Enabling transportation information, an invitation

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This is an invitation.

We’re working on drafting the first Transportation Information Infrastructure Enabling Plan for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). We’d like you to come along on our journey as we draft it.

We’re inviting you to engage us. Ask us questions. Help us to sharpen our ideas.

We’re drafting an Enabling Plan because we know that urban transportation has been upended by information. We have more ways to get around our cities because real-time transportation information—information about the location of vehicles, about the state of traffic, about the schedule of buses or trains, etc.— is readily available through our phones and other devices. Transportation information enables people who use the transportation network and also enables a myriad of new products, new services and new companies. It is enabling a new market (or markets) and a new ecosystem.

As a municipal department of transportation, we are responsible for making sure that city’s transportation network is accessible, convenient, sustainable and equitable. We are responsible for maintaining the city’s physical infrastructure (roads, bridges, sidewalks, etc.) and for managing the movement of people, vehicles and services (street closures, permitted events, traffic lights and service routes, etc.) on our city’s right-of-way.

We need an Enabling Plan because we want make sure the emerging market and ecosystem is also more accessible, more convenient, more sustainable and more equitable.

We need an Enabling Plan because, while we have plans for pedestrian infrastructure, for bikes, for transit and for freight, we don’t have a plan for information. Yet.

We need an Enabling Plan because, as we said, information is now driving (no pun intended) all the changes in the way we use transportation. We need one because information will help pedestrians, people on bikes, people on transit, and products and goods to get around our city.

We need an information infrastructure enabling plan because we publish a lot of open data and we need to make sure that the information we publish is not only trustworthy but is also information that others can build upon. Our information needs to be infrastructural. The information we publish and the information other services collect and provide should also respect and protect personal privacy and should not be used for unauthorized surveillance.

The Enabling Plan will be about how we use and manage information and is not necessarily about how we choose or deploy technology. (We also need to learn to manage information as an asset, not just as record-keeping. More about that next time.)

Our hope is that our Enabling Plan will help us to better manage our own information, as well as the information that comes from existing and emerging service providers and from new (and still to come) sensors and information providers. We hope it helps us to identify the skills and capacities we will need and it gives us the framework to engage the emerging market and ecosystem. We hope it will help us to prepare for the coming disruptions, technological or otherwise.

We want the Enabling Plan to help us conceptualize information infrastructure and (structure information flows and information regimes) that:

  1. make our city safer;
  2. give people dignified, equitable, more reliable, and easy-to-use transportation options (including opting not to travel);
  3. make our city more vibrant by enabling public life and encouraging more social and economic activity on our streets and sidewalks; and,
  4. contribute to a more affordable city by providing equitable, affordable and high-quality transportation options.

We will use it to identify gaps and to set strategies. We will use it to draw up a set of policies, projects and performance metrics that we can act on.

We will be guided by the principles we set out in Seattle’s New Mobility Playbook: We will put people and safety first. We will design for customer dignity and happiness. We will strive to advance racial equity and social justice; to eradicate institutionalized racism. We want to forge a clean mobility future to fight climate change and protect the environment for future generations. And, we will build an even playing field that favors no one and which corrects and mitigates inequities.

Follow this space and join us in conversation as we draft our Enabling Plan.

(I’m Benjie de la Peña, and I serve as the Chief of Strategy and Innovation for the Seattle Department of Transportation and I’m part of the SDOT team working on the Enabling Plan. My teammates include: Sam Marshall, Information Infrastructure Lead; Alex Hagenah, Data Librarian; and, Mary Alyce Eugene, Data Warehousing and Analytics Developer. Colleen Hunter is our Scrum Master and Agile Coach. Our intern, Justin Byun, is helping us out. We’re working with our New Mobility Team and the Seattle IT Department. We hope to deliver a working draft of the plan by the end of March, 2019.)

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