US DOT and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs aim to create new public transit and Wi-Fi networks

The U.S. Department of Transportation and Sidewalk Labs have just announced a program called Flow that aims to create a monitoring and management system for public transportation.

Sidewalk Labs, which is a subsidiary of Alphabet, has developed an analytics platform that cities can use to identify traffic-prone areas and parts of a city that are underserved by public transportation — all by using traffic patterns culled from aggregated, anonymized data.

From that information the software can suggest solutions like ride-sharing, new transportation access or a rerouting of traffic to better serve the community, according to a statement.

The Flow technology, which Sidewalk Labs says will help cities understand where citizens want to travel and how to transport them to those destinations more efficiently, fairly, and safely, will be rolled out at no cost in the cities that are the finalists in the Smart City Challenge.


The program is also a way for Sidewalk Labs potentially to bring the current LinkNYC plan of free wi-fi and transit kiosks to cities around the country.

Like the LinkNYC plan, Sidewalk Labs sees a network of kiosks that provide valuable data on a city’s real-time environment.

In the company’s vision, the kiosks would enable wireless internet access to those who don’t have it, and will be able to sense traffic patterns’ route drivers to available parking; and give cities a way to change traffic patterns on the fly to adjust to the realities on roads at a given time. In time, that technology could enable the routing and movement of autonomous vehicles through cities.

Beyond traffic, these sensing hubs could collect data on air quality, weather, and even foot traffic patterns in an area.

“Empowering disadvantaged communities to take advantage of technology and innovation is a key component of the Smart City Challenge,” said Secretary Anthony Foxx, in a statement. “By embracing smart technologies and concepts that eliminate the digital divide, strengthen connections to jobs and remove physical barriers to access, we can strengthen communities throughout the country.  Our partnership with Sidewalk Labs will help cities engage citizens, improve access to mobility and help cities manage evolving transportation challenges.”

In a press release, Sidewalk Labs chief executive, Dan Doctoroff, called unequal transportation a barrier to social mobility.

“The answer can’t be to build more roads when we are struggling to maintain the ones we have,” said Doctoroff. “That’s why we’re partnering with the 7 Smart Cities Challenge Finalists to build Flow, a transportation coordination platform.”