Jess Weaver Grey

By Jess Weaver • May 24, 2018

Backseat drivers, beware. You’ve already been undermined by the real-time navigation powerhouse Waze. In Louisville, thanks to a new data-exchange program between Waze and the metro government, you’re looking near obsolete.

 

Louisville has been paving the way – literally – in urban mobility innovation for several years. The Connected Citizens Program (CCP), also adopted in international cities such as Barcelona and Tel Aviv, is an example of the city’s advancement in transit. The data exchange program synthesizes transit information from the city, such as road closures, and Waze’s treasure trove of crowdsourced road-related intelligence. In addition to improving Waze’s recommended routes, the program has accelerated the city’s responses in emergency management, 311 requests, and traffic management.

 

What has created the conditions for initial and continuous innovation in Louisville? According to Louisville’s Data Officer Michael Schnuerle, who shared his team’s approach in the “Applying Mobility Data” session at the Summit on Data-Smart Government, it’s a combination of factors spanning leadership, team culture, and a vigilant eye on replication.

 

INNOVATION STARTS AT THE TOP

 

Louisville’s mayor, Greg Fischer, was an early adopter of data-driven tools for decision-making. With funding made possible by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the mayor oversaw the formation of a lean, agile innovation team (i-team) run more like a startup than a traditional government department. Remaining untethered to any single department enabled the team to assess opportunities for promoting feasible, if experimental, data-driven initiatives that had the potential to provide high value to constituents.

 

Transit emerged as a clear priority based on citizen feedback and the mayor’s goal to make strides on issues of access and equity. Louisville was also hip to fact that transportation is evolving more rapidly than any other sector within the smart cities landscape, thanks to the abundance of data that lends itself to optimization.

 

AN OPEN-SOURCE ECOSYSTEM BENEFITS ALL

 

Because of the terms of the data use agreement, Louisville is unable to share Waze data format specs or raw data. However, Louisville has shared this data internally, as well as dispensing “derivative works” among fellow Connected Citizen partners, like the data dictionary the city developed through the program.

 

Those creative workarounds reduce siloes and the necessity of “recreating the wheel” for smart cities across the world. Sharing both data and best practices has exposed friction points frequently experienced by cities – particularly American cities. A particularly tricky one exists in the conflict around which data is considered valid at the city versus the state level based on differing standards of validity. Schnuerle has continued to advocate for ongoing collaboration, currently seeking collaborators for a cloud-based traffic data warehouse developed through an initial inventory, a technical build in AWS, and an integration of data assets. Especially for small innovation teams, progress depends on open and active lines of communication between smart cities.

 

ENGAGE CONSTITUENTS IN PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

 

To enhance urban mobility, it’s not enough to invest in technical improvements, such as analyzing the accuracy of 311 data against Waze data (which Louisville has recently started doing). Citizens play a critical role in establishing a data-driven culture in Louisville, and the i-team considers that engagement and socialization process a key part of its work.

 

Ongoing hackathons serve not simply as a means to advertise the city’s shiniest innovations, but in ideating and prioritizing potential innovations based on existing programs and leverage points. Thanks to a high degree of constituent trust and an active civic hacker community, Louisville’s hackathons have yielded an impressive list of future endeavors utilizing the CCP, including optimizing police and emergency service deployment and improving responses based on the effect of weather on road conditions. The i-team also homed in on ideas for more robust citizen services, including real-time collision user reporting and citizen-facing notifications about specific areas.

 

Louisville has set itself apart, in many ways, by insisting on collaboration – whether with internal departments, with other cities, or with its own constituents. The holistic, multi-stakeholder approach to data-driven innovation has generated a wide range of creative interventions – across an equally wide range of problem areas – to a single public-private partnership. Data’s on four-wheel drive in Louisville, so backseat drivers will have to take just that.