Birdseye view of Providence, Rhode Island (1895)

This map captured my attention not only because it was old, but because it features a new transportation node. Zoom in on the railroad station. See details for ordering prints at the BIG map blog.

Data Overload and Influence in Transit

Breathing Data
Over the past couple of decades, data in transit has become as ubiquitous as air. From smart technology to smart buses, there’s not an agency that is not either using data or want to use data as a reliable source for making decisions. Past practice and gut feelings have seceded much of their role in the decision-making process in areas ranging from fueling vehicles to scheduling service.

The store of data has become so filled that it’s now mined like coal. The trouble with all this data is that it can be dataminingdaunting to the uninitiated. How to efficiently collect, retrieve and interpret it eludes its owners. The benefits then go unmet. Mass amounts of data, warehoused on servers in offices across the country, have paralyzed organizations. Managers and chiefs are unable to make solid decisions supported by proper analysis, leaving them without the confidence to back their decisions. Priorities and directions change from one minute to the next including abandonment of enterprise software. Public organizations should be held more accountable for technology investments by reporting the returns as part of an overall business plan. Otherwise this kind of waste will continue to strain budgets and constrict local economy.

Delicate Data

Like a specimen in a lab dish, care must be taken to prevent contamination. Viewed in this light, data owners should employ and trust well-trained and qualified stewards. Unfortunately, corruption of data is sometimes intentional for purposes of supporting the owner’s objectives. This kind of manipulation of data alludes to the high level of importance data has gained being the indisputable justification for making purchases or changing a datadoctor2transit schedule. People risk their lives and companies jeopardize their reputation when they intentionally misrepresent data. A common question is “what do the numbers say?” The inherent assumption is that the numbers don’t lie, but I follow with “their presenter can lie”. There are presenters everywhere making bad things look good. Bad data can be thrown in the lot with fast food and bad investment ideas, great presentation but I wouldn’t buy it. A thorough examination by a trained steward of the data source, collection and analysis methods must be performed to ensure integrity in the results.

A wealth of data is worthless when the owner is not capable of handling it properly or making it meaningful. In this modern data-driven society, experts should be entrusted with the oversight of data entry, storage, retrieval and analysis. A capable user knows how to sift through large quantities of data and make sense of it. If the results are unfavorable, changes in the business process should come before changes in the data. That might mean ruffling some collars but there is too much data and the influence is too great to be handled by less than qualified individuals.

Transit Technology Benefits Unmet

TTECOverview1The advent of technologies applied in the transit industry still have lots of distance to cover in terms of reaching the benefits that they are supposed to bring. Breaking even is not on the radar where returns on the investments have yet to even be evaluated. Why are hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions, of public funds being spent and recovery is not even measured? Why are business processes not streamlined ensuring an increase in efficiency? The answer to these questions is that the human requirements too often are ignored. The premise for ignoring this factor is the widespread notion that acquiring technology alone will solve the problems. The various intelligent transportation systems and other software tailored to transit offer massive returns, if and only if their capabilities are exploited by users who are not averse to computers and possess the savvy necessary to adapt. They are misconceived as total solutions or panaceas, rather than tools that will aid in the tasks that human beings will still have to do.

Working Harder, Not Smarter Impresses

While old habits can be hard to break, they can also impress superiors who are unaware of the necessity to change practices in order to realize the benefits of the technology they’ve incorporated into their business operations. Requiring users to take pencil and paper to log actions and fill reports should be unthinkable when a software application includes this function in its standard configuration. However, when staff can say they have ten items to check off versus five, it seems that they are truly working hard as a necessity as opposed to being inefficient.

Data Un-mined

The boy cried wolf and the people responded until they were fed up with his antics playing on their natural human traits to aid another in peril. Here we are in the twenty-first century and data is heaped in mounds that would surely reach Mount Everest if it were in physical form. core_table1The cry for data has been answered and yet it goes unmanaged, unkept and unused. Data is supposed to enable informed decisions once captured, collected, stored and retrieved but those first steps are constantly neglected. When the integrity of the data is compromised it directly affects the quality of the decisions. When the data is intact yet not factored into the decision-making process, gut feelings, personal desires and the like become the basis, leaving vast amounts of data to collect dust or become fossils within their respective environments.

Technology’s Purpose

Technology is supposed to make work easier and more efficient. It is supposed to increase output by performing calculations at exponential rates and gathering data that is practically impossible for humans to do. It guarantees that decisions can be made with confidence, shielding officials from any backlash. Absent an understanding and application of technology’s true role, advantages and disadvantages, an accumulation of wasted public funds will continue to grow. Ignoring the fact that man must mesh with machine will perpetuate the misconception that acquisition of machines and technology alone will solve the complex problems of modern transit.

Monopoly Revisited by B & O

800-c1935_1509312a_Deed_RR-BO-FrBkWhen I play the board game Monopoly, one of my staunch objectives is to acquire all the railroads. Although having them doesn’t always guarantee that I’ll be the last man standing, having them satisfies my philosophical leanings and industrial interests. Today I discovered an old map of the real B & O and an old deed from the game. Rail transport of goods and people is experiencing a surge in support now that much of the surface infrastructure is exceeding capacity.

Proponents see the real benefits of rail and lobby their elected representatives to acknowledge those benefits. However, investments must be made with public involvement or else privatization will take the industry back to the 19th century when private individuals ran the show. Public-private partnerships are becoming more common across the U.S. ensuring that a level of public involvement is maintained and monopolies are prevented from happening again.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Between Washington D.C. and Rockville (1890) image detail

Transport Systems Define Global Status

Futuristic CityTransit networks have been considered by many as a measure, among others, by which to determine a city’s reputation or classification as a global city. Of those cities that have earned the prefix ‘global’, their networks are large and multimodal. Specific characteristics of those systems include reliability, vast coverage and high frequency. They offer service to real destinations e.g. employment centers, city centers, entertainment venues, etc. New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seoul are examples of where networks’ designs reflect serious consideration for the need of the population. Service is almost door to door for the places people want to go. In some cases, the transit services themselves are attractions for visitors and transplants.

Life Blood

There’s something about seeing transit vehicles of various modes moving through a city like blood cells running through veins. It sparks a sense of life and progress because like clockwork, they are always on the move. Onlookers and passengers alike experience a feeling of vibrancy and that things are happening. Naturally, the reaction is to be a part of that so the attraction is great and it reaches not only to the hinterlands. People are drawn from around the globe to places that are exuberant with life derived from all of this movement. Being in the heart, or even near to it, drives people, life and ideas to flourish.


aurora_transportation_ysja7For many cities looking to move up the ladder of global ranking, transit should not be left off the table of development projects. The inherent economic benefits alone should be enough to permit its inclusion in a well thought out comprehensive plan. Consistent, scheduled movement propels the dynamics necessary to attract and gain the attention sought. However, looking within to serve the immediate population by offering a world-class transit system will do much to address the external desires. We are now in the 21st century which requires aggressive policies and action to bring to the present that futuristic image of a city with advanced transit services that even includes driver-less trains, cabs and cars.


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