By Kevin Brown

Kevin Brown is a Senior Business Development Manager at AirSage. He is an expert in the Geospatial space with more than 10 years of work experience with leading GIS and GPS providers.

GIS has been an ever-evolving discipline since its inception. The biggest change I’ve seen since I began my GIS career almost 12 years ago is the democratization of GIS. A decade ago, the access key to GIS data and tools was only in the hands of the GIS-trained experts, today tech companies empower non-GIS experts and consumers with easy-to-use GIS applications incorporated into all kinds of solutions across different industries.

These days, you see GIS in action everywhere, from navigation apps to real estate platforms helping homebuyers find their homes in the desired neighborhood to rideshare apps assisting people to find a ride to anywhere they would like to go. GIS is also imperative to the micro-mobility movement for the simple reason that people need to be able to find that scooter or bike in order to use it. The micro-mobility providers are able to track and charge their fleet and keep track of everything in a geographical sense. There is no shortage of applications and industries using GIS to enable and enhance what they are trying to do and often finding new, more innovative ways to achieve their goals.

Near Real-Time Location Data has been imperative to many of these applications. For example, rideshare companies use real-time GIS data to match travelers with companions, show the real-time location of drivers and estimate how long it will take them to arrive. Big data and AI (Artificial Intelligence) are increasingly more prevalent and will continue to be areas of growth, but those are topics for another article.

There have been many advancements in GIS, Big Data, Location Data, and AI over the last ten years, but how did these technologies impact the U.S. transportation system?

Urban mobility, electric scooter brands. Gothenburg, Sweden.
Photo by Jonas Jacobsson

Some prominent transportation planning and urban design experts distinguish four critical initiatives in the transportation industry. One of the most recent and most extensive is the shared micro-mobility movement, where many urban and suburban locations have embraced the scooter and e-bike transformation.

The second one is the rise of transportation network companies (TNC), such as Uber and Lyft. They replaced most of our taxi, transit, and even private vehicle trips, impacting the car rental industry, local business delivery systems, and big destination trips.

The third movement started with the active use of Big Data and Location intelligence. Collecting connected vehicle data, cell phone data, or mobile GPS data allows planners to use nearly real-time information about the events, patterns, and trends of different parts of our country, analyze them, and provide meaningful insights.

Lastly, the industry has finally understood that new complex transportation systems and intersections will not solve congestions long-term. Urban and transportation planners should aim to manage and utilize our systems more efficiently and give more space to people by building safe pedestrian and micro-mobility infrastructure.

Facing the truth on the way to equity

Unfortunately, it took some time to come to an understanding of the last point. Almost in every state and every MSA, we can find areas with built-in discrimination. Insufficient access to transit, poorly monitored intersections, low quality of roads, lack of crosswalks and pedestrian infrastructures, absence of micro-mobility paths, bridges in need of repair… you name it. Most of these issues can be identified in low-income areas and almost never in the middle- and high-income neighborhoods.

Photo by Troy T

I believe that one of the biggest mistakes being made by some municipalities and transportation coalitions while developing the infrastructure strategy in suburban and low-income areas has been making decisions off on assumptions or, worse, inaccurate data.

A data-driven approach is crucial to making the best possible decisions that deliver the best possible outcome for the citizens of these particular regions. The needs of the people within a given region are really what should be considered first to roll out and implement a successful plan.

The decision-making bodies also need to consider all possible factors, forecasting the future demand and potential challenges while developing infrastructure strategies. A plan built on flawed logic without taking all aspects into account will, ultimately, be unsuccessful. This will result in many problems, including the most troublesome – insufficient access to transportation, traffic congestion, more personal vehicles on the road.

We should learn from our mistakes – short-term solutions might lead to long-term problems which impact the local economy and increase the gap between population segments. It is best to use a well-thought-out, data-driven approach WITH accurate data to best plan and develop the infrastructure plan for suburban and low-income areas, and I am ready to help!

With President Biden’s $2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan, we have been given a chance to Rebuild America Together. This is an opportunity of a generation for the private and public sectors to unite their forces and act in the best interests of the U.S. society.

When building long-term infrastructure plans, first and foremost, the planners should envision what they would like their particular region to look like in the next 20, 30, 50 years.  Then, set manageable, achievable goals, for example, on the five-year timeframe, to plan and outline the path to successfully implement their vision. Planners also need to consider the changing climate and ever-increasing population and figure out the best way to achieve their ideal plan in their region. Utilizing good, accurate data and using cutting-edge tools to take many possible factors into account and model the ideal plan will help take the guesswork out of the planning and give the planners the highest possible chances of success.