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Getting to Zero with State of Place! Using Smart data & predictive analytics to create more walkable, safer streets for all.

Today, we quantify walkability and tie it to economic value. Tomorrow, with Pittsburgh, we'll predict urban design changes that save lives.

Photo of Mariela Alfonzo
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Purpose, Overview, and Proposed Value: State of Place aims to help the City of Pittsburg cost-efficiently and effectively achieve its Vision Zero goals, while encouraging walking and biking, making travel more pleasurable and safe, and enhancing economic development to boot. To achieve this aim, we will utilize and enhance our existing Smart data and predictive analytics platform to quantify the relationship between the built environment and road safety, recommend optimal urban design changes to make places more pedestrian and bike friendly, and make the investment case for doing so. The end product will be the addition of a “safety module” to our existing Software as a Service platform that will allow the City to use data and predictive analytics to make places better at every stage of the citymaking process: from supporting public-generated ideas; to prioritizing specific blocks, neighborhoods or districts; to identifying the most needed urban design changes; to informing and evaluating future requests for proposals - both for planning and development; to more effectively communicating the rationale for a proposed plan, development, or capital improvement - both in terms of design details and money spent; to successfully securing approvals, funding, and buy-in; to objectively marketing its walkability, mobility, and livability successes; and to adopting standardized performance metrics to evaluate existing projects and identify areas for improvement. 

Pittsburgh would be joining the 22 other cities and developers already using State of Place - and it would be the first to access our new Safety module co-created with the City as part of the City of Tomorrow program. Specifically, the City's Vision Zero program would not have to rely - as so many other citymaking processes do - on intuition, gut, or static data to make decisions regarding life and death. And because they would be able to produce both the safety and economic rationale for proposed design interventions, plans would actually get seamlessly approved, funded, and rallied around by citizens. Finally, overall, State of Place can be used by multiple departments in the City besides our initially proposed partner within the Mobility department, including planning, economic development, capital improvements, city management, and other departments, allowing for standardization, efficiency, and enhanced communication internally.  

We would like to note that our solution addresses a mix of both opportunity areas #2 and #3 in that State of Place - by helping identify, prioritize, and economically justify urban design changes that will have the biggest bang for the buck impact on walkability clearly helps to make walking, biking  - and even transit use (as many people walk/bike to transit and enhancing the pedestrian and bicyclist realm makes transit even more likely to be used) - more fun, enjoyable, and may we add, SAFE! Additionally, as opportunity #3 lays out, State of Place helps create awesome - people-first - places people love, in which they absolutely feel respected - at the very least - but even more so, can feel joyful! State of Place clearly helps enhance the experience of getting from place to place as well, including walking on a sidewalk, crossing an intersection, biking, waiting at a bus stop, and all parts of Pittsburghians' journeys! 

State of Place - the basics: State of Place is a Smart data and predictive analytics platform that quantifies what people love about places and automatically recommends ways  to make them more walkable, livable, sustainable - truly Smarter. We do this in five key ways. 

  1. First, data on over 290+ "micro-scale" urban design features – like sidewalks, benches, plazas - is aggregated into a score from 0 – 100 called the State of Place Index, using our IP, based on over 20 years of research. 
  2. The software then breaks down the Index into ten urban design dimensions - like traffic safety, pedestrian/bike amenities, and connectivity. An area's score along these ten dimensions - empirically known to influence our decisions to walk, to bike, of where to live, etc. - make up called the State of Place Profile, which helps communities understand its existing assets and needs - or what’s working and what’s not from an urban design perspective.  
  3. Next, because the State of Place Index and Profile are tied to higher commercial and residential real estate values, along with pedestrian volumes, the software prioritizes changes most likely to lead to specific outcomes that are most important to a community - like increasing retail revenues, pedestrian and bike flows, or (as a result of this pilot), actual road safety rates. 
  4. Then our fun SimCity scenario analysis tool allows citymakers to model out how proposed urban design changes would increase the State of Place Index and Profile. 
  5. Finally, our Forecast feature then shows how increases to the State of Place Index and Profile would impact real estate premiums, calculates the potential value-captured from the improvements to urban design, and finally estimates what the total return on investment (ROI) would be for a given project. 

Together, the scenario analysis and forecasting tools allow citymakers not only to find projects with the biggest impact on walkability and livability, but also ones that deliver the highest "bang for the buck" while communicating the investment case - in terms of actual ROI - for making places better. This eliminates two key pain points for citymakers - 1) making the most efficient use of limited resources and still deliver effective outcomes and 2) getting the approvals, funding, and buy-in needed to actually get projects done! 

State of Place & Pittsburgh - our vision: Given that every 25 seconds, someone dies in a traffic collision, it is clear that strategies such as Vision Zero are in dire need. However, while the movement pertains to be data-driven and transdisciplinary in theory, based on our analysis of the 35 U.S. Vision Zero cities, in practice, most cities focus on enforcement and education and those that integrate urban design approaches lack the data and/or analytics needed to identify what urban design changes would be most effective at eliminating road deaths (or getting to Zero). While more data-driven than most other citymaking efforts, Vision Zero decisions are still top-down, ideologically-based, expert-led, and mostly based on intuition, gut, or case studies (from other cities). State of Place is already helping to transform the citymaking process into a bottom-up, evidence-based, data-driven one by tying urban design to economic value. We now see a huge opportunity to enhance the work of Vision Zero cities by tying State of Place to actual road safety - including motorist, pedestrian, and bicyclist injury and fatality rates. While we understand the team leading Pittsburgh's Vision Zero action plan is still in its early stages, we strongly believe this is the optimal time to adopt the data-driven, holistic urban design focus that State of Place can offer. 

To that end, we would like to work with Pittsburgh to become the first Vision Zero Smart city to adopt the customized “State of Place Safety” module that ties State of Place to traffic accident rates. The “State of Place Safety” module would enable Pittsburgh to be the first city to have a customized predictive analytics software that not only addresses how to improve urban design in known accident hotspots, but  could also be used to predict near misses (future incidents and safety issues) in other parts of the city. Below are the primary activities we would undertake to achieve this goal.

State of Place & Pittsburgh - the plan: 

  1. Data Collection: Currently, our data is collected by trained human raters and it takes approximately 20-25 minutes to collect data for each block. (It is important to note that we are actively working on automating this process using visual machine learning, and aim to complete a test of this framework - outside of this proposed pilot - in the next six months. If successful, we may also deploy it within the proposed pilot, but it is not critical to achieving the aims of the proposed pilot). Accordingly, we will collect data via a combination of a) crowdsourcing, focusing on recruiting local residents and city staff and training them to become certified “State of Place Raters” and b) our own in-house data collection team (as we understand this is the biggest potential risk of our plan, we are committed and are able to provide complementary data collection to ensure on-time, satisfactory delivery of data). Additionally, we will hold a high profile launch event around our data collection efforts to get the community excited, aware and knowledgeable about walkability, safety, and the City of Tomorrow program objectives. 
  2. Hotspot Sampling: We will analyze the City of Pittsburg's existing traffic collision data to identify hotspots and incident areas, extract their current Walk Scores, and conduct a stratified random sample based on the hotspot/incident areas' collective average and standard deviation. This will help ensure that the data we collect from this sample of blocks and intersections is representative of the full "population" of hotspots/incident areas throughout the entire City so that any findings we derive from our sample can be applied to all of Pittsburgh. We estimate this will amount to about 60-100 hotspots/incident areas, and will constitute approximately 600-800 blocks.
  3. Control Sampling: To help establish a basis of comparison, we will also identify 30 "non-hotspots" that "match" 30 existing hotspots/incident areas' Walk Scores, and collect State of Place data for these blocks/intersections as well, amounting to about 180 blocks total.
  4. Data Analysis: Using a combination of linear and logistic regression analysis, we will analyze the relationship between the State of Place Index and Profile and road safety rates, including motorist, pedestrian, and bicyclist injury and fatality rates to understand how urban design influences safety and which urban design features matter most. 
  5. Deliver State of Place Index & Profile: We will upload the State of Place data into the software platform, enabling the City to access the State of Place Index and Profile within the software itself. State of Place's highly visual and spatially integrated software will help the City intuitively understand current hotspots/incidents and control blocks current overall walkability as well as their assets and needs across the ten urban design dimensions.
  6. Onboarding: State of Place will onboard City users to use the State of Place software to ensure customer success. The City will have access to all 5 existing features of the software as well as all of its data. 
  7. Safety Module Integration: State of Place will integrate the safety module into the existing State of Place software platform 
  8. Prioritization: With guidance from State of Place, the City will use our prioritization feature to identify changes most likely to lead to a variety of outcomes, including improved safety, increased pedestrian volumes, and a number of real estate values.
  9. Scenario Analysis: With guidance from State of Place, the City will use our SimCity scenario analysis feature to run unlimited scenarios to quantify how recommended changes will increase the State of Place Index & Profile. State of Place will also provide specific recommendations for what urban design changes to model using the scenario analysis feature.
  10. Forecast Analysis: With guidance from State of Place, the City will use our forecast analysis feature to quantify how different Scenarios identified would impact real estate values, safety rates, value-capture, and ROI.
  11. Reporting: Prepare a report of findings and analysis, generated both automatically by the software and manually as needed by the State of Place team, which will summarize recommendations and impact of identified urban design changes and scenarios, delivered to decision-making bodies to inform the Vision Zero action plan.
  12. Case Study: With the help of the City, create a case study of the project, which includes shareable content and disseminate via profile-raising channels.

State of Place & Pittsburgh - after the "honeymoon (pilot)": After successfully integrating the new Safety module into the State of Place software, we anticipate creating a contract with the City for an ongoing subscription, in which we would continue to collect data on the non-sampled hotspots and incident areas, as well as areas that contain characteristics similar to that of existing hotspots, and eventually the entire city. The city would be able to access all features of the software, including the forecast ROI and safety features, to inform continuing Vision Zero strategies and related design changes, attain approvals and funding, and engage and educate the community. 

Additionally, as our forecasting methodology is flexible and adaptable, we could work with the City to continue to expand the outcomes we predict to include greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, well-being, health care costs and outcomes, and other factors related to the built environment. Having such a robust forecasting module can help inform various City departments regarding the costs and benefits of potential urban design and capital improvements, while always having a transparent, objective mechanism to relay the City's rationale to the community and further engage them in the citymaking process. Finally, as we aim to continue to expand State of Place nationally and internationally, having access to their data will help put Pittsburgh on the map - literally and figuratively - and facilitate the "objective marketing" of the walkability, livability, and sustainability of the City.

Describe who will use your solution (1,000 characters)

Our ideal customer would be the Director of Mobility and Infrastructure at the City of Pittsburgh, Karina Ricks, who has stated she wants “to achieve zero traffic-related injuries or fatalities on our public streets, and that begins with making our streets much safer for all users," especially those most vulnerable - pedestrians, the elderly and minors. We believe Ms. Ricks can use State of Place to identify neighborhoods at highest risk of collisions; prioritize urban design changes that will improve safety and accessibility of all users - especially those most vulnerable; and quantify how those changes would actually improve walkability, increase safety rates, and boost ROI. State of Place will allow Ms. Ricks not only to cost-efficiently achieve her vision, but also ensure Vision Zero’s effectiveness and actually get approvals, funding, and buy-in for projects, by providing a data-driven, investment case for awesome, people-first, safe places.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Ready to Scale - you have completed and expanded your pilot and are seeing adoption of your solution by your intended user

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters) - Inspired by growing up in the auto-dominated Miami suburbs, CEO/Founder and walkability thought leader Dr. Mariela Alfonzo, founded State of Place in 2016 (built upon academic roots dating back to 2003) to advocate for better places and use data to make awesome places people love. State of Place, a minority/women-led team of urban planners and data-geeks with over 20 yrs of experience has serviced over 20 citymakers, including Swiss Railways and backed by NSF's SBIR.

Size of your team or organization

  • 2-10

Funding Request

  • $100,000

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

Building upon the existing State of Place software and internal team resources (including data collectors), we will use Challenge funding to support team capacity and time, R&D, and software development: Discover Insights (Customer and Community): 3 weeks Define Research Plan (Conduct Sampling and Data Collection): 1.5 mos Develop Safety Module (Onboarding; Conduct Data Analysis; Integrate into Software): 3 months Deliver Reports and Disseminate: 3 weeks We have a sustainable, scalable Smart Data and software-as-a-service (SaaS) business with existing revenues from cities and developers in the US and Europe. Also, we are conducting similar urban design + safety work via the Innovate Durham program, which we will build upon with Pittsburgh. The addition of a safety module expands our value proposition and further facilitates a recurring revenue model. We are also automating our data collection, allowing us to move to a Data-as-a-Service model with a supporting software platform.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

We will co-develop success metrics with city staff and inform our project plan using a user-centered, design thinking approach. Our preliminary success metrics are as follows: Pittsburgh becomes first Vision Zero city to adopt customized State of Place Safety module and software platform in their action plan Pittsburgh’s Vision Zero action plan incorporates State of Place recommendations State of Place software users report positive user experience at end of program State of Place "Certified Raters" report positive user experience at end of data collection State of Place meets all program expectations and delivers reports on time and to a high level of quality. Pittsburgh stakeholders request to work with State of Place after the program State of Place and City of Pittsburgh co-create a case study highlighting program successes and lessons learned
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This customer journey represents from top to bottom how our ideal customer, Karina Ricks (Pittsburgh's Director of Mobility and Infrastructure) would use the State of Place software to achieve the Vision Zero goal of getting safer, more walkable development projects done using smart data!


The slides in this deck dive into the details about State of Place and how we add data-driven value to transform places to become more walkable, livable, sustainable and truly smarter!


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Photo of Diana Avart

Hi Mariela,

Congrats on being a Semi-Finalist! Don't forget to continue using the Share buttons found at the end of the post as you make updates during the Refine phase. This will encourage the community to continue to vote and engage with your submission, helping reviewers to get an understanding of which ideas have the greatest public support and also prompting you to consider different aspects of your proposal in new ways.

- Diana, Facilitator

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