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New Mapping Platform Charts Construction in Cities

Cities like Seattle and Chicago are mapping construction and other projects on a new online platform that offers detailed insight into how construction, paving or other work might impact mobility.

A new platform allows users to see how construction and other work is affecting travel in cities.

It's called dotMaps, and as its name implies, it's essentially a map, albeit one with dots indicating a wide range of development work, including everything from minor streetlight repairs to the construction of a major high-rise development project. The aim of the platform is to help residents, visitors, business-owners and anyone else occupying urban spaces to stay informed about mobility around them. To this end, users can draw a boundary around an area displayed on dotMaps — maybe it’s their neighborhood or perhaps their workplace — and zero-in on what projects are happening, getting notifications outlining construction work as it stops, starts or otherwise changes mobility.

The project that would become dotMaps was started in 2017, intended in the early stages to be used internally by public servants and city officials in Seattle. Seattle created dotMaps with the help of SADA Systems, a technology consulting services company, with the goal of giving various city departments and agencies a better means of coordinating the flurry of communications related to building developments, as well as info about how those projects impact the public space. City officials estimate that they have saved some $18 million since introducing dotMaps through improved coordination across agencies. 

They have also spread it to other cities, giving it the potential to essentially be built anywhere.

“We can replicate [the platform] for any city to connect and collaborate across agencies, and provide visibility to city projects and street closures for their citizens,” said Narine Galstian, a spokesperson for SADA.

In fact, it was replicating the platform in other cities that eventually led it to the public-facing status it has now. See, by working with SADA and input from the Chicago Department of Transportation, Seattle officials were able to create a public-facing map, complete with customized email alerts about places that are most relevant to them, said Heather Marx, director of downtown mobility for the Seattle Department of Transportation. 

Seattle also shares the dotMaps data with common wayfinding apps like Waze and Google Maps, which Marx said enables users to quickly learn which roads on their routes may be blocked.

The construction mapping information could likely not have come at a better time. Seattle is awash in building projects — both real-estate and transportation related.

“There is something unusual happening every single day," Marx said. "So, the more people who know about this tool, the more people can engage with this tool, the better off all of us will be, because everyone will be making smarter choices. One of the things that I really like to say to folks is that, we’re building the infrastructure for the city that we’ve already become."

Earlier this year, transportation officials began shutting down the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an elevated two-level freeway along the Seattle waterfront, in preparations for demolition. The highway, built in the 1950s, has long been in need of replacement. In January, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) closed the structure, which averaged nearly 80,000 cars every weekday, for three weeks.

“The closure was difficult from a transportation coordination standpoint. But what is really transformational is those 90,000 people who used to use the Viaduct, every single day to get to where they’re going, they have to do something else now,” said Marx. “We want to make sure that everybody has as much information as we can provide to them about how to get from here to there because it’s changing all the time.”

And Seattle is not alone in this. In April, collaborating city Chicago released its own ChiStreetWork site, which is developed by SADA and also provides construction and street repair information for the public, similar to dotMaps. 

“Now the public can look to it if there's work in the public right of way on their block — they can find if there's a permit issued and they can actually pull up the permit online to see who obtained the permit,” explained Michael Claffey, director of public affairs at the Chicago Department of Transportation. “They could also find out if the work is happening without a permit.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.