Month: April 2013

Visualize this: A week’s worth of NYC subway entries and exits

This animation visualizes one week’s worth of turnstile data for the New York City Subway. The MTA compiles data weekly and makes it available here.

The data is far from usable in its raw format, and is broken into week-long chunks for a specific control area and also includes running counts for a turnstile at a given time (like an odometer).

Using a Ruby script and a lot of Excel-mashing, we can pull out a fixed number of entries and exits associated with a particular turnstile covering a set time period.

To map the data, we had to manually geocode the station UNIT IDs. This was time consuming and has been a major barrier to developers who wish to use this dataset, as the station identifiers are not referenced anywhere else, and do not match the station_id fields used in the GTFS data. A CSV with lat/lon for each UNIT ID is available on GitHub.

Each dot represents approximately 50 people. There is no aggregate number of entries and exits for each station, and some have multiple turnstiles running at multiple intervals (most of the data includes counts at 4-hour intervals, but these are offset between some stations, and some outliers do not seem to follow the same conventions).

Data for a specific turnstile for a specific time period is pulled into the map as the visualization runs. The number of entries/exits is divided by 50 and each group of 50 will be represented by a dot. To make the motions more fluid, a start and end time are picked at random from the associated time period for that data, which is used to display and animate the dot.

Entry dots are placed at random within a radius of their target station, and animated to move towards the station. Exit dots start at the station, and are animated to a random point within the same radius. This simulates the movement patterns around each station and helps to visualize entry and exit flow.

PublicStuff builds a civic network that connects government and citizens


GovFresh highlights the products and start-ups powering the civic revolution. Note: This is not a product promotion or endorsement. Learn how you can get featured.

Co-founder and CEO Lily Liu discusses her civic venture, PublicStuff.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

At PublicStuff we help local governments turn service requests and inquiries into tangible community improvements by connecting people directly to their city representatives from their laptop, mobile phone or tablet.

What problem does PublicStuff solve for government?

The widespread adoption of social media, coupled with recent initiatives that have opened up city data, is sparking a lot of citizen interest in city services. In response, there’s been a flurry of innovation to provide more engaging, effective ways to give residents better access to local government, however most cities are not set up to manage the resulting information flow. That’s where PublicStuff comes in. We solve this problem through a cost-effective, easy-to-use system that lets local governments manage and customize the ebb and flow of information and requests between a city and its citizens. Our customizable program allows governments to not only interact with their citizens, but truly manage the extensive amount of data they receive from inquiries and manage workflow.

What’s the story behind starting PublicStuff?

When I worked for the City of Long Beach, NY and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office I was inspired by the idea of bringing together governments and constituents and making citizens more civic minded.  However, I saw a lot of gaps in the back-end processes and knew there had to be more efficient ways to generate civic engagement. Those experiences, coupled with the motivating stories, companies and visions of the people I met through school and work, prompted me to create something that would meet everyone’s needs.

What are its key features?

We offer the most efficient, cost effective way for city officials to communicate with their citizens, and guarantee citizens’ requests go to the right city official. We pride ourselves on providing instant access to government with the ability to confirm you’ve been heard and to track the progress of your request.

Our Citizen Engagement Management Tools enable city representatives to view issues and resolution data by geographic boundaries, date ranges, residents and department to improve their digital communications outreach to residents. Our government facing CivicApps let officials create data flows on top of the PublicStuff app. Cities are then able to customize their platforms and distribute the most important information for their individual city, for example emergency weather alerts, holiday activities, animal shelter notifications and even updated information for sports teams.

We’re the only city-to-citizen solution that offers in-app translation. Through our One Voice service, citizens have the ability to submit requests and communicate with city officials in their preferred language, making city improvements accessible to all residents, regardless of language.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

For citizens, PublicStuff is free for all platforms.

For cities, our service is sold as a subscription and priced according to population. Smaller cities can get started for as low as $1000 per year, while larger cities can choose between a number of different editions which meet their needs and may include integrations with systems they already have in place.

How can those interested connect with you?

Cities looking to bring PublicStuff to their community can visit for information and a free demo. People across the country that want to communicate directly with their city representatives and have a stronger voice in community improvements can download the free app, and connect with PublicStuff on Twitter and Facebook.


Revelstone shares lesson learned from the civic startup trenches

After a few years in the civic startup trenches, Revelstone has learned a thing or two about building a new business targeting government’s analytical needs.

We asked Chief Operating Officer Mark Nelson to share some of its experiences trying to crack the public sector market.

How has Revelstone evolved since you first started?

We’ve seen tremendous success in the marketplace, with more than 25 municipalities in New Jersey using the software, as well as cities and towns in Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. These municipalities are starting to collaborate with their peers in order to share best practices.

We’ve also held a few events to facilitate this sharing even further – we’ve held two Annual Customer & Best Practice Sharing Days, and recently held our first Service Area Group Meeting, a meeting of fire chiefs discussing what measures they track in their municipalities, and why and how they might collaborate.

As you know, we were one of seven startups in Code for America’s 2012 Accelerator program. We learned a lot through the program – for example, we’ve incorporated feedback from our customers into our newest versions of our software, Revelstone™ Compass.

Lastly, we’ve been providing the market with information on trends. We conducted a survey on service cuts and have just launched one on shared services.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had in communicating your value to government?

Our challenge has not been in communicating the value of performance measurement, the challenge is the pace at which governments adopt change. There’s wide awareness of and interest in moving to a data driven approach, but organizations just move slowly.

One of the things we’ve done to help this is we’ve developed accelerators to speed up the time from when our customers begin using the software to when they are really understanding what the data is telling them. We offer performance measurement fundamentals and training, peer networking and project management best practices.

What’s your advice to other civic startups focused specifically on serving government?

Civic startups need to find ways to break down the old school thinking that exists in many municipalities. There’s a lot of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking. As a result, it can be difficult to get people to want to take new approaches to running a municipality.

I’d also recommend civic startups find ways to create momentum within their target government organizations. We’ve found when city managers hold weekly meetings where they discuss the results that are being measured, it results in meaningful discussions and helps to “convert” those who are resistant to change.

It’s an exciting time to be a civic startup – even one that’s not citizen-facing. More and more governments of all sizes are realizing that new technologies can make a huge difference in how they manage their towns and cities. Better management means happier citizens.

Open data vital for San Francisco’s Bike Share

bike share

Finally, a bike-sharing program is coming to San Francisco! What Europeans figured out years ago will be a reality in the Bay Area by this August. The plan is to put 700 bikes at 70 different stations in the City and throughout the Bay Area—where residents can quickly hop on a bicycle at one station, and drop it off at another. Appallicious is very excited about this new program, not only because we’re looking forward to hopping on these new bikes ourselves, but also in order for the program to be successful, the utilization of open data will be key. That’s why I’ll be joining and the San Francisco Bike Coalition at Yammer on Wednesday, for a conversation about the launch of the new program and how open data and the tech community at large fits in.

Once the bike share program starts, it’s going to be extremely important to know where the heaviest demand for bikes are at certain times during the day, and certain days during the week. It’s safe to assume that on a Monday morning, you’re going to need more bikes in residential areas, and less in the Financial District, since commuters will be biking to work. But with any program like this, unexpected variables are bound to come up, and this is where open data will come in.

The bikes and bike stations will most certainly have a GPS component where the city will be able to track bikes in use, and the amount that have been checked in or out at each station. Companies like Appallicious will then be able to synthesize this data and not only help the City of San Francisco figure out where and when the heaviest demand for bikes is, but can also inform citizens through mobile applications how many bikes are available at a specific station at any given time. Just like the features on the SF Rec and Park App we developed allows you to find parks, playgrounds, dog parks, picnic tables, and more — we could also bring bicycle availability right into the app! It will be just like checking the availability of a ZipCar at a nearby parking garage.

Once this raw data is available to Appallicious, there are quite a few steps before it can be packaged and presented to bike riders in a way that will help them figure out bike availability, or to city leaders who need to know which stations need more bikes, and which ones need less. The idea of the public sector providing the private sector with information like this is nothing new. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan issued a directive guaranteeing that GPS signals would be available at no charge to the world when sucha a system became operational, in the wake of a Korean Airlines flight that was shot down after accidentally flying into Russian airspace.

The Obama administration has continued to promote the idea of “sustainable innovation” that President Reagan helped start. The GPS directive from Reagan has created a $250 billion a year navigation industry. Think about GPS companies like Garmin or applications like Google Maps that rely on GPS—without Open GPS, these companies would have never have been created, and we’d still have stacks of paper maps from AAA stuffed in our glove compartments!

With this renewed push for open data, through President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, there is a chance for the United States to build a new, thriving and successful industry through information released to the public by city governments. As more and more information is released by cities all over the country and the world, companies are going to be able to step up and provide new technology that allow citizens to access and benefit from this information.

In San Francisco, open data advocates like Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor David Chiu have just passed new open data legislation that will allow companies like Appallicious to create apps and change the way in which cities and governments are able to operate for years to come.

The possibilities are endless, and I am extremely excited to see how innovators and entrepreneurs find revolutionary ways of using this data to make bike sharing easier in San Francisco. Wouldn’t it be cool to integrate the bike-sharing program into the SF Rec and Park App? You could reserve a bike with your app and then take it for a tour of Golden Gate Park or see all the incredible art available throughout the city using the app. The open data movement has the potential to create a thriving, sustainable industry that can create millions of jobs, and a symbiotic relationship between the private and public sectors that could make both more effective, efficient, and profitable.