There's an App for That
Tackling Atlanta's Transit Conundrum
If you’re tuned in to transit-related news in Atlanta, you may have recently seen or heard Georgia Tech’s own Kari Watkins any number of places.
The assistant professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering — who is also a Tech alumna (CE 97) — was recently named to Mass Transit Magazine’s 40 Under 40 list, and her Cycle Atlanta and OneBusAway apps have been making the rounds in local and national media for the ways they could change how we commute. She’s also been an expert source for transportation stories by NPR and The Atlantic Cities.
“We’re all figuring out how we can optimize what we have and make better use of the space that exists,” Watkins said. “Even those who aren’t environmentally minded recognize the congestion and space issues and are tired of it. We have to make all our modes function better, which includes providing better information.”
Featured by NPR, Fox 5, Channel 2's People 2 People and The Chattanoogan, Watkins’ Cycle Atlanta app launched last year with collaboration from the City of Atlanta and Chris Le Dantec, assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Literature, Media and Communication. It uses a smart phone’s GPS to track cycling routes, and lets users add notes and positive or negative feedback about their cycling experience.
“The data is being used in conjunction with a bike push the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is making for bicycle infrastructure along Peachtree Street,” Watkins said. Despite the artery’s lack of infrastructure, she added, “we’ve learned all these cyclists are already there.”
The designers hope to improve the app’s ability to interface with the City of Atlanta, use the information to improve infrastructure and crowd source the best routes that they are already using.
One Bus Away
Watkins’ work doesn’t stop at bikes. She’s also busy integrating the Seattle-based One Bus Away (OBA) app into Atlanta’s transportation culture. Featured in the AJC (twice) and Fox 5, OBA provides real-time tracking information for MARTA buses.
“The goal is to make OBA multiagency, multiregional and multimodal” she said, where it would ideally include bus and rail from local universities, MARTA, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, Cobb Community Transit, Gwinnett County Transit, the Atlantic Station shuttle and other systems equipped with GPS tracking. The app is now multiregional, meaning that it automatically recognizes which city the user is in and captures data from the local source.
Someday, Watkins envisions, you will have an app that knows your route to work and what time you want to get there, and alert you if your bus or train is going to be early or late.
“It gives back some of the power you give away as a transit rider,” she said.
Watkins, known on Twitter as @transitmom, finds a natural correlation between her work and family life.
“I loved taking the bus in Seattle with my daughters because it was a great cross section of Seattle society,” she said. “Transportation is a part of having a sense of community, and being a parent makes you think about making our systems more sustainable for the future.” Now a bike commuter herself, Watkins rides into campus from Virginia-Highland most days, with the occasional bus commute mixed in.
While the work on Cycle Atlanta and OBA continues, Watkins is currently teaching three courses this fall, including one on intelligent transportation systems and another on multimodal transportation.