Transportation Camp DC gets geeky about the present and future of transit

Today in Washington, the “School without Walls was full of of civic energy around open data, tech, community, bikes, smart cities, systems, efficiency, sustainability, accessibility, trains, buses, hacking, social networking, research, policy, crowdsourcing and more. Transportation Camp, an “unconference” generated by its attendees, featured dozens of sessions on all of those topics and more. As I’ve reported before, transit data is open government fuel for economic growth.

A Case for Open Data in Transit from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Below, the stories told in the tweets from the people show how much more there is to the world of transit than data alone. Their enthusiasm and knowledge made the 2012 iteration of Transportation Camp in the District a success.

Transit data as open government fuel for economic growth

Transportation Camp Big Board
At the Big Board at Transportation Camp NYC. Credit: Transportation Camp
Today in New York City, the attendees of TransportationCamp will look for ways to build a better to and fro. Technologists, trains fans, government workers and East Coast civic hackers have gathered for a sold out two-day unconference at the New York Law School Institute for Information Law and Policy. TransportationCamp East.

They’ve come together to discuss how the modern transit system can be improved, focusing on the intersection between technology, citizens, public data and government. Around the United States, there has been a blossoming of innovation in the city transit sector, driven by the passion of citizens and fueled by the release of real-time transit data by their city governments. These efforts have a long way to go, given challenges of driving interoperability standards to address the break of gauge. As open government moves from theory to practice, what lies ahead for Gov 2.0 will include more innovation in opening transit data as a platform for civic innovation.

In many cities, the future of open transit data is already around us, but the promise has yet to be fully realized. The case for open data in transit is made in the video below:

A Case for Open Data in Transit from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

An “open data project that I’m fond of that started very early in the open government process is GTFS, the General Transit Feed Specification,” said Tim O’Reilly.

That’s the data standard that lets transit districts feed their bus and train arrival times to applications like Google Transit, or any of the many smartphone apps that help you plan your trip on public transit. This standard started as a collaboration between Google and the city of Portland, but is now available from many cities. It’s a great example of how governments can think like platform providers. They have to equip their buses and trains with GPS, and report out the data. They could report it just to their own bus stops and train stations, or they could make it available to third parties to deliver in a hundred ways. Which is better for citizens? It’s pretty obvious.”

For passionate civic advocates like Laurel Ruma, a colleague at O’Reilly Media, getting real-time transit data in Boston was better than winning the World Series. (That might have been a harder sell in 2003, but table that for now). The decision to release and support open transit data online has spawned a new ecosystem of mobile applications, many of which are featured at MBTA.com. The addition of real-time transit data could add more value to the apps offering help for MBTA riders that went online in 2009, like the Mass Transit app that has been making money for SparkFish Creative.

It’s that kind of economic value creation combined with civic utility and accountability that has many people in the open government community excited. “Transportation has been a breakout segment of the “Gov 2.0” space over the last several years — it’s an issue with direct impacts on every citizen, and an area where we are seeing tons of innovation right now,” said Nick Grossman, director of civic works at OpenPlans. “Agencies are re-thinking their tech and data strategies, entrepreneurs and “civic hackers” are building tools at a furious rate, and the public is benefiting in tangible ways. We are excited to bring together many of the players in the space for two weekends of discussing, debating, and building at TransportationCamp.”

The unconference organizers posted the Beth Noveck and the Do Tank & Democracy Design Workshop at New York Law School, said Grossman. “Beth’s and the Do Tank’s work has been an inspiration for all forms of collaborative work around civic issues, governance, and democracy.”

TransportationCamp West will be in San Francisco March 19-20. Both of the unconferences are sponsored by NYC-based nonprofit OpenPlans. ”

“TransportationCamp is all about building connections across a widespread sector, from public officials, to software developers, to academics, to urban advocates and interested citizens,” said Grossman. “We hope to not only address some immediate issues (such as working on technical data standards), but also plant the seed for longer-term partnerships.”

Luke Fretwell captured an extensive Q&A with Grossman, were he talks more about TransportationCamp’s objectives and transportation’s impact on the bigger issues around Gov 2.0 and open government.

Follow @transpocamp and the #transpo hashtag on Twitter today and over the coming weeks to watch the discussion data unfold in real-time.


Frank Hebert posted a recap of Saturday morning at Transportation Camp at the camp blog.

Pattern Recognition and Spimewatch: Visions of Open Cities of the Future

If you had five minutes to talk about the future, what would you say?

Last month, I had the privilege of presenting at two Ignite sessions, Ignite NYC at the Web 2.0 Expo and Ignite D.C. later in the week. If you’re not familiar, Ignites are 5 minute-long talks where presenters share subject they’re passionate about, using 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. If you’re not used to that rhythm, it can be tricky.

The video of my talk at Ignite D.C. is embedded below:

The presentation and associated links is embedded below:

Curious about the title for my talks? As fellow science fiction fans know, the title for these Ignite talks is an homage to two author: William Gibson, and Bruce Sterling. Gibson, sometimes called the “noir prophet” of cyberpunk, coined the term cyberspace and wrote “Pattern Recognition,” an enjoyable yarn about the future-present. Sterling, also an notable cyberpunk author, maintains the excellent Wired blog “Beyond the Beyond,” which has an entire category called “Spimewatch.”