A rare use of CV for Good instead of Evil

Alex Bell developed a computer program that used a traffic camera to identify how often bus and bicycle lanes were blocked:

Alex Bell hates it when the designated bike lane he is pedaling down is blocked. So, too, do many cycling New Yorkers. But Mr. Bell hates it so much that he has tried to do something about it: Three years ago he sued U.P.S., targeting the delivery company's trucks for blocking his bike path, a case he lost that is in its second round of appeals.

Now Mr. Bell is trying another tack -- the 30-year-old computer scientist who lives in Harlem has created a prototype of a machine-learning algorithm that studies footage from a traffic camera and tracks precisely how often bike lanes are obstructed by delivery trucks, parked cars and waiting cabs, among other scofflaws. It is a piece of data that transportation advocates said is missing in the largely anecdotal discussion of how well the city's bus and bike lanes do or do not work. [...]

Mr. Bell's project focused on one city block -- St. Nicholas Avenue between 145th and 146th Streets -- over the course of 10 days. His preliminary findings were stark: Using traffic-camera footage trained on one bus stop and two bike lanes (one for traveling north, the other for heading south), Mr. Bell found that the bus stop was blocked 57 percent of the time, while the bike lanes were blocked 40 percent of the time.

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17 Responses:

  1. I have considered building this tool.

  2. MattyJ says:

    I'd like to get some data for people parking cars on motorcycle parking spots, but I'm selfish that way.

  3. Someone add number plate recognition and automatic fines!

    • tfb says:

      Or, in fact, simulated outrage in the media followed by rapid withdrawal of the system. Seriously: the technology exists to automatically fine essentially everyone who, say, breaks the speed limit (and in the UK essentially everyone does), yet somehow it is never deployed.

      • jwz says:

        Speaking of never deployed: why do civilian cars have speedometers that go to twice the legal speed limit in the country in which they are licensed? It's the automotive equivalent of bump stocks.

        • AntaBaka says:

          As a German citizen, I don't understand the question :)

          But seriously, cars runnning in countries with hard legal limits on all motorways should be limited to those. It's trivial to do that (my BMW is limited to ~160 mph by the manufacturer although it could run more) but probably also trivial to circumvent.

        • Unlike a bump stock--which actually makes the gun fire faster--changing the numbers on the speedometer has nothing to do with how fast the car can go. In fact limiting the numbers gives drivers plausible deniability on how fast they were actually going, once they reach the max displayable speed.

          Anyway, we tried this in the 70s with entirely predictable results:


          • tfb says:

            I think perhaps the idea was that the top speed of the vehicle would be limited as well because, well, that's obvious isn't it?

            On the other hand, given your link, it doesn't seem to have been to whoever had that idea.

  4. I don't have a lot good to say about Mike Bloomberg, but I'll give him this: he knew that shared bike lines were bullshit, and he actually strongarmed the city to make some actual grade-separated ones on the major avenues. They're awesome.

    Of course, Bloomberg being Bloomberg, none of them extend up as far as 145th. And NYC politics being NYC politics, literally every candidate running to succeed him in 2013 ran on an explicit promise to at best halt construction of new bike lanes and in some cases to actually remove them.

    (An additional NYC-local problem is the issue of "placard abuse": there are literally thousands of people -- and not just cops! -- in possession of little paper signs that you can put on your dashboard which will exempt you from parking tickets. In theory the placards don't allow you to park in bus/bike lanes, but guess how that works out in practice...)

    • Does NYC do handicap placard abuse, as well as police placards? That is big in SF.

      On the plus side, NYC is one of the few places that accept citizen reports of traffic violations and issue fines based on them. The catch is, it's only for taxis/limos, because the Taxi and Limousine Commission is historically very powerful. Still, it's not nothing. @Reported_NYC on Twitter has an app that lets you send a taxi/limo report in seconds, and has plans to expand the service.

      • Doctor Memory says:

        I'm sure there's also rampant abuse of handicap placards here, but my (entirely unsourced, possibly completely wrong) impression is that NYC has far fewer on-street reserved handicap parking spots, so having one isn't as useful as one of the police/etc placards.

    • internetimal says:

      The experience of actually existing in NYC for a few minutes pretty much rubs that in or demonstrates why DC's attempts with central lanes are more likely to help than instantiating a perpetual war over curb access.

      • internetimal says:

        I should add that Stamford being Stamford, one of the stranger things done here is arbitrarily designating a few of the major roads as bikable and painting the "bike lane" symbol approximately down the middle of them. This is an amazing experiment in a cross between extreme magical thinking and subtly cuing motorists to expect cyclists to actually follow the traffic laws and be there.

        • thielges says:

          Those are the widely despised “sharrows”, used when the streets department punts on providing proper accommodation for bicyclists. There are some situations where it is the best that can be done though they’re widely used in cases where reallocation of street space could yield proper bike lanes or even better solutions. Cities often prioritize curbside parking over safety.

          • cxed says:

            It's like the true meaning of signs that say "Share The Road" is really "The Road Is Not Shared Well Here".

            • thielges says:

              Don’t get me started on the “share the road” signs. They’re so ambiguous that they are less than useful. Many motorists think the sign means “bicycles: get out of the way!” Anyone who’s bicycled on roads marked with that sign has eventually been harassed by a motorist shouting “share the road you mother$&@?*#”.

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