The Hacking Tyler, Texas, Project: Research and Development

This is the latest installment in Christopher Groskopf's attempt to open up the data of the town in Texas to which he's moving. Read about the genesis of the project here.

I'm somewhat reticent to admit that the pace of Hack Tyler development has slowed and will likely remain that way for a month or two. I spent the last week packing and cleaning. My wife and son have moved and transported the majority of my belongings with them. My things are now waiting for me in a storage unit in Tyler. As a consequence, I have only my netbook to hack on and no desk space to do even that.

I'm relatively used to limited accommodations, so I'm not particularly uncomfortable. However, it does take the edge off my capacity and encourages me to reach for other activities I haven't found enough time for over the last year. I've also contracted some additional work to keep myself busy in the interim. In order not to completely lose momentum on this project, I've shifted my focus to research and communication tasks.

I've been in touch with Tyler Transit regarding Tyler on Time and learned a great deal of interesting things about their systems. Most notably, the current transit system is in the process of being completely overhauled and the existing bus routes will cease to exist sometime in August. The Transportation Operations Coordinator for the department has offered to provide me with updated shapefiles and timetable data in advance of the switchover, which will allow me to preemptively refactor Tyler On Time for the new routes. This opens up the possibility of Tyler on Time "launching" with the new routes, which seems eminently useful.

Unfortunately, this new data will not include timetable for all stops, but will continue to be "waypointed" as the current data is. This makes it very difficult to offer accurate intermediate stop times. I've yet to decide how to handle this, but I'm leaning toward a presentation solution rather than an algorithmic solution. Something like:

The nearest stop with scheduled departure times is 4 stops away, the next bus is scheduled to arrive at that stop in 5 minutes. The previous bus departed that stop 14 minutes ago.

Predicting stop times is likely not possible as Tyler is reputed to have significant traffic congestion problems, which would render estimates based on speed and distance inaccurate. I'm open to suggestions about how else I might handle this.

Learning about the details of Tyler's changing transit system has also led me to a number of interesting documents related to Tyler's municipal planning:

These documents present more information that I can possibly digest during the time I have left in Chicago, but I expect studying them to provide me with essential context for my own ideas. Additionally, the "Summary File 1" batch of census data for Texas will be released sometime in the next two months, providing further insight into the place and its people. I'll be especially excited to write about this data, given how much time I've spent working with census data lately.

All in all, I expect I will write much less code this month than I did in June, but I will continue to inform myself and prepare for the things that come next. Best of all, I've now got my son's comprehensive nightly reports:

It's hot. We're going to the pool again.