The City of Vancouver hosted a Decode Congestion Hackathon this week that called on residents to create safe, efficient solutions for the city's streets and transportation network, using data and new technologies.
The city outlined five key areas for the hackathon's 150 participants to focus on:
Improve road safety
Improve the monitoring of traffic conditions and trends
Ensure a smart and efficient transportation system
Coordinate street use
Prioritize people and good movement
Busjousting, an AR gamification tool that can help collect bus data and encourage transit use, took home first place. TracSmart, a machine learning solution that can detect vehicles in static images, took second place, and Policy Based Traffic Signals, a traffic camera that uses machine vision and edge computing technology to detect cyclists, pedestrians and buses, took third.
Participants were given access to data sets about traffic count; city fleet telematics; street infrastructure; traffic safety; community amenities; bike share and demographics. And the winners were awarded $5,000, $2,000 and $500, respectively.
"It was an opportunity for our tech industry, our students, people who are transportation professionals or just really interested in the topic to try and take a stab at solving the challenge statement we presented them with," said Senior Street Use and Traffic Coordination Engineer Sherwood Plant.
The hackathon was designed in part to help Vancouver understand baseline traffic congestion pain points and encourage walking, cycling, transit and shared vehicles over private cars. The effort could also help the city achieve their goal to have zero transit-related deaths.
This was Vancouver's second transportation-themed hackathon. The first hackathon, Vanquish Collisions, was hosted last year. The 2018 winner was an app for pedestrians to find “safe walking routes” compared to the routes proposed by Google Maps, "which are based on shortest paths."
The Decode Congestion Hackathon was a continued effort to support the city's related transportation strategies, including their Transportation 4040 Plan. The plan highlights one of their biggest challenges: a lack of room for new roads due to the city already being significantly "built-out."
"We are a built-out city," Plant said. "It's very challenging to add additional capacity in single-occupancy vehicles so we have to look at how can we best move the most people, the most goods efficiently on our network."
To help accommodate the anticipated 130,000 new residents and almost 90,000 jobs to come by 2041, the city will need to optimize how they use existing space. Other considerations from their transportation plan include rising fuel prices; an aging population; and climate change, with 30% of greenhouse gas emissions stemming from vehicles.
Vancouver isn't alone in the fight against congestion. The topic has become a priority for cities as they try to entice residents out of single-occupancy vehicles and tackle ambitious climate and greenhouse gas reduction goals. New York, for example, will be the first city to charge a toll for drivers in its most congested areas, and Los Angeles is working on a plan that potentially includes free mass transit funded by congestion pricing revenues.
Other ways that cities are grappling with congestion have included microtransit options, which have the potential to reduce traffic up to 30%, according to a recent report. On-demand transit eliminated almost 400,000 miles traveled for residents in Arlington, TX compared to if they had driven alone, or 36% fewer total vehicle miles traveled.