Pioneering scrappy data collection strategies in the NYC century bikeride

In our first week at CUSP last September, Varun and I rode the NYC century.  Not content to merely ride 100 miles, Varun decided to use his smart phone's accelerator and some nifty data smarts to measure the bumpiness of the bike route, as shown below. 

Click here for the interactive version

Click here for the interactive version

This map recently became CartoDB's "map of the week" for its innovative data visualization.  More than a pretty picture, however, the map illuminates the potential of new digital tools.

Imagine if bicycle advocacy groups aggregated such data or if the city paid bike messengers a nominal fee to measure the bumpiness of key bike paths.  How might that lead to more informed advocacy and infrastructure planning that happens more in the timeline of human deliberation rather than the much longer timeline of traditional studies?

More broadly, imagine if city employees got out of the building more to engage in this sort of scrappy data collection to test the hypotheses underlying their plans and operations.  Sure much of the data will be imperfect like Varun's bumpiness data, which only measured miles 0 to 45 when his phone fell off the bike.  

Yet such errors can be identified through robust calibration and rigorous experimental design and ultimately corrected in the course of more formal evaluation of street quality.  And perhaps more importantly you can't know what's really feasible unless you're willing to run the experiment.

So ultimately it's a question of attitude.  Will those of us in positions of public service be willing to pioneer the new?



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