schools looking to follow Stanford’s lead should do the same. “Try to put together something that has many pieces and that will support the commuter in so many different ways. There are often so many smaller pieces that by implementing those, you deal with a lot of the barriers that commuters are faced with.”
Join us for our Fix Your Street Challenge on the last Saturday of May. Click here to say you'll Do It and be sure to share stories of transportation innovation all month.\n
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By: Jim O'Grady

This story previously appeared on Transportation Nation

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If you've taken the subway in New York recently, you've surely seen the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's new slogan: "Improving, non-stop."
In that spirt, the MTA has been making an admirable effort to make riders' lives better by embracing new technology. More than 30 stations now have WiFi available (and cell service coming too!), and there are plans to get the remaining stations wired within the next five years.
More connectivity also means more opportunity for creative apps to improve the transit system. These, the MTA decided to crowdsource.
Enter the MTA App Quest Hackathon, held this past weekend in Brooklyn. Seventeen applicants competed for $10,000 in prizes, and a bunch of creative ideas came out of the competition.
The first-place winner was SubCulture.FM, an app to help bring buskers—the musicians who perform in subway stations for tips—out from the underground. It's really pretty awesome. You can look at a map of the city, click on specific stations, and see the name and bio of the artists performing there. You can then listen to a demo of the music and even purchase the single. You can also browse a directory of artists to find where someone is playing.
The second-place prize went to an app called MTA Sheriff, which allows riders to send reports about current conditions or concerns on the train. And in third place was Accessway, a transit app for the visually impaired. Check out the full list of app ideas from the hackathon.
Needless to say, New Yorkers have their own ideas about how to improve the city's transit system. Here are a few, from AM New York:
Josh Oswald and Reed Jackson, who run the MTA Twitter parody account @FakeMTA:
"My dream app would be a voice-changing app that makes everything you say sound like the Stand Clear of The Closing Doors Guy," Oswald said.
"It would of course have no practical use, but it would be great to walk around the city, ordering slices in that guy's voice."
Reed added: "My dream app would be something along the lines of a delay explainer: You type in the train or bus, and it gives you an explanation of why it's so late. 'A jacka -- with a green messenger bag blocked the doors of the fifth car three times in succession.' "
Ben Widdicombe, editor-in-chief of Gilt City: "I want an app that can reserve the seat closest to the door on an empty bench of three seats, like Open Table."
What's the transit app of your dreams?
Join us for our Fix Your Street Challenge on the last Saturday of May. Click here to say you'll Do It and be sure to share stories of transportation innovation all month.\n
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