This week a spectacular conference aimed towards transportation professionals is being held in Los Angeles called Rail~Volution. The aim of the annual conference is to promote dialogue about developing communities to promote transit as a critical component of livable cities. Started in 1989 in Portland, Oregon, over 500 attendees will attend this year’s offering of over 75 in-the-field workshops, planning sessions, and policy panels.
Of interest was a session entitled “Rail~Volution and Metro Present: GeoSocial Interactive Map and Mobile App” which featured a location-based social networking tool intended to be used as a transportation project planning and public outreach toolkit. The interactive map was developed jointly by consultants from Civic Resource Group (CRG) and Arellano Associates for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (LACMTA). The final product is an open architecture interactive map that allows users the ability to submit geotagged comments and photos tied to specific areas of a proposed project as a way of increasing public participation and commentary in projects beyond the traditional outreach method of holding open houses. The interactive map tool is currently live with two projects: the Eastside Transit Corridor Phase 2 which is aimed at improving mobility in an area east of Los Angeles, and the High Desert Corridor (HDC) project which is a proposed 63-mile, east-west freeway/expressway that will connect two state routes.
Developing the GeoSocial Interactive Map
Chester Britt, Project Director for Community Outreach with Arellano Associates and Greg Curtin, Managing Director of CRG both explained what they referred to as the “inspiration and the perspiration” involved in developing the mapping application (CRG has posted its case study on the Metro GeoSocial Interactive Mapping System). Britt explained that in every planning and public outreach meeting, static maps are like like magnets that attract attention and become centerpieces for triggering discussion. Unfortunately, static maps are more difficult to engage and limit the interaction since you can’t drill down through the paper map to explore the spatial data. Britt explained that advances in technology today have made it more possible to create an interactive map to facilitate discussions.
The idea to create a more dynamic map environment for facilitating discussion came when Arellano and CRG worked on High Desert Corridor project together. The long distances that the stakeholders need to travel to come together to discuss the project created a need to look for a tool that would allow stakeholders to engaged in the project remotely that would include a dynamic map based process in order to allow stakeholders the ability to add value to the map through their contributions.
The resulting concept was a geosocial interactive map with the central idea that users would be able to use the map without any prior knowledge and be able to glean transit project information through map highlights, pop-ups, and images. Additionally, background information such as demographics, and specific project alternatives would also be made available. Users would be able to drill down into the map to pull project information, images, and background stories. The end goal was for the ability of a user to become educated and informed through interaction with the map. The mapping application also sought to retrieve public commentary by allowing users to placed geocoded comments on station, routes, and transportation project points. Users can upload images they feel are important to the project and reply to other users’ comments. Users can create a viral promotion of projects by sharing their comments via Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other social media platforms.
Curtin review the background work involved in “a complex system made fairly easy” which pulled data together from local transit content, GIS data, social media, mobile technology, and outreach (marketing) information. The end results is what Curtin described as an open web/data management system built on commercially available technologies. The base application is built on top of Google Maps which provides the base layer data and aerials. Overlay information was pulled from Metro’s GIS group and other Los Angeles County agencies which provided bike routes, transportation routes, land use, and points of interest as well as the specific GIS data for the project. All of the content has been everything pulled together into an enterprise system and can be used for projects at the planning stage (stakeholder involvment), development stage, and promotion to regular users.
Ann Kerman, the Community Relations Manager from LACMTA spoke about the benefit that the GeoSocial Interactive Map has provide to Metro. She noted that since the passing of Measure R in 2008 and the potential for Measure J to pass on this year’s November ballot, there are a lot of projects on the books for Metro for which this mapping application will be of immense benefit in that the application now allows for a higher level in interaction with stakeholders that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise with more traditional methods. The GeoSocial Map will be part of metro’s toolbox as it moves forward with other projects.
A case in point was the current High Desert project which involves 63 miles of corridor through rural areas. The mapping application now allows for the immediate capture of comments from residents and also allows those residents the ability to understand where they live in relation to the corridor. Users can can see and understand the footprint of the corridor alignment.
Kurman noted that already there is a measurable increased and early involvement from community. Since this online process reaches a different demographic group, Kurman explained that public meetings are becoming larger with a younger demographic now participating in open houses along with the traditional older audience. The public outreach process now includes the same extensive outreach done to reach traditional audience but is supplemented with geosocial media. The further goal is to look at incorporating comments submitted through the map as part of the public comment period for EIRs.
GeoSocial Interactive Map
All of the current live geosocial maps for LACMTA are available to the public at interactive.metro.net. Users can access the maps through a browser on their desktops or through a mobile device. There is a app version available for iOS (up to iOS5 – the developers are currently working on making the app iOS6 compatible) and Android devices. Other mobile devices would need to visit the web page to view the maps on their smartphones. Users can provide input after logging in either by creating a login account or by logging in via their Facebook or Twitter account.
Acccessing the layers on mobile devices is limited to one at a time as the mobile versions are streamlined to reduce data load. Users can load more layers on desktop browser versions. Comments are moderate to keep with Metro’s overall online comment policy but a are generally approved within 24 hours.
Note: Those interested in further discussing the GeoSocial Interactive Map should contact Greg Curtin at email@example.com or (213) 225-1170 x234.