Monday, June 24, 2024


Carey Anne Nadeau is founder of Open Data Discourse and its Street Safety Challenge project.

Carey Anne Nadeau is founder of Open Data Discourse and its Street Safety Challenge project.

It’s not every day city officials, transportation experts and technology whizzes get together to listen to bicyclists, dog walkers, drivers and anyone else with ideas about how to make Cambridge streets work better and more safely for any and every form of transportation. In fact, that day is Jan. 9.

That’s when an MIT-launched project called Open Data Discourse is “bringing together all the people who care about this issue into one space to hear and talk about it and hopefully develop some ways forward,” said Carey Anne Nadeau, founder of the project.

Proposals could call for elected officials to take action, or for community-based projects as simple as putting up signs encouraging people to wear yellow when they walk their dog.

Either way, the 2.5-hour event puts the experts in a room with citizens, and they are to “at the very least bring it back to their respective organizations to let them know that this happened and there were conversations that could be relevant,” Nadeau said.

But there’s a whole other level to the project, one people can still participate in: a “Street Safety Challenge” that can bring up to $2,500 in prizes for people with ideas, art projects or even smartphone apps that can improve how people get around the often crowded streets of Cambridge. The challenge, which began Nov. 21, ends at noon Tuesday.

The Jan. 9 event also serves as an awards dinner for the ideas people suggest in the challenge.

After ideas are presented and winners announced, city officials will not just mull them over; the projects will probably be displayed so they get even more public comment, and there has been talk of a fellowship to turn a proposal into a reality. “If perhaps a Web app is developed for the city and the city is like, ‘Wow, we could really use this and it would significantly improve public safety,’ perhaps then they make an investment in seeing it through to fruition,” Nadeau said.

“We have thought about this quite a bit. We think that previous hackathons or data challenges haven’t really closed the loop of where your information goes after you submit. So we organized this challenge to address that explicitly in a couple ways,” said Nadeau, who’s pursuing a master’s degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

How do you take part?

First, go to the group’s Street Safety Challenge page by clicking here.

The blue button marked “View map” and the green button marked “Get data” bring you the same information – a list of 6,340 accidents involving motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians reported in Cambridge over the past four years – in different ways.


A map with accident data you can zoom in on and move around in:


Or a spreadsheet-style listing of the collisions:


You can sort and focus the data on either view in a bunch of different ways, including:

What’s most important (press the brown “Manage” button to change column order):


What you see (press the blue “Filter” button to change how you see the information, such as with colored boxes, or limit what information you get, such as seeing only night-time accidents):


How it looks as a graphic (press the green “Visualize” button to turn data into a pie chart, bar chart, timeline, etc.):


When you’ve proven your point with data or organized it in a way you feel other people would find helpful, figure out how to present it best. That can be anything from programming an app to creating an art installation, as well as anything in between.

Last-minute questions? Try asking a data coach at this email address.

Challenge judges include city councillor Nadeem Mazen; Dan O’Brien, research director of the Boston Area Research Initiative; Holly St. Clair, director of data services for the Massachusetts Area Planning Council; and Nidhi Subbaraman, staff writer for the BetaBoston column in The Boston Globe.

“This is kind of an experiment for the city to see what comes of it,” Nadeau said. “This is our first attempt at this, and we’re learning.”

The Street Safety Challenge policy workshop takes place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center Center, 1 Memorial Drive, Kendall Square.