The development of transportation improvements in any city poses a range of challenges, including meaningfully involving relevant stakeholders. With many members of the public generally skeptical of government’s ability to generate solutions that will work for them, transport agencies and community organizations are looking for better ways to engage each other and the general public in developing project ideas. One problem is that existing representational tools are not well suited for allowing diverse stakeholders to understand, evaluate, and provide feedback on the geographically distributed benefits and tradeoffs of potential transport decisions. These decisions range widely, from local pedestrian flows around public transport stations, to parking provision on streets, to corridor alignment and priority schemes that can affect regional connectivity.
In recent years, however, new cooperative planning tools have emerged, made possible by the rapidly growing availability of open-source data platforms and interactive computing technology. These technologies promise to facilitate the inclusion of local knowledge in a way that could transform public participation.
Starting from the premise that meaningful public engagement is fundamental to doing transit right, together with the Mobility Futures Collaborative at MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), we developed several interactive planning tools to see if they can enable inclusive and authentic dialogue. Open dialogue is a cornerstone of meaningful engagement and learning in collaborative planning settings. We designed the interactive tools to allow individuals to explore impacts and alternatives at the regional, neighborhood, and street scales. With support from the Barr Foundation, and in partnership with Nuestra Comunidad, a local community development organization, the tools were deployed in a series of public workshops held in October 2015 in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. These pilot workshops focused on the potential for implementing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). While the tools were tested using the case of BRT corridors in the Boston area, we believe they have applicability to planning for a broader range of transportation alternatives in a variety of settings.
These tools include the CityScope—an interactive platform that utilizes physical models (built from LEGO bricks) and 3-D projection—to enable community members to engage in neighborhood and street-level decisions including alternative bus corridor designs and station-level variations (such as pre-pay boarding). The second tool, CoAXs, is a new interactive platform for collaborative transit planning that builds on open-source urban analytics tools such as Conveyal Transport Analyst.