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Dublin Digs Deep with City Data

Eric Woods — June 24, 2013

Cities that want to take advantage of new technologies to improve their operations should be ready to embrace both top-down investment in new management and control systems and bottom-up innovation from a wide range of stakeholders.  Dublin provides a good example of a city that is taking advantage of both approaches to attack some critical city issues.

The Irish capital faced a serious congestion problem as its economy boomed before the credit crunch.  Some estimates suggested that congestion was costing the economy over 4% of GDP.   While the economic downturn has eased the pressure on the traffic system in the short term, the city realizes it has to get smarter at dealing with the underlying problems.

The city’s transportation managers have been working with IBM’s Smarter Cities Technology Center, which is based in Dublin, to understand how they can use data analytics to help optimize traffic management and improve the operation of the city’s bus system. Dublin has no metro, so the bus system is particularly important for transportation in the city.

Working with the IBM research team, the traffic department has combined data from bus timetables, traffic sensors, CCTV and real-time GPS updates for the city’s fleet of 1,000 buses.  This data is used to build a digital map of the city, overlain with the real-time position of each Dublin bus. This allows traffic controllers to see the status of the whole network, drill down into problem areas and make informed decisions on the best actions to reduce congestion.  The data also enables better optimization of traffic management measures and of the bus schedule.

The SPUD Effect

I spoke to Brendan O’Brien, Head of Technical Services, Roads and Traffic Department at Dublin City Council, about the impact of the system at an IBM-hosted event in the city in May.  I asked him how this data had changed the city’s approach to managing the city’s transport.  O’Brien said his team can now combine macro and micro levels of management much better, viewing problems in specific locations while also developing better informed strategic plans for the city.  The challenge is to find time to take advantage of these strategic insights.

Dublin is not only looking to the city’s control systems and big data analytics to improve insight into traffic and transport conditions, but also at the possibilities offered by open data. Dublinked, the city’s open data platform, provides an impressive range of public data sets and enables third parties and individuals to contribute data.  Dublin City Council and other local authorities in the Dublin region are working with the National University of Ireland Maynooth to explore the opportunities for service innovation and collaboration with other agencies and suppliers. Mapping of disabled parking spaces in the city, for example, has been done through crowdsourced information.  IBM has also been using the data to demonstrate the possibilities for data analytics on open data platforms with its Semantic Processing of Urban Data (SPUD) demonstration.

Dublin is a good example of how a smart city strategy should not depend on any single system or application, but rather on the innovative use of multiple tools and applications, shared data, and collaborative networks for innovation.

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