ATX Hack the Traffic event hopes to fix Austin’s traffic problems


Photo Credit: Lauren Ibanez | Daily Texan Staff

On Saturday, Austinites will be given the green light to design solutions to the city’s traffic problems. 

Austin’s Transportation Department and UT’s Center for Transportation Research (CTR) are teaming up to host the first ATX Hack the Traffic hackathon. Participants will have the opportunity to use traffic data to address Austin’s transportation problems. The idea for the hackathon comes from Data Rodeo, a project that aims to collect transportation data and make it publicly available. 

“We have an amazing tech-oriented citizenry here,” said John Clary, co-technical lead for ATX Hack the Traffic and a systems analyst for Austin’s transportation department. “We want to tap into that and encourage innovation and transparency, by opening up our data to the public.”

Last year Austin was one of the seven finalists in the Smart City Challenge, in which the U.S. Department of Transportation asked cities to design ideas for a technologically-integrated transportation system. While Austin didn’t win the final grant, Clary said the city is still looking at ways to improve its infrastructure, starting by making traffic data available to municipalities, researchers, companies and the public.

“It’s about building a relationship between the public and government in a new way, a technological way,” Clary said. “Smart cities aren’t just about buying technology. To me being a smart city means making the most of the resources that we have.”

Brandy Savarese, network modeling associate at CTR and coordinator of ATX Hack the Traffic, said one goal of the hackathon is to continue the momentum of building Austin as a smart city.

“After a day of discussing the challenges, accomplishments, experiments at the hackathon, we hope that participants will continue working on (their) projects,” Savarese said.

Austin currently collects transportation data using Bluetooth sensors at various road intersections around the city. 

“When you drive by and you have a Bluetooth-enabled device such as your car or cell phone, the sensor will pick up a tag from your device and record (the device),” Savarese said. 

ATX Hack the Traffic participants will use this Bluetooth sensor data to work on five different prompts, which range from creating a vehicle detection program that runs on a single-board computer to creating a web application that maps the transportation network. Participants also have the option of working on transportation problems they think are most important. 

Clary said he hopes one outcome of the event will be finding an alternative to Bluetooth sensors, because the current sensors are expensive. “(The hackathon) is an opportunity to find low-cost technology infrastructure while giving people real-world experience and opportunities to work with other engineers and city planners,” Clary said.