Traffic and movement

When we started thinking about this project we very quickly came to understand that traffic on Tenison Road is a concern. We learnt that a number of residents (as well as GTARA, the local residents association) had already begun to push Cambridge City Council to do some kind of audit and implement traffic calming measures. Being on a primary thoroughfare between the Mill Road area and the train station, Tenison Road gets plenty of traffic passing along it, and not just cars but pedestrians and cyclists.

Mounted sensor on top of Microsoft Research

Mixed up with all of this has been an ongoing concern for the redevelopment of Cambridge around the station area. It’s pretty clear that the intersection of Tenison Road and Station Road is already a congested one and it’s not hard to see why people might worry about the redevelopment plans having a serious impact not only on the volume of traffic, but also on the future of Tenison Road as a residential area.

As a first step towards supporting local initiatives to produce and use local data, we’ve begun to experiment with ways of monitoring movement and traffic along Tenison Road. I want to emphasise that these are experiments, but the results we’re getting from a heat sensor placed on the Microsoft Research building do indicate that we could count footfall and automobile traffic.

In the new year, what we want to do is start collecting the data we’re able to sense and present that back to the street in different ways. We’ll be anonymising everything we capture and throwing away any information we can identify people by at the point of capture. What we want to understand is how these kinds of data have different degrees of significance for different types of people: residents, passersby, commuters, the city/county council, etc. We’re keen to understand how data becomes meaningful for people in different contexts and how we might design ways of presenting data to be sensitive to this.

One way we’re going to explore this is to present the data on street level in Microsoft’s big glass windows that face Tension Road (appropriately at the busy junction with Station Road). We’re interested here in how data might be presented publicly, but at the same time situated in the particular context of the street. What does it mean to see this kind of data, what purpose if any might it serve and how might we enable people to use it in productive ways?

Small mock-up of pie chart visualisation of data that will be publicly displayed in the windows of Microsoft Research on Tenison Road

Finally, I just want to say that one of the key concerns we have with this exercise is how we’ll make this data relevant for the people of Tenison Road. In our ongoing meetings with the people on the street we want to make sure we find ways that the data makes sense and can be put to use. Naturally, there are no simple answers to this, but we’re going to ensure we as a street give ourselves plenty of time to think about what’s at stake.

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