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Micro-Mobility Contest Wants to Spark Data-Based Storytelling

E-scooter operator Spin is leading a project, in partnership with data firms StreetLight Data and Populus, to make troves of micro-mobility data available to nonprofits advocating for safer streets.

Advocates working for improved bike, pedestrian or other micro-mobility projects in cities across the U.S. could soon have access to troves of data, as they make their case to officials.

Spin, an operator of e-scooters, is leading a pilot known as the Mobility Data for Safer Streets (MDSS) which asks nonprofits and other micro-mobility advocacy groups to apply for one of up to five slots to participate in the program. Perhaps most significantly, the five winning organizations will have access to a year’s worth of mobility data collected by StreetLight Data and Populus, two leading data collection and analysis firms often used by cities, transportation agencies and others looking to use traffic and other data to shape transportation policy.

“We want to right that imbalance. We want to put data in the hands of people who do hold cities to account. Who do push for the rights of people who are not in the vehicle,” said Beaudry Kock, Spin's head of policy initiatives.

Populus will provide the scooter data, while StreetLight Data will make other mobility information available.

“It’s a very, very rich data set,” Kock said of the information.

“Through this partnership, we look forward to empowering advocacy organizations with information that can transform city streets in ways that prioritize the safe, accessible, and efficient movement of people," said Regina Clewlow, CEO of Populus, in a statement. 

Rich data sets like those provided by StreetLight and Populus help to “make the case around a specific street, a specific corridor, a specific intersection,” said Kock. “Again, with the whole intent of leveling the playing field when it comes to data, and the use of data, in advocacy for safe streets.”

Shared micro-mobility devices like bikes and scooters provided more than 84 million trips across the United States in 2018, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Cities and states have scrambled to shape the public policy to both regulate the devices, and reshape the public streetscape to accommodate them. However, too often, said Kock, public agencies may not be using user and other data to its fullest potential.

“There is somewhat of an imbalance in the way data is shared and used in cities, and I think quite frankly, we share a lot of data with cities, but we don’t see it always being used,” said Kock. “It’s our sense that this data is getting stuck in silos. It’s not always getting applied, necessarily, even when it is available.”

The contest is structured to award a specific corridor, intersection or project. The idea behind the contest is for organizations to say, “We’re going to use data, and data-based story-telling, in this way, to influence a project, to achieve this outcome,” said Kock.

“We want to help these folks tell better stories with this data,” he added. “We know this data is there. We know it’s available. We know it’s not in their hands, by and large. We’ll see what they can do with it.

“We’re looking for that concrete project," Kock said. "And over the course of next year, we’ll be tracking and evaluating, what do they do with data? What impact did it have, if any? And what happens beyond that?”

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.