Make Brooklyn Safer rally for pedestrian safety on November 19, 2013 in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Picture taken by Dmitry Gudkov.
From New York City to San Francisco, residents are facing a public health crisis on their streets. Since 2008, drivers have struck and killed 49,430 people walking, biking, and scooting on our streets: this is the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of people crashing, without survivors, every month for 11 years. Anyone choosing to move outside the confines of a car is vulnerable.
Cities are also realizing that their residents are demanding more pleasant and enjoyable places to move and spend time. People-friendly streets have the potential to increase foot traffic to local businesses, reduce carbon emissions brought about by unnecessary car trips, and facilitate more accessible, livable and vibrant places for residents and tourists.
These changes to our cities are achievable with the right urban design, and the proper protections in place to slow cars and separate them from people. Unfortunately, change is slow: we’re not seeing enough street design projects, and what projects there are, take too long.
It’s not for lack of money — we spent billions nationwide every year on highway projects — and it’s not for lack of space: many American cities dedicate almost all their lanes to cars and parking. In New York, for example, lanes for cars take up 52% of all available public street space from multi-lane boulevards to neighborhood streets, in a city where the vast majority of people do not own a car or travel by other means.
It’s also not for lack of research or intellectual capital. There are thousands of nonprofits, for-profit technologies, and public agencies pouring resources and advocacy into this work. They are tirelessly lobbying the government and the community to re-design streets, so we can save lives and make cities more sustainable and accessible.
But in order to change any ingrained status quo, we need to tell the right stories to move the right people into action. Some stories must necessarily be emotional: too many of us know people who have been injured or killed on city streets, and these tragedies can become powerful symbols of the need for change. But city budgets and city policies tend to run on data, and we must use data to steer these budgets and policies towards streets designed and run for people, not vehicles.
Finding the right mobility data and using it well will be essential if we are to change decades of car dominance. Numbers and concrete facts are needed to move campaigns forward, and speak the language of the traffic engineers and city managers who help determine what gets built, where, and for whom. Unfortunately, a lot of the advocates fighting for change simply don’t have the resources or time to invest in the data platforms and storytelling that will give their arguments extra weight. Spin works with advocate partners across the country, and sees advocates challenged again and again to bring data to bear to make their case: we see the challenge, and we’re resolved to help.
So, in partnership with transportation analytics platform StreetLight Data and mobility data platform Populus, Spin is launching an initiative to provide streets advocates on the ground with a mobility data storytelling toolkit. The toolkit includes access to StreetLight Data and Populus’ SaaS platforms, as well as a speed gun for tracking vehicle speeds, a time lapse camera for tracking changes to street scenes over time, and a traffic counter for bicycles and pedestrians. Our goal: help advocates make data-driven arguments to political stakeholders about the necessity of an infrastructure project they’re working on. The toolkit will allow them to, for example, access the same data and analytical platforms that a traffic engineer at a city agency might use; repackage existing data or gather new data to make the case to a city department; monitor the success of an existing project to ensure the city remains committed; or highlight the need for a project based on an understanding of multimodal traffic in their neighborhood.
This month, any 501(c)(3) can submit an application to us for consideration at https://airtable.com/shrXakruP7fw09Jjv. The organization should have at least 2 years of active history, permanent staff, and a track record of project delivery. Advocates will be selected from cities large and small, and from across the country, to ensure a diverse group of awardees.
Advocates must make the case for the use of data in a specific project, such as a campaign to fill a missing link in a protected bike lane network, or an effort to bring speed limits down in a residential neighborhood. We’ll consider any opportunity for a street re-design project, at any stage of development, as long as the advocate can articulate clearly their theory of change for seeing that project to fruition, and convey how the use of better data could help move the project along. More details, and how to apply, can be found at https://www.spin.app/data-safer-streets.
Up to five winners will be announced in November, and advocates will have access to their data toolkit from January through December 2020.