Montreal's TranspoCamp: notes from the field

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 2011-12-16 BY JASON.PRINCE.

Three draft transport apps were presented during the closing ceremonies of TransportCamp 2011, Thursday December 15, at the Maison du developpement durable, in downtown Montreal. The event marked the releasing of important new data by the Agence Metropolitaine de Transport (AMT), the City of Montreal and Communauto, for free use by developers.

Marketted as a hackathon, only 10-15 participants actually worked on digi-projects in a back room, labouring around their laptops. The majority of the 100 or so participants gathered in small groups in a large open and naturally lit hallway, to talk about possible projects. A true "unconference", the agendas for each small group were proposed by participants and selected by votes.

Representatives from the AMT, Communauto and the City, as well as other transport authorities, were on hand to witness proceeding, listen and speak with students, app developers, citizens and civil society actors, and participate. By all evidence, there was plenty of networking going on and lots of fruitful cross-collaboration.

The event, organised by LivingLab Montreal and held in a brand-new signature building that houses many of Montreal's eco-NGOs, produced several conversation streams, which will be posted on their website soon. The over-arching question for the day, as presented by Louise Guay and Stéphane Guidoin, event organisers was: Montreal is undergoing a great transformation and transport is at the core of this transformation: what role for technology in enabling a truly sustainable city? Check out the twitter-stream: #transpocamp

Three transportation apps were refined or developed during the day:

OpenStreetMap: a public transport optimizer. This app will tell you the quickest route to a particular destination, by public transport, using the new data released by the AMT, Montreal's regional transport authority and data from other authorities already released. This awesome little program integrates topography data, so you can see the parts you must walk or bike...uphill!

Distance-Time O-Meter (not the official name): This little sucker, borrowed from other cities (we got a peak at Nantes, on the big screen!) would enable a Montrealer to see exactly how far he could get on public transit, in a given time. A handy slider lets you choose minutes, while a graphic overlay on a regional map shows you the distance you can go, in those minutes. Very very pretty, and VERY practical. It uses AMT data, also.

The Opti Bixi: this experimental app cross-references two data sets, the location of BIXI stations and just-released pedestrian traffic counts at Montreal intersections. (I worked a tiny bit on this baby). Three developers mashed together a working prototype in record time to present at closing plenary: phew! The guess is that there are MORE BIXI stations where we find MORE pedestrians on the street. The hope is that BIXI can better plan new stations by looking at this data. O people!! When it is ready, we need you to go play and tell us if the guess is correct! Meanwhile, if you are a BIXI user, check out nixi.ca for a beautiful and simple app that will make your life better. Thx William! If you are not a BIXI user: become one. It will change the way you move in the City, for the better.

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Jason Prince is research coordinator for an action-research project at McGill University's School of Urban Planners. His principal preoccupations are reducing the size and imposition of Montreal's urban highways, improving mass transit (not in that order, of course...first the carrot, then the stick!), and social and community housing. An urban planner, he is married with two kids.