NEW YORK—The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has released reams of data to developers and the public, evoking positive feedback and transformative solutions for making use of it.
Some of this data has helped developers build applications (app) that help riders get around on the subway easier, such as NYC Station Finder, which directs MTA riders to the nearest subway station just by opening the app.
But these apps don’t approach information from the thousands of pages of data the MTA releases every month, which a small group of developers believe can be harnessed and made more useful to the MTA, elected officials, transit advocates, and the general public.
Ellyn Shannon, a transportation planner with the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA demonstrated at a committee meeting Thursday how data visualization can transform black and white pages of information into colorful illustrations.
Shannon and her team turned lines of numbers and words from one page into graphic visualizations that better show trends in the data, using the application Roambi.
There are many databases within the agencies of the MTA. New York City Transit, which controls the city’s subways, has 75.
The databases are extremely complex, said Shannon. With data visualization you can quickly see where the real problems are and approach them in a reasonable way—quickly—rather than the large number of data outputs that the MTA has now.
Shannon and graduate student Angela Bellisio, who studies transportation planning at Rutgers, envision MTA staff being able to use colorful graphics when presenting information to elected officials or to the public.
The pair would like the MTA to commit some capital funding for data visualization that could show the results of a specific improvement, such as a new signal, both before and after the installation.
“You can start explaining to people where 30 years of investment has gone, and what it’s really done, in a visual way,” said Shannon.Shannon and Bellisio have been meeting with different agencies within the MTA seeking more information and assistance. They would like to focus on new data, such as smart cards, when the cards come out for the city’s system.
Aaron Donovan, an MTA spokesperson who also interacts with developers online, said in a phone interview that the MTA itself doesn’t want to get involved in creating visuals, but relies on third parties for development. “We feel our role is to essentially provide as much data about our operations and our systems as we can,” he said.
At the same time, he praised Shannon’s work, calling it “really cutting edge.”
“It’s primarily their initiative that they’re running with at this point,” he added, “but we completely support what they’re doing.”
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