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Using Big Data to Improve Accessibility in Cities


Today, more and more companies and municipalities are using analytics and big data to manage, monitor and plan for a variety of mobility programs that could change the way we drive and navigate our cities. And one of the newest programs is Ford’s SharedStreets, a new data platform that will help leverage big data to improve urban mobility and accessible transportation in cities around the world.


This is an unprecedented public and private partnership designed to help give mayors and other officials access to traffic data that will help to create smarter, safer and far more efficient transportation systems in cities. It will help with the way streets are designed, improving traffic planning functions as well as creating new technologies.  But while it’s an innovative program, it’s only one way that big data is being used.


SharedStreets is an innovative partnership, but it’s not the only one that cities are tapping into. For example, Seattle is working with Microsoft and Accenture on a program to lower the Seattle area’s power usage, using big data collected from building management systems. Their goal is reduce energy consumption in their area by 25%.


Another unique partnership is one between Chicago and its residents, who can “Adopt-a-Sidewalk” in the event of a heavy snowstorm. People who pledge to keep public spaces free of snow and ice, particularly those areas that impact the elderly and disabled, will receive a notification when their help is needed.


IBM also teamed up with the city of Lyon, France to reduce road congestion by using real-time traffic reports to predict impending traffic jams. It’s being used currently to help emergency vehicles en route to a hospital avoid traffic congestion that could slow them down.  


One of the goals of SharedStreets is to make curbsides safer and more accessible for pedestrians, vehicles, and bikes and particularly for those who require accessible transportation. Having access to big data showing where drivers are more likely to speed or where they are likely to drop off passengers can help city planners in a variety of ways. For example, they can use that data to show where a mobility van can safely load and unload passengers with disabilities. They can also help drivers of conversion vans find the best areas to park and safely lower the van ramp for wheelchair passengers.


Everyone thinks of Los Angeles when it comes to congestion, but the city has partnered with Inrix to develop planning strategies to reduce and reverse the congestion problem that exists in the city. What’s interesting is that Inrix is a traffic analytics firm, and in 2017 they named Los Angeles the worst city in the US for traffic congestions. Now they are working together to improve the problem.


The data gathered includes traffic flow, vehicle speed and other factors that help spot problems before they occur. This information will also provide insight when planning roadway construction projects in Los Angeles and the surrounding communities.


Big data is not only for people driving cars; it’s also being used to improve public transportation as well. Most mass transit hasn’t changed or evolved in the past 25 years, but now cities are using sophisticated big data technology to transition mass transit into a world of on-demand transit services. Cities are analyzing how their mass transit systems are working now so that hey can find unique opportunities for more efficient transportation systems in the coming years.


As more and more private and public partnerships are formed and those partnerships access and utilize big data, transportation will become safer and more manageable in cities throughout the world.