California Map Society Conference, May 2015: “Opening Up the Data Vault”

CMSAs a new student member of the California Map Society, I was delighted to have the opportunity to attend the Society’s conference at Stanford University on 2 May 2015. The speakers covered a range of fascinating topics. For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my notes from each talk from the event in separate blog posts.

Opening Up the Data Vault:
Developing Interactive Maps to Engage and Inform the Public
– David Vautin

Among other issues, David Vautin explained how on might answer the question “How many pot holes are in the Bay Area?” As the Senior Transportation Planner / Analyst for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Vautin presented some of the useful maps and charts showcasing regional data available for planning around transportation, land use, housing, and infrastructure needs in the greater Bay Area. In the interest of transparency and accountability, this interactive data set is available online at “Vital Signs: Taking the Pulse of the Bay Area.”

Vautin spoke about comparing the charts and maps available to Bay Area planners to the type of interactive tech provided to the public by other metropolitan regions, such as Sandag in San Diego, CMAP and MetroPulse in Chicago, Transport for London, the New York City Regional Planning Association, Measure of America, and the Urban Observatory Project (which allows you to compare information about cities around the world).

Some of the information available on the “Vital Signs” website includes Pavement Condition Index maps (that may be of interest to some of the more engineering-minded readers of this blog!), bridge conditions, historical traffic data, geospatial tools, environmental changes over time, multi- and single-family housing statistics (such as home prices), and interactive graphs regarding transportation details (on ferries, trains, busses–including 26 transit operators).

“Vital Signs” was a massive undertaking, involving challenges from data gathering and sharing to affordability. However, turning complicated spreadsheets into accessible, transparent, palatable maps and diagrams for public use should help in greater support and understanding for short- and long-term planning in the region, which covers 9 counties and 7 million residents. Furthermore, as Vautin noted, “Vital Signs” supports California Senate Bill 375‘s mandate to coordinate living, working, and transit initiatives:

The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 supports the State’s climate action goals to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through coordinated transportation and land use planning with the goal of more sustainable communities.

[An aside: all this talk of planning reminded me of the Parks and Recreation episode “Sister Cities” (15 October 2009), where a visitor from Venezuela tells the City Planner of Pawnee, Indiana: “This city was planned? On the drive in I saw a tattoo parlor next to a school, next to a Taco Bell. It looks like it was designed by a very stupid rodent.” It is easy to see what he meant in some (many?) U.S. cities.]

Further, if tangentially related, reading:

– Kerry Klein, “Largest U.S. roadkill database highlights hotspots on Bay Area highways,” San Jose Mercury News, 6 May 2015.

– Cassie Owens, “New Maps Size Up Transportation Poverty Risks in 4 Cities,” Next City, 4 February 2015.

– Kyle Shelton, “What Old Transit Maps Can Teach Us About a City’s Future,” City Lab, 10 October 2014.

– Rebecca Solnit, Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, 26 November 2010. (Suggested by SK.)

– Kristin Miller, “Mapping Our Disconnect,” Boom: A Journal of California, Vol. 4, No. 2, Summer 2014.

– Stamen Design, “Mapping What Is,” Boom: A Journal of California, Vol. 4, No. 2, Summer 2014.

– “Draw the Shape of the Bay @ The Exploratorium in SF,” 3 March 2015.

– “San Francisco Is Not Very Big And We Have The Visualization To Prove It,” 14 May 2015. (Suggested by LK.)

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