Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 7th, 2012 at 11:44 am
trip planner in action.
Now riders can combine transit with biking and walking using the newest version of the online trip planner. This open source trip planning tool is the first produced by a transit agency in the U.S. that allows users to combine multiple modes of transportation.
TriMet has spent over three years building this tool (which has even been noticed by the White House). Since they launched it to public use back in October, they’ve received help from hundreds of users, says the agency’s IT Manager of GIS and Location-Based Service Bibiana McHugh. I spoke with McHugh on the phone this morning to learn more about what has changed since then.
“It’s a much better tool that it was back in October,” she said.
The major improvement, says McHugh, is that the project team — led by TriMet Software Engineer Frank Purcell — has used feedback from users (many of them bike riders) to refine the core algorithm the tool uses to create its routes. The tool is made up of three basic parts: the core algorithm, free and open source OpenStreetMap data, and what McHugh refers to as “configurations”. Those are the weighting preferences baked into the system that help the tool determine what roads are best for a “quick”, “bike-friendly”, hilly, or flat route, and so on.
Those configurations can be tweaked in a nifty triangle that allows users to choose how much to weight each feature. “We’ve tweaked those configurations for optimum results,” says McHugh. She also credits the four interns who helped work on the project, saying that bicycling is their main mode of transportation and they did a lot of field work and testing over the past several months.
Another big improvement to TriMet’s planner has to do with the map’s graphical tiles. Before they were using Open Street Map data with tiles owned by Mapquest. After Mapquest went down a few times, McHugh says they didn’t want to be reliant on them. She was also concerned that Mapquest’s tiles might not get updated frequently enough. So now they’ve built their own tiles, which gives TriMet the ability to dial-in the look and feel and keep the data current. “No many people are doing this… It’s a pretty big undertaking,” she explained. “But we thought it was worth it.”
Another big undertaking was getting quality aerial photography for checking out routes in a street view mode. McHugh said, thanks to a consortium of agencies across the region, they were able to purchase “six-inch aerial photography.” The images are extremely detailed and allow the user to see objects as small as six inches in size. “This means you can actually see bike lanes on a street and curb cuts on a crosswalks.”
As for what else this tool can do? It gives you an elevation profile of your route, you can view locations of carsharing services and fare outlets, and you can print out a hard copy of your trip.
McHugh says they hope to expand the tool through the region and bring in other transit agencies like C-TRAN and SMART. Other next steps for the trip planner are to make it more accessible to sight-impaired and low-bandwidth users.
This is such a fantastic tool, but it’s still not the default tool when you go to TriMet.org. I asked McHugh why this is the case. She said they haven’t yet replaced their proprietary, transit-only system because it entails a lot of behind-the-scenes work (for instance, TriMet call takers use that system when people dial customer service). But, she added, “That’s the next thing we’re working on. By next summer the online trip planner will have completely replaced all our proprietary components.”
— Plan a trip for yourself at Ride.TriMet.org and don’t forget to send in feedback if you’ve got it.