/ Hack for Your Mother 2020

A/B Street Gamifies Building Better Bus and Bike Lanes in Seattle

Gridlock and Buses and Bike Lanes, Oh My!

Anyone who lives or works in Seattle is all too familiar with its traffic problem. Despite more and more people choosing alternative forms of transport, the city’s traffic flow, as it’s currently designed, usually favors drivers. In fact, proposals that reduce on-street parking, prioritize pedestrians, or suggest putting more bus and bike lanes in Seattle regularly get significant pushback from the public and lawmakers alike. While the best solution is debated, the gridlock continues to back up, and commuters and residents grow increasingly frustrated.

<alt-text: Four members of A/B Street team gather around MacBooks to collaborate on the project.>

Sending Gamers In To The (Simulated) Streets of Seattle

Enter A/B Street, a game at the intersection of Sim City and professional traffic simulations. Dustin Carlino, whose ideas sparked the game, has been developing this project alone for about a year. Carlino came up with the idea over the course of years spent riding public transit in Seattle. He regularly commuted via bus near the Montlake 520 construction. There he noticed that city planners added a bus lane, which would have increased his transit time significantly. His excitement faded when a change in construction needs closed the lane and the bus got stuck in the Seattle gridlock once again. With plenty of time to sit and think as he gazed at the two HOV lanes next to his unmoving bus, he wondered what the impact would be on traffic if one of them were converted to a bus lane. Though he couldn’t figure it out while sitting on the bus, he realized that a simulator would help quantify the implications of his common-sense solution.

The far-away goal of this game is to offer users a way to quickly prototype new traffic flows and help visualize data in a way that most people can understand. There are currently two options to do that now: the professional applications, which cost a great deal of money and can’t be modified, and open source applications, which tend to be limited in features and vary in user-friendliness. A/B Street aims to allow just about anyone to easily toggle the number of car, bus, and bike lanes in Seattle to see which setup allows for the most efficient traffic flow and which just create more congestion.

Hacking Our Way to Better Bike Lanes In Seattle

At DemocracyLab’s Hack to Give Thanks, a large group of designers and developers gathered around a whiteboard to tackle critical project issues centering on usability. The diverse team of professional and student volunteers worked together on every aspect of the project, from streamlining the experience for first-time users to building more intuitive controls. They made a lot of progress, but, despite the strides A/B Street has made, the work isn’t done yet.

Dustin Carlino is looking for UI designers, full stack developers, traffic subject matter experts, and even testers! Volunteers on the A/B Street get the opportunity to help players propose new traffic flows to the Seattle Department of Transportation. If you’d like to be part of a solution for modeling and improving Seattle’s traffic infrastructure, reach out to Carlino at DemocracyLab today.