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An update on the real-time display development

So, as you may remember, I’ve been tasked with developing a live display using SORTA’s real-time API. The basic idea is to put tablet computers around town in store windows, behind bars, on coffee shop counters, etc, which will alert people to the fact that there is a bus coming (they are almost always almost here) to take them where they might already plan on going. To that end I’ve been developing a web application that can run in a browser. When full-screened, it turns any monitor into a real-time display.

The tablets that we distribute to businesses will basically just have a link to the web-app stuck to their home screens. Which means of course that the tablets/laptops/typewriters y’all are using right now to read this can also function as a real-time display! Power to the people, I say.1

Well, development has been progressing more or less slowly over the last couple months (Did I mention that I graduated, got married (before it was legal!) and moved to another country? Well, I did. I’ve been busy.) but the app is finally ready to share as a beta version available at http://cincymap.org/rt/ .

Beta version of the real-time app

To get started, pan to your location (or hit the button that asks for your location) and select some stops. For the love of jesus, make them close together; I didn’t design this for crazy teleporting people2. Then hit the button to use the selected stops and the app will load arrival times for those stops and start refreshing them when new data is available.

One of my big goals for this app is that it should help show people what’s available and where transit is actually going, not just when the obscure number X local is departing northbound, so maps are a big part of this. Right now, I have the app displaying the actual route on a background of OpenStreetMap tiles, with the portion already travelled diminished and the part yet ahead in a darker color. The map also has a bit of animation going on to highlight the whole remainder of the route before zooming back into the immediate context of the stop.

I’d appreciate any constructive feedback suggestions that anyone has, but please keep in mind that I’m still actively developing this. If you’re about to suggest something obvious, I’m probably about to do it anyway. Keep the suggestions subtle!

Goals for the next few days:

  1.  Modify stylesheets to allow for portrait oriented screens.
  2. Find a tileset that I can use without bothering anyone. I’m pretty sure the OSM people will be a little peeved if I use the basic tiles in a production app. Something black and white perhaps?
  3. Remove the route numbers from all but the first departures for each route. The colors can distinguish for the rest, or perhaps I can just make the number a lot smaller to allow a bit more map space.
  4. Distinguish between arrivals that are real-time and those which are only scheduled. This shouldn’t matter once Gaslight makes an update to their API.
  5. Give an indication of direction for each of the upcoming arrivals on the right side. This matters a lot for two-way stop selections, but it’s not super obvious how to do it technically in a way that will give intuitive results. I’m thinking something like this.

Goals for the next month:

  1. Play with displaying vehicle locations when vehicles are off-screen. I’m planning to have this ready to present at the NACIS conference in Minneapolis this October. Right now I have the app generating random vehicle locations for the purposes of testing some ideas, until we get the vehicle locations API up and running3.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. and being a JavaScript-based web app, it’s implicitly open-source to the extent that my code comments can be interpretted.
  2. The basic use-case is a business on a two-way street with transit in both directions
  3. with JSON output
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Posted in: Data | Maps | Talking about Transit
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Businesses: request a real-time display

Design and development of the real-time arrival displays has finally begun!1

MetroNow App Wireframe

Wireframe showing basic layout of the display (draft)

And while that is ongoing, we are seeking early adopters to sign up to get a display for their business. The deal, in a nutshell, is this: we’re subsidizing the purchase of tablet computers set up to run a localised real-time transit display. Businesses will be responsible for somewhere between $20 and $40 of the cost of the tablet and will be responsible for maintaining it in a prominent location, with a source of electric power and a good wifi signal. We will help to supply mounting hardware, if needed, appropriate to the location. Businesses must be located on a fairly major transit line, preferably in a business district or an area with a lot of foot traffic. We’re imagining that tablets will either be placed in side-walk facing windows or placed prominently inside the business such as behind a bar.

If you’re interested in getting a display for your business, please email Daniel Schleith. He’ll get your information, answer any questions, and let you know when we’ve selected the lucky winners/trendsetters who will receive tablets.

(Please note that once the app is ready, you’ll also be able to run it in any computer with an internet browser, not just on these tablets.)

More info here.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Well, it actually began a couple weeks ago, and I haven’t had a chance to post until now.
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Posted in: Psychological | Talking about Transit
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TANK’s Failure of Communication

Fireworks are worth shutting down a major city.

Said no one ever, but for the dipshit who decided that’s what Cincinnati was going to do.

For the second year in a row, I have been confounded by a preposterous barrier: at 7pm today, all the bridges shut down. Every one of them. For everyone. For the second year in a row, this has disrupted well laid plans with my boyfriend in Kentucky. This year it was fireworks at a friend’s house. Last year it was an anniversary dinner already in the oven.

Now let’s be clear; disruptions are normal in some transportation systems and that’s why we have redundancies. Bus not working? Take a bike. No go there? Hail a cab. Still no? Walk!
What we’re dealing with here is a complete breakdown in the whole system for every mode. There is no tunnel under the river. Every crossing is shut. With the number of boats in the water, swimming isn’t even safe. I was lucky last year though: one of my redundancies worked. After trying to bike across literally every bridge, the fourth police officer I talked to told me TANK might be running. It was, and I caught the last one over with my bike, arriving very late to dinner, but still, arriving.

This time though, I didn’t make it. Seeing the bridges were closed, and remembering last year, I headed directly to the TANK stop on fourth. I got there and was relieved to see half a dozen people at the stop. Now normally, this is a good sign. It means that the bus is almost there, because people have had time to pile up.

But in this case, it was a sign of TANK’s complete failure to communicate the fact that they simply stopped operating the most critical link in their whole system.1

When SORTA shuts down a stop, or changes service on short notice, at least they post signs literally over top of the bus stop signs. “This stop is closed temporarily. Walk to …” Something like that. (Other agencies often go quite a bit beyond that.)

For TANK’s downtown stops tonight, there was absolutely nothing. And as I write this, I’m certain that there are people sitting on those dirty little benches in front of the Federal Reserve cursing a late bus that they don’t know will simply never come.

Now, without defending the logic of the shut-down decision, I presume that it goes something like this: People driving on bridges would get distracted and wreck their cars…yadda yadda yadda. Now let’s not even get into why humans on foot cant cross (I can feel my blood pressure really starting to rise at this point). Let’s assume that that’s the logic and point out that the only people who can and do drive TANK buses are professional drivers who presumably can’t be so easily distracted, and certainly not on an otherwise empty road. Why the flying fuck can’t TANK keep running normally through the fireworks??? I understand that some stupid car-blind engineer might think to shut down the bridges, but what really gets me is that no one at TANK had the balls or the ability or perhaps the desire to stand up for themselves and insist that they continue to operate a critical service through this silly spectacle.

That failure being swallowed of necessity, it’s even more galling that they didn’t think to post even one notice at their single most active stop2 where, as I say, people are almost certainly still waiting at this very moment for a bus that won’t ever come.

I’m properly pissed. I’m pissed at the City. I’m pissed at TANK for not standing up for themselves, and I’m pissed at TANK doubly for not telling it’s passengers that they won’t be coming. To my mind, this is as big a (short-term) failure as a transit system is capable of making.

TANK, you should be ashamed. Learn from it, but feel shame no less for that pragmatic consolation. TANK failed it’s riders tonight.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. I am prepared to back this up with data already provided by TANK.
  2. Again, I can prove this.
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Posted in: Talking about Transit
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“Circulation”

Why do so many propose to ‘increase circulation’ with some transit project without understanding their implicit organic analogue?

Mesentery tissue

Mesentery tissue for example holds your intestines in place and carries all that yummy stuff you just ate from there to the rest of you. Should we wish to increase it’s circulation?

“Circulation” as it’s typically applied to transportation, inevitably by laypeople and politicians1, always seems to base it’s forgone prescription for more on unscientific, ‘holistic’ medicine.

Would anyone care to seriously ask their doctor whether it would be desirable to ‘increase’ or ‘improve’  circulation in some arbitrary body part? To be sure we’re dealing with very different organisms, cities and humans. To start with, I think the most basic distinction we’d need to draw is between evolution by ‘selection’ from among random variation and Lamarkian selection by willed adaptation. Or perhaps between discrete and predictable life cycles and cumulative, adaptive systems.

In any case, what to me is certain is that we need to be explicit about just what type of body we’re operating on before we engage in such reasoning by analogy. Who among the streetcar fanboys has yet done that? And why is the medical community2 so far from such urban discussions with their heavy use of organic metaphor? Is there a doctor in the house?

Show 2 footnotes

  1. I’m not going to provide citations here. Do a search for ‘Cincinnati streetcar circulation’ or something like that and you will find endless examples.
  2. Is this even a community? It’s that far away…
Comments: 4
Posted in: Misconceptions | Talking about Transit
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Cooperation

Isn’t this refreshing?

SORTA advertises accross the river!

With the understanding that public agencies rarely get positive feedback, I want to take a moment to thank SORTA for this awesome ad that I saw on the way to class today. If I had a nickel for the number of times I’ve overheard someone (in Ohio) asking their friend how they can get to the airport only to hear ‘taxi’ as the reply1, I’d have a fist full of nickels which is still not enough to take a taxi to the airport. It’ll buy me a trip on the 2X though($2), which if I may add to the ad, has lovely plush seats that are much nicer than a dirty taxi anyway :-)

Hooray for inter-agency advertising!

Are these sorts of ads anywhere else? I’ve only seen them on UC’s campus, though I’d like to think XU, Cincy State, and (dare I dream) even some of the neigborhood business districts have advertising with their own localized, practical and relevant suggestions.

Show 1 footnote

  1. I always interject at this point.
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Posted in: Ads
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SORTA Improved Advertising

Not sorta improved, quite extremely improved! I commented a few posts back on SORTA’s abuse of the concept of branding to advertise the m+. Well, either someone was listening, or I had absolutely nothing to do with it and they just got better on their own. Found pinned up in the hallways of UC’s Braunstein hall, just steps away from my little desk, I offer you Exhibit A:

poster advertising SORTA transit services

I don’t care how this looks. I don’t care about the brand colors or the consistent use of fonts. What’s great about this ad is that it tells us something. It even does it succinctly!

QUESTION: Want to go to a ballgame?
ANSWER:
Here is exactly how you can go from where you are(UC) to the ballpark.

Exhibit B:

poster advertising SORTA transit services

QUESTION: How about a movie?
ANSWER:
Here is exactly how you can go from UC to either of two movie theatres. Take your pick!

Yes! I do want to go see some movies! And I could take either of those buses to a movie theatre right now if I wanted to. I actually did not know that before I saw this ad1. This ad has offered me new information about my possibilities. My plans could actually change as a result of this.

Like I said, I don’t care about the graphics. What makes these ads unusually great for SORTA is that they tell you how you can use transit and why you might actually want to. But while we’re here, let’s talk about the graphics. They’re good. They’re eye-catching and dynamic. They’re succinct and to the point. They’re even clearly observing the rule of thirds! Whoever designed these, SORTA, please give them this person’s job.

Seriously, I hope this the result of a new hire or something, because I would like to see more of this kind of work coming out of the transit agencies.

Show 1 footnote

  1. In my case because I didn’t know about the theatres.
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Posted in: Ads
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