By Zak Stone
If a local community wants government to improve the design of city streets, a first step might be to glean some hard data about traffic patterns to show why change is necessary, numbers like how many cars disregard the speed limit of a given block or the number of bicyclists passing by, for example, might justify investment in speed humps or bike lanes. While traffic data may rule the streets, unfortunately, traffic counters--tools to count vehicles passing by--are often too expensive for individuals or community groups, rendering them less powerful in the negotiation process. If you have no data, it's hard to make your point.
A new counter called TrafficCom is not only very affordable at $139, it's connected to a platform to easily geo-tag and share traffic data, creating a global map of traffic information that people around the world can use. "With a better understanding of automobile and bicycle ridership patterns, we can inform the design of better cities and towns," write the TrafficCom team on their website.
The tech is fairly simple: a microcontroller tucked inside of a plastic pod links up to 25 feet of tubing. Users simply run that tubing across the road in question, and as vehicles pass over it, they're documented by the counter. The tool's major limitation: it only counts either cars or bikes at one time, and can only count traffic moving in one direction. But perhaps it makes up for that weakness with its humble power needs: the whole thing runs on a nine-volt battery.
The device easily plugs into a computer via USB, and the resulting data is a portrait of how traffic moves across a patch of pavement at a given moment in time, complete with the speed, the number of vehicles, and the rate at which they're passing. It's connection to an open data platform instantly maps the data, sharing it with a global network of TrafficCom users ("the TrafficCOMmunity") via TrafficCom.org.
Released in mid-November, TrafficCom is the handiwork of New York City-based engineer Ted Ullrich and urban planner Aurash Khawarzad. So far, the tool has been used in workshops from Russia to Chile.
Copyright 2012 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.