June 13 2013

Cell Phone Tracking Data Sold in Hopes for Better Decision Making: Transportation’s Future with Technology at The Congress of the New Urbanism’s CNU21

Ron Milam

Rob Milam, Fehr & Peers

Ron Milam, Principal-In-Charge of Technical Development at Fehr & Peers, discussed the effect of big data on transportation planning and engineering.

He began by lending us some perspective: If you were to purchase a hard drive with the intent to store all music ever recorded by man on it, you would spend just $600.

Milam presented his wisdom pyramid. From base to top, the pyramid was labeled: data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. He said that the goal of wisdom is to make better decisions through data.

Pyramid illustrating Ron Milam's concept. Image created by Aascot Holt.

Step one: converting data into information.

Potential data sources include satellite images, cell phone data, GPS fleet tracking data, RFID, LIDAR, and social media.

Satellite images can predict sales via photos of parking lots.

Cell phones collect an immense amount of data, including data from apps. Airsage reports 15 billion data points are gathered every day from smartphones. Origin/destination analysis can be performed via cell phone data. Congestion, traffic speeds, and travel time can also be tracked. Transit location and ridership is also valuable information. Preferred bike routes can also be found via cell phone data.

Step two: creating knowledge from that data.

Questions to ask:

Who are the users of this system?

Why are they users of this system?

How can we better manage our network?

What’s the cost to implement and maintain this?

Are we confident in our recommendation?

Milam said that projections can be off by +/- 40%. He suggested that we all pay more attention to the accuracy of these projections, as these are the basis for many very important decisions. He argued that the models used to create a lot of projections are based upon “synthetic,” or assumed, data.

Step three: synthesizing the data.

Milam shared a couple tweets from a certain bus line in a recent study area:

“Alright bus. Let’s see if we can make it home somewhere near on time… Please?”

“Man on my bus: “I’m broke, I just got out of jail can I get a ride?” Bus driver: “sure” me: so scared.”

He said that this sort of tracking is also an opportunity to better target populations for marketing campaigns. For example, if people are making car trips along an existing rail line, ads on the side of the road may be more effective than anywhere else.

LOS, or level of service, emissions, and speed analyses can also be performed via cell phone data.

He told the audience that he’d like to see these tracking techniques more widely applied to pedestrian and bicycle travel in the future, but right now it’s not the norm.

Do you feel as though all of this tracking is for the better or does it creep you out?

Credits: Images and references linked to data. Pyramid graphic created by Aascot Holt.

Aascot Holt

Aascot Holt is an undergraduate at Eastern Washington University, pursuing a major in Urban and Regional Planning and a minor in Geography. She will graduate in the spring of 2013. She is from Stevenson, WA and currently lives in Spokane, WA in a brick 1936 kit house. She is most intrigued by small-city and small town planning, parks and recreation planning, long-range planning, and historic preservation. She hopes to continue her habit of being involved with many planning projects at a time, and fears being pigeonholed. Aascot maintains the “Being A Planning Student” Tumblr as well as her planning-centric blog, The Comprehensive. She is currently writing Cheney, WA’s entirely new comprehensive parks, recreation, and trails plan, completely pro bono. More can be learned about her endeavors via LinkedIn.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 13th, 2013 at 9:18 am and is filed under CNU 21, Government/Politics, Social/Demographics, Technology, The Congress for the New Urbanism, Transportation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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