Report on my meeting with MTC

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Matt H

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Feb 23, 2010, 5:08:31 PM2/23/10
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Hi all,

I was finally able to talk to the folks at MTC. We had a hard time
scheduling a meeting and ended up doing it over the phone. I talked to
Susan Heinrich, their bike and pedestrian coordinator, who is also
involved with 511.org, and Kearey Smith, a planner who is involved
with GIS and who is overseeing development of their bike route
finder.

First the bad news: They are NOT able to give us the actual
(conflated) road and bike network data, because of license agreements
with TeleAtlas. They did offer to give us up-to-date bike route
network data, although it's not clear whether it's any better than
what several of us have already downloaded from their website. (And
for me, it would probably be worse than what I already have, as I have
done a lot of editing/improvements with the shapefiles I downloaded
last year.)

Now the good news: Recent developments at the agency seem to bode
well for working with developers. There is an agency-wide emphasis on
launching services, exposing APIs, and working with outside
developers. Susan explained that this is largely due to an order from
their director, Steve Heminger. It has been somewhat of a culture
shift, and has not been easy to convince staff. MTC's main portal 511
was originally intended as a one-stop shop, and they were reluctant to
"dilute their brand" or send eyeballs away from their own site. But,
they've realized that there are developers out there doing cool
things, who can innovate and develop apps much more quickly. There are
a few new efforts at 511 to develop APIs, and to encourage developers
to use the data. They are event considering awarding small grants or
awards to developers.

They are going to launch two new APIs soon: Real-time traffic
conditions and transit schedules. The transit will be static (i.e.
schedules), not real time, like nextbus). They would like to have real-
time transit data API sometime in the next few years. (I was
wondering, doesn't Google already offer these? Is this just playing
catch-up? Or does Google not allow developers full access to this
information?) More info here:

http://511.org/developer-resources.asp


THE 511 BIKE MAPPER

Regarding the new and improved bike route finder, right now they
have a "pre-alpha" version online. It covers SF County, and portions
of southern Marin county and northern San Mateo county. It is in a
testing period and they are accepting feedback from a limited number
of users. This is the project that Garlynn described at our first
meeting, with seed funding from BAAQMD (the air district). Susan said
that the future of the site's development looked bright as they have a
dedicated funding stream through the Regional Transportation Plan
(federally-funded) that will be continued over the next 25 years.

The pre-alpha is here:

http://mtcgis.mtc.ca.gov/bikemapper/sf-alpha-app/

Kearey warned me that it is not finished, but that they are aiming
for an official release on March 25. Between 3/25 and May, they will
work to fix bugs and incorporate comments, with a goal of finishing by
bike to work day (Thursday, May 13, 2010). The ultimate goal is a) to
include the entire 9-county bay area, and b) integrate multiple modes
(e.g. bike-bus-bart-bike). I asked if I or others could be one of the
"official testers" and he said yes, just send him an email (Kearey
Smith, KSm...@mtc.ca.gov). He did warn that they are under constraints
of time and budget, and hinted that we should not expect too much.

MTC has set up the entire thing as a service and exposed the API.
(Pardon if this section is not very clear; I don't know what REST and
SOAP mean, but others of you will be able to figure this out.) Go
to:

http://mtcgis.mtc.ca.gov/ArcGIS/rest/services/

and click on "SF Bike Mapper" then "SF_BikeMapper/
SF_Bike_Route_Builder (NAServer)":

http://mtcgis.mtc.ca.gov/ArcGIS/rest/services/SF_BikeMapper/SF_Bike_Route_Builder/NAServer

Kearey made it sound like using this service was straightforward.
(I'm not so sure it is?) I asked about docs for how to use the APIs,
and he said that they are all ESRI standard API formats, and that the
documentation is on:

http://resources.esri.com

The one thing I figured out is this: When you click on "API
Reference" in the top corner, you get a page that does not load:

http://mtcgis2/arcgis/SDK/REST/index.html?naserver.html (invalid
link)

If you replace "mtcgis2" with "mtcgis.mtc.ca.gov", this link works:

http://mtcgis.mtc.ca.gov/arcgis/SDK/REST/index.html?naserver.html

(Looks like there's a lot of good information in there.)

They are still considering ways to incorporate user feedback and
"crowdsourced" info, and they have yet to set up a system to collect
it. I suggested that their site will only be useful if they keep it
current.

OK, that's pretty much the summary. They were very eager to tell me
about what they've been up to. They apologized for rebuffing others
who tried to contact them earlier, and seemed genuinely interested in
staying in touch and offering what assistance they can in the future.
The subtext seemed to be, however, that they are underfunded,
understaffed, and overworked, so we should not expect too much. I got
the impression that they are taking the long view, and not in a real
big hurry.

Now, all of this said, I think that we should probably arrange a
second meeting sometime soon, and begin charting a way forward. I have
had more ideas about how to manage the GIS data side of things. John
seems to have been busy coding, and we've had some additional people
join and express interest in the project. I would propose sometime
during the first week of March.

-Matt

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