Communicating Priorities and Setting Standards
Since 2018, the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon has hosted an annual conference bringing together national experts from the private, public and non-profit sectors to examine and plan for how technology is changing our cities.
At the 2019 conference, Art Pearce, the Policy, Planning and Projects Group Manager for the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), discussed lessons from the city’s shared electric scooters pilot and the importance of data in ensuring new mobility innovations meet public goals.
Following the conference, we had a chance to sit down with Art to talk about how PBOT is collecting data from mobility service providers and using that data to inform improvements to the city’s transportation network.
The following is Part 1 of our interview. Part 2 will be published on August 13th, 2019.
Move Forward: What role does data play in planning for the future of Portland’s transportation system?
Art Pearce: At a very basic level, mobility data provides us with a clear picture of how our transportation system is currently operating and how that landscape will look in the future. Unfortunately, it also highlights how the system will perform if we don’t introduce some major changes.
For instance, we use current mobility data to simulate the future transportation environment and inform if current travel trends and investments will lead us to the future outcomes we have established in our plans. If we take travel behavior data from 2010 and project forward to 2035 using that current travel behavior, we would be adding another half million motor vehicle trips per day on our streets. We already know the streets are pretty full, so this is probably not going to work super well. Obviously, something has to change.
Move Forward: What kinds of actions does travel data help to inform?
Art Pearce: What it’s really done is enable us to develop a very responsive, very specific transportation strategy that provides the most significant impact with the least amount of intervention. We’ve zeroed in on what we see as the most effective area: supporting growth in centers and corridors and offering improved options for shorter trips.
Walking and cycling specifically are pretty easy to self-curate — what we’ve learned is that people can produce their own mobility if we create the possibility to do that safely and comfortably. And so, what the modeling tells us is that — through land-use changes and transportation investments in those key areas paired with improved transit to serve longer trips — we can almost level out the vehicle trip growth in Portland.
Move Forward: Almost?
Art Pearce: Ha, yes — almost. Even with all the possible interventions we currently have planned and additional funding for new projects, the vehicle trip rate is still predicted to be on the rise, which tells us something really important: we can’t do this through infrastructure changes alone. We need to have new mobility innovations as part of the solution set and those innovations need to be targeted to provide for the change that we want to see.
Move Forward: When it comes to data sharing, how can mobility service providers partner effectively with cities?
Art Pearce: I think first off, there needs to be strong communication and true partnership in the shared objective of serving the public — with a clear sense of roles and who is good at what. The clearer we, as the City, can be about what we want to see happen and why, the easier it is for technology innovators to understand how we can work together and their innovations can be in service to public good.
For example, in our 2018 Portland Shared Electric Scooter pilot, we developed a series of evaluation questions before the program started. This helped us envision possible data needs around vehicle-use, congestion, injury prevention, access to underserved communities. Setting our priorities ahead of time allowed us to communicate the kinds of information we needed and how to integrate that into the mobility service apps.
Move Forward: What kinds of data have you found most useful?
Art Pearce: At the outset of the pilot project, we required a robust suite of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) including device availability and trips (start, end, and route data), These requirements were modeled after the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), an open-source data standard developed by LADOT, and allowed PBOT to access information in real-time. In our second pilot, we’ve added monthly reporting requirements for companies to provide customer service issues, public reports, and self-reported injuries.
The data helps us better understand how people are using the city’s transportation network. For example, in addition to seeing where a trip started and ended, we can see the route a user took from point A to point B, enabling us to capture travel patterns holistically, highlight key demand areas, and compare that to the street system.
The data showed us the total number of trips made within that first 120 days, as well as the average length of a trip, total number of miles, and information specific to target geographic areas including East Portland. All of this is hugely beneficial in understanding how scooter users are navigating our streets, which types of facilities are currently comfortable for them, and where greater investments needed to be made.
Read about how Portland is using data to nudge mobility providers to support the city’s equity goals in Part 2, coming August 13, 2019.