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FEATURE STORY

China: Online Platform Engages the Public in Urban Transport Planning

May 25, 2012

Students from Tsinghua University volunteered to test a new online platform, which allows anyone to submit a mini report on issues related to quality of cycling and walking infrastructure as they discover, via web, smart phone apps, SMS or social media.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An online portal was just developed in Beijing to allow anyone to report issues on cycling and walking infrastructure via web, smart phone apps, SMS or social media
  • It is a new tool that Beijing’s transport planners will use to collect residents’ feedback on urban transport conditions so as to build them safer & more accessible.
  • Volunteers from Tsinghua University tested the functionality and interface of the portal, which will be officially launched to the public later this year.

Beijing, May 25, 2012 - On Sunday, Yin Jialun, a sophomore at Tsinghua University in Beijing, cycled in and around the campus, collecting May 25, information on cycling facilities in the community he is most familiar with.

He found out that part of a bike lane was blocked by road construction. So, with his iPhone, he uploaded this information, GPS-coded, to a web portal, which is now in beta and will be open to the public later this year.

He was one of the 50 students from Tsinghua University that volunteered to test the functionality and interface of the portal, newly developed by Beijing Transport Research Center and the World Bank. Friends of Nature, a Beijing-based environmental NGO, helped organize the testing event on Sunday. 

When this online platform is officially launched, anyone can submit a mini report on issues related to quality of cycling and walking infrastructure as they discover, via web, smart phone apps, SMS or social media. Like during the one-hour testing on Sunday, the volunteers spotted a formidable array of issues that hamper cycling and walking, such as vehicles parked in bike lanes, no bike parking station or safe location to lock their bikes, areas with mixed traffic placing cyclists and passengers at greater risk.    

All user-generated reports are then mapped and visualized, available for others to view and comment on.

This is a new tool that the transport planners in Beijing hope to use to collect feedback from citizens on urban transport conditions, so as to build them safer and more accessible. "Beijing Municipal Government is making efforts to improve cycling environment,” said Zhao Hui, a transport planner at the Beijing Transport Research Center. “This platform is expected to help us make better plans by understanding cycling problems faced by Beijing residents," she said.

Yin Jialun said that, for university students like him, bicycle is a main form of transportation, so, good conditions that smooth biking experience mean a lot to them. “When reporting something that could be possibly fixed, I consider it my way of contributing to development of the urban transport system and the city as a whole,” he said.

"This is such a good initiative,” said another voluntary tester, who is among the first batch of the lucky users to have experienced the platform. “I’d suggest creating citywide promotions for it, to encourage as many people to use it as possible, since that’s the essence of a public platform.”

The portal is built on the Ushahidi interactive mapping platform, which was originally developed in Kenya for mapping crisis situations, but has since been used around the world for various purposes ranging from organizing snow cleaning response to environmental monitoring.

"This marks the first time that a government agency has used this platform for the purpose of collecting feedback from citizens on urban transport conditions in China,” said Ke Fang, a senior urban transport specialist at the World Bank.

The World Bank supports the translation, installation and modification of the Ushahidi platform to be used in China and related trainings provided locally, which is a pilot project to test the possibility of using the state of art mobile and web-based mapping tools as an integrated part of urban transport planning, as well as implementation and monitoring of future urban transport projects in China.

"This is also in line with larger efforts by national and local governments in China to use modern communication tools to actively engage with citizens,” said Fang.

A second-round testing of the platform will take place in mid-June. After that, the platform enters open beta, when public feedback will be taken in.