Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
A roundup of the best stories on technology, cartography, and urbanism we've come across in the last seven days.
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“Waze and the Traffic Panopticon,” Ryan Bradley, The New Yorker
In April, during his second annual State of the City address, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a data-sharing agreement with Waze, the Google-owned, Israel-based navigation service. Waze is different from most navigation apps, including Google Maps, in that it relies heavily on real-time, user-generated data. Some of this data is produced actively—a driver or passenger sees a stalled vehicle, then uses a voice command or taps a stalled-vehicle icon on the app to alert others—while other data, such as the user’s location and average speed, is gathered passively, via smartphones. The agreement will see the city provide Waze with some of the active data it collects, alerting drivers to road closures, construction, and parades, among other things. From Waze, the city will get real-time data on traffic and road conditions. Garcetti said that the partnership would mean “less congestion, better routing, and a more livable L.A.” Di-Ann Eisnor, Waze’s head of growth, acknowledged to me that these kinds of deals can cause discomfort to the people working inside city government. “It’s exciting, but people inside are also fearful because it seems like too much work, or it seems so unknown,” she said.
“An Immigrant’s Fare Fight,” Anna Walters, Willamette Week
Robel Berhan steers his blue and orange Union Cab with its empty backseat to Hotel Lucia on Southwest Broadway. Nothing. He heads to the Marriott. A line of other cabs blocks his way. He knows a guy at the Nines who sometimes helps him out. It’s nearly 7 pm on a Wednesday, and Berhan needs a customer.
Cars jam the Nines’ loading zone on Southwest Morrison Street, so Berhan double parks his Prius.
“What’s up?” a doorman calls out as Berhan rolls down the window.
“You have any customer?” Berhan asks.
“No,” the doorman says. He smacks his gum, impatient.
“Uber and Lyft?”
“Oh yeah,” the doorman says. “Big time.” He says eight people in the past few hours have jumped into Uber cars.
“Eight taxi could have had a fare,” Berhan says as he pulls away. “I bet they were all going to the airport.” That’s the fare every cab driver wants—about $35, plus tip.
“Mental Maps and the Neuroscience of Neighborhood Blight,” Rick Paulas, Pacific Standard
Comedian Eddie Pepitone once said—and I'm paraphrasing here—that there are no great neighborhoods in Los Angeles, only great blocks. The stretch of Echo Park on Sunset Boulevard between Glendale and Logan is one. The establishments on that short stretch include an upscale wine bar, a hipster concert venue, a vegan restaurant, a deep dish pizza place, cheap thrift stores, not-so-cheap “vintage” stores selling roughly the same stuff, a check-cashing joint, a few fast food chains, and even a supermarket for time travelers.
While it's not the most diverse cross-section you'll find in the city, the block can be used as a social barometer when brought up in conversations. Mention the stretch, and whatever landmark the other person's familiar with tells the tale of the socioeconomic sphere they inhabit; the landmark that puts a gleam of recognition in the other person's eye says everything about their story.
“Amazon Prime and Uber Are Changing the Map of Your City,” Benjamin Freed, Washingtonian
Consider a few seemingly unrelated news events in and around Washington this past year:
- Last July, Metro’s Silver Line opened, offering four new stops at Tysons Corner, including one that delivers riders to the region’s premier mall.
- That same month, several dozen protesters showed up in front of the Washington Post building to express outrage over a Metro-section column that slammed bicyclists.
- The month before, the District government approved a 45-unit apartment building—despite the fact that it had just 16 parking spaces.
- Throughout the second half of 2014, hundreds of residents of Northern Virginia and DC pestered their local governments about the once-obscure topic of taxicab regulations—in this case, ones that might crack down on the car-hailing services Uber and Lyft.
- In September, Yellow Cab, Washington’s largest taxi company, said its revenues had dropped by 30 percent from 2013.
- In October, the US Postal Service began delivering packages on Sundays in DC to customers who shop on Amazon.
At first blush, these happenings don’t look like more than the small-potatoes stories they were—retail innovations, changing commercial fortunes, local political battles. But look again. Each has to do, in one way or another, with matters of transportation.
“Mapping, Beirut-Style: How to Navigate a City Without Using Any Street Names,” Jenny Gustafsson, The Guardian
It’s Saturday afternoon in Beirut and the streets are unusually crowded. A street art event has invited people to one of the city’s old stairways, and a girl at the bottom of the stairs is giving directions over the phone: “You know that small corner shop with the sleeping dog outside? That’s it, I’m here.”
She hangs up her phone, sits down and waits beside an old golden retriever that is, indeed, asleep in the sun; her simple directions, a short reference to a neighbourhood shop, apparently more than sufficient.
Try to locate any place in the Lebanese capital and this, typically, is what you will hear: details and places, not the names of streets or their numbers. Whether visiting a friend for the first time or trying to find someone’s office, the best bet is always to find landmarks, not official addresses – they may exist, but probably won’t be of much help anyway, because no one really uses them.