Environmental Quality / 2013
Wayfinder LA a utility for carfree transit
Our idea is a mapping and navigation tool designed for car-free transportation in Los Angeles. It will use road quality, public transit, and crowd-sourced geolocation data to suggest routes of travel using the three main alternatives to car travel: walking, biking, and public transit. Walking, biking, and public transit are superior to car travel because they pollute little, alleviate traffic congestion and infrastructure decay, promote health through exercise, and grant mobility to a very broad segment of the population. Yet, 80% of commuters travel by car in Los Angeles because they feel the public transportation system is inadequate and slow and the prospect of alternative transportation is intimidating or too complicated to undertake. Our goal is to remove those unknowns to make alternative modes transportation more accessible to people than it is now. Wayfinder relates directly to four LA2050 indicators because it promotes car-free transportation, whose list of benefits is long and diverse. Wayfinder’s indicators are Environmental Quality, Health, Social Connectedness, and Income & Employment. Here’s why: Environmental Quality • Walking, biking, and public transportation omit drastically fewer polluting gases than cars do, which improves our air quality. • Making alternative transportation more accessible to young people gives them better access to parks, which are instrumental to children’s wellbeing but are few and far between in Los Angeles. Health • Walking and biking are physical activities that promote health through exercise. This is especially important for children, who are 10% as likely to become obese if they are physically active than if they are not. Social Connectedness • Pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit riders interact with Los Angeles and the people who live here far more than the driver that enters the freeway time warp and is spit out at the destination. This daily interaction with the community tightens the social web and increases trust and social engagement, which encourage political involvement and volunteerism. Income & Employment • Driving is expensive, and the burden of that expense falls most heavily on the poor. Gas costs can eat up as much as 10% of a low income family’s earnings, to say nothing of the other costs associated with driving a car. Walking, biking, and public transit are consistently less expensive than driving.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Our organization is a new one whose purpose is to pursue the singular goal of making multi-modal transport easier and more accessible in Los Angeles.
The members of our organization have been active in the Los Angeles bike community, particularly through the bicycle co-ops the Bicycle Kitchen and the Bikerowave. These organizations are non-profit bicycle workshops and education spaces that provide the space, equipment, and support necessary for people to repair and maintain their bicycles. Our volunteer efforts at the BK and Bikerowave are one way for us boost community support for alternative transportation and make it accessible to more people. It is working with these organizations that it occurred to us just how many more people would change their transportation habits if given the knowledge and community support to feel confident venturing out onto the street.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
Today, we are a small team with a great idea, and we’re still looking for a data analyst, an algorithm designer, and user interface designer to bring our concept to reality.
Outside of our team, we want to collaborate with as much of the Los Angeles cycling community as possible in making this a useful resource for those who already travel without a car in LA. We’ll also rely heavily on bike advocacy organizations in Los Angeles to help us promote our resource once it’s built.
Organizations to collaborate with are the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, CicLAvia, the Bicycle Kitchen Bike Oven, and Bikerowave, the LA Metro, LADOT, Ride South LA, C.I.C.L.E., Culver City Bicycle Coalition, South Bay Bicycle Coalition, Santa Monica Spoke,
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
In the short term, success is a high level of engagement in our resource. We want this to be such a useful utility that people use it all the time and suggest it to others. To get off the ground, we plan to create a map and navigation utility based on information we already know about the roads and transit systems in Los Angeles, but we think it makes most sense to rely on the collected experience of our users to determine the best ways to get around. As such, we plan for the final version of Wayfinder to use aggregated data gathered from users’ smartphones as they travel. The great thing is that Wayfinder is designed to grow because its effectiveness is tied to its use. The more people use and interact with it, the more it learns, and the more it works.
In the long term, we dream of a day when the car is no longer considered the only way to travel in LA. We want to help shift the paradigm regarding transportation in Los Angeles and to see this city embrace alternatives to the car to build a healthy, sustainable, efficient transportation system. We want to provide urban planners with useful data to streamline bike and pedestrian infrastructure, bike share programs and public transit into an efficient and user-friendly system.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Wayfinder will benefit Los Angeles and its residents in two distinct realms: the social and the structural. Social benefits include to those that directly benefit individuals, like improved air quality, less expensive transportation, and increased physical exercise. The structural benefits are those that result from the coordinated activity of thousands of travelers and enable our urban planners to maximize the efficiency of our transit systems.
Social Benefits Wayfinder’s benefits are the benefits of sustainable, efficient multi-modal transportation. Those we have listed above under the first question and we think they’re a no-brainer. The more challenging question is this: How do we encourage Angelenos to change their attitudes toward transportation, and how do we get them to adopt more sustainable methods of transit?
The answer: provide Angelenos with the necessary information to make smart, confident choices about transportation. Here’s an example:
Recently, we were talking to our friend Brian, who lives in Culver City and works on the PCH in Malibu. Brian rides a bike for exercise in recreation, but spends about 90 minutes in the car each day, traveling the 36 miles round trip work and back. In the course of our conversation about his commute, he realized that he could ride his bike 7 miles to the 534 Metro Express stop and ride the bus to work from there. Brian calculated that the trip would take only 15 more minutes each way, and he began to grow excited as he realized that he would be cutting the roughly $40 a week he spends on gas to get to and from work to $15 in bus fare. By the time he realized that he would now spend half his commute exercising on his bicycle and the other half reading or gazing at the Pacific Ocean, he was ecstatic.
Brian has changed his routine, and all he needed to do so was a little bit of information and the encouragement. We think there are hundreds of thousands of people in LA who rely on cars when they don’t have to, and we want all of them to have the same epiphany Brian did. When they do, they’ll live healthier, more sustainable lives, and Los Angeles will be a better place to live.
Structural Benefits Los Angeles’ public transit infrastructure is chronically underused simply because Angelenos are not aware of how to make the most of it. Brian, for example, had no idea that a bus could get him to work. LA taxpayers have spent millions on public transportation infrastructure over the past few decades, but we’re wasting a lot of that money if we don’t maximize the use of our existing infrastructure. Wayfinder aims to do just that by providing paths to access public transit systems.
Further, by using smartphone geolocation technology to track our user’s trips, we determine which routes are most favorable to multi-modal travelers. Suddenly, the best routes are publically available information, and transit streamlines itself along these routes the way tributaries converge to form rivers. With all of the
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
We think we can help make noticeable change in the four indicator categories mentioned in question 1.
Environmental Quality • Federal and state emissions regulations have drastically improved air quality in the past 40 years. By 2050, we want to see at least the same amount of improvement thanks further emissions reduction initiatives and alternative transport initiatives • We also want to see mobility for low income and young citizens drastically improves so everybody has better access to parks and green spaces.
Health • Success in this indicator is a precipitous drop in obesity rates. Obesity is caused by a number of factors, but we’re excited to do our part by encouraging active lifestyles.
Social Connectedness • Rates of volunteerism and voter turnout rely heavily on citizen’s perceived connectedness to their community. By bringing people out of enclosed cars and freeways and into the city in which they live, we think we can build a city that’s more engaged and more connected.
Income & Employment • For us, success in this indicator category means decreasing the overall cost of transit for low income people so they can direct the money toward more useful pursuits like education, healthcare, and nutrition.