Hackin' Action

September 8, 2011

Remember what it was like to ride Metro before LCD screens told you when the next trains would arrive? OK, fine, you’re reminded every time you visit New York. But that’s an example of how a single technology can significantly alter the transit experience. Now just imagine what other advances could do for your commute. And then try to make them a reality at this Saturday’s Hack Day.

The Mobility Lab (1501 Wilson Blvd. Arlington), a new local transportation think tank started by Arlington County Commuter Services, has called for a meeting of transit tech types from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The plan for the event is to address transportation problems, discuss resources and see what solutions the group can come up with. “It’s about rolling up your sleeves, bringing your laptop and attacking specific ideas,” says Mobility Lab director Tom Fairchild.

There are three pressing projects on the table. One is developing bus maps that are easier to understand (and don’t look “like someone dumped over a bowl of spaghetti,” Fairchild says). Another is finding a way to automate commute plans, so people can quickly learn about all of their options for getting to work — whether it’s by transit, bike path, slugging or vanpooling. The group will also take on the task of planning a standardized system of real-time transit information screens that could be rolled out at offices, restaurants and other businesses across the region.

The goal of all these schemes is increased awareness. If people know their alternatives, Fairchild reasons, they’re more likely to get out of their cars. “We just need to ease people over these barriers to entry,” he says.

Hack Day attendees are welcome to work on any project they wish. Been fiddling around with a Capital Bikeshare app? Come on down, share your work, and bounce ideas off those in the room. The point of the lab is collaboration, Fairchild says.

After Saturday, the conversation will continue at the lab and on its website. Through a partnership with OpenPlans.org and Greater Greater Washington, they’re able to offer four-month fellowship positions to individuals who’d like to tackle these topics full time. (They’re hiring two software development fellows and one visual design fellow, who will each receive a stipend of $4,000 a month. Apply by emailing Tom.Fairchild@mobilitylab.org.)

I’ll admit I have no clue how to solve these problems myself, but I look forward to taking advantage of the answers.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Fiona Zublin · September 8, 2011