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Mapping Austin

MIT maps Austin bike wrecks and includes worst streets for accidents

Cyclist Austin Backdrop Crush
MIT's You Are Here hopes to bring about civic change through visual data. Photo by Nicole Ortega

When many of us think of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we imagine rooms filled with smart students, brilliant janitors who solve complex math equations in secret, and research done by the world's leading minds. You Are Here, a project from the Social Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab, is taking those brilliant minds and matching them with artists and designers to turn data into visual illustrations of a city's culture.

Every day for the next year, the folks behind You Are Here will create one interactive map of a city that they've either lived in, or simply just love. According to the website, the team is primarily focused on creative and cultural centers, as well cities with industry centers or seats of government. The hope is to visually interpret data in a beautiful way while inspiring civic change.

 "Each of these maps will be an aggregation of thousands of microstories, tracing the narratives of our collective experience," says You Are Here. 

Only two weeks into the project, the team (which is made up of MIT mathematicians, artists, designers, computer scientists and educators) has released maps for Los Angeles; Cambridge, Massachusetts; San Francisco; Chicago; Brooklyn; Portland; Seattle and Austin detailing things like independent coffee shops and bicycle accidents. "Each of these maps will be an aggregation of thousands of microstories, tracing the narratives of our collective experience," says You Are Here on the website. And for anyone who rides a bike in Austin, perhaps there is no greater collective experience than a wreck.

Using data from the Texas Department of Transportation, the project mapped 1,430 bicycle wrecks reported to local police from 2009-2014. The map details the location of the crash and, by using Google's Street View, allows users to see the exact place where the wreck or accident occurred. By aggregating this data, You Are Here offers city planners and leaders information to analyze locations for new bike lanes, something that is increasingly important as more people look for alternative ways to commute.

So where are the most dangerous roads in town? The top honor goes Guadalupe Street, which isn't terribly surprising considering that many University of Texas students cycle to and from campus on this busy thoroughfare. South Congress Avenue takes second place, though the map does not say whether or not that horrible hill that runs in front of Texas School for the Deaf plays a key factor.

Rounding out the top 10 are I-35, North Lamar Boulevard, South First Boulevard, East Riverside Drive, Barton Springs Road, South Lamar Boulevard, Red River Street and Duval Street.

We can expect even more maps from You Are Here in the future. Though in its inception the project will run for a calendar year, the members say the goal is to add 100 maps for 100 cities analyzing everything from where people first said "I love you" to favorite trees. "If through maps we learn how to better our cities (making them more alive, safer, prettier, healthier) social technology should streamline change through acknowledgment, advocacy, civic action and public and private initiatives," says the project's website.

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