Why Collaborative Mapping Is The Future of Transit Planning


In your job as a planner, we know you're often fielding basic questions about public transit. We hope this Remix Primer blog series offers another resource as you educate your constituents.

Mapping transit has long been an endeavor based on collaboration and communication. From street layout to bus lines, transportation design plays a vital role in the movement and mobility of a city's public. Now, some transit planners are giving the public a voice in these matters. Collaborative mapping is part of the larger movement to allow citizens to collaborate in accomplishing a project, uplifting diverse perspectives. By using mapping as a way to collaborate, participants use maps as context to their valuable insight.

In recent years, transit planners have increasingly faced issues of inclusivity, sustainability, and equity. To support these community needs, approaches such as collaborative mapping can benefit both transit planners and those they serve.

What Is Collaborative Mapping?

Collaborative mapping is a method of approaching transit planning, specifically mapping tools. It aims to incorporate other voices into transportation planning, therefore supporting equity and inclusivity through transit planning. It uses maps as a base upon which to communicate, promoting a clear context for transit planning collaboration.

Transit planning helps explore and implement the best urban transportation designs. From collecting spatial data to designing urban transportation plans, transit planners are an important part of designing and maintaining any city. Mapping data about mobility, economics, and social equity are an important part of the research transit planners conduct. This information is the first step in identifying social problems that methods such as collaborative mapping could address.

The modern processes of transportation planning are interdisciplinary, with teams including engineers, construction experts, parks and recreation representatives, and more. These teams bring a variety of perspectives and expertise to transit planning. They are also an example of different voices collaborating for a more inclusive approach.

One philosophy driving collaborative mapping is that stakeholders beyond transit planners can contribute to transit planning. Collaborative mapping can also include crowdsourcing, the practice of inviting input and ideas from the public. In the setting of mapping transit, crowdsourcing allows mapping to be more diverse as more voices are brought into the process. Digital mapping resources that allow collaborative mapping further benefit employees by facilitating direct contact.

The Benefits of Collaborative Mapping

Collaborative mapping has many benefits for transit planners and the plans they produce, centered around equity. Three of the main benefits to using collaborative mapping include:

  • increasing inclusivity
  • facilitating ease of communication
  • placing the collaboration in context

Inclusivity in Transit Planning

Equity is an important part of transit mapping. As transit mappers use digital maps created online, they also track socioeconomic patterns, asking how transportation design can be inclusive. For example, public transportation is one type of transit planning that is focused on equity. It is a public resource that gives more people the ability to get to their workplace without the financial requirements of cars.

When transit planning uses the collaborative mapping approach, it continues this tradition of inclusivity. Practices such as crowdsourcing, which is often done online, allow transit planners to collect different perspectives. With this information, they can amplify the voices of the communities they support.

Considering the impact of public transportation on different communities, among other aspects of transit mapping, equity and accessibility are important parts of any transit design project. Gaining diverse input helps planners make informed decisions in collaboration with a variety of communities.

Effective Communication

Another benefit to collaborative mapping is the way it facilitates maximum contact between collaborators by making communication simple. With methods such as crowdsourcing, contact can be remote and asynchronous.

Communication is a difficult aspect of working on any project. Adding intense collaboration can exacerbate this issue if not approached with a well-designed technological solution. By using mapping as the base for communication, participants can collaborate and organize their ideas clearly without long email chains or scheduling conflicts.

This feature also maximizes the number of people who can participate. With no more "back and forth" communication, the community can be more involved than ever. Finding methods of communication during collaboration can be frustrating, making the collaborative mapping method a valuable tool for any transit planner who wants to support inclusivity in their transportation design. Online mapping tools such as Remix help implement these methods into transit mapping practices.  

Inclusivity can be brought even further to the forefront of transit mapping when citizens are able to collaborate easily and remotely, making their voices heard. Eliminating communication barriers encourages participation, increasing contact between the community and transit planners.

Mapping in Context

There are many ways of communicating and collaborating about mapping that do not directly involve maps. However, video chatting, surveys, and emailing lack the context that collaborative mapping provides. Collaborative mapping fills a clear need in the transit planning industry.

The community conversation around transit is much more productive when placed in the context of mapping and spatial data. Collaborative mapping can directly map the input, revealing patterns and aligning ideas. It is not only simpler to work directly with a map, but it also helps collaborators visualize and communicate their ideas.

Combining collaboration, which includes diverse perspectives, with mapping tools creates a way to understand and eventually implement the community feedback. Seeing different voices on geographic information systems translates perspectives into transit plans. Again, collaborative mapping supports equity by amplifying different voices through mapping techniques.

The Future of Collaborative Mapping

Collaborative mapping has the potential to promote inclusivity in transit designand beyond. Collaborative mapping applications have been used in a variety of situations, including epidemiologically mapping malaria.  Collaborative mapping is a versatile and effective way to gather the maximum amount of information from the community itself while uplifting voices who volunteered geographic information.

For example, Remix has been researching how cities have turned to transit projects to advance larger city plans. With this turn, the collaborative emphasis becomes more important than ever. Remix believes that the platform should be cloud-based and easy to use so people of all backgrounds have access. The features must also be map-based, adding important context to the results. With collaborative mapping, technological accessibility and the idea of collaboration itself create a resource that promotes inclusivity and context-driven communication.