Ford Helped Ann Arbor Become a Living Lab for City Mobility, Detroit Part of Program Expansion

Ann Arbor has become a real-time city mobility laboratory with the help of Ford Motor Co. and its City Insights Platform of advanced software tools.
digital model of Ann Arbor
Part of the Ford City Insights Platform is City Insights Studio that created a digital model of Ann Arbor with miniature 3-D printed buildings. // Photo courtesy of Ford

Ann Arbor has become a real-time city mobility laboratory with the help of Ford Motor Co. and its City Insights Platform of advanced software tools.

Ford and Ann Arbor collaborated to pilot the City Insights Platform, which allows cities to explore and help solve a variety of mobility issues in a way not offered before. Following successful tests in Ann Arbor, Ford is expanding the use of the tools to six more U.S. cities, including Austin, Texas; Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Detroit.

The software leverages parking, transit, traffic, safety, and census data, to allow city planners to visualize their entire mobility ecosystem and help them explore various solutions before implementing them in the real world.

Ford also worked with the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, the Downtown Development Authority, Ann Arbor SPARK, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute to help determine the best way to not only synchronize the data, but also ensure privacy was maintained every step of the way.

“One of the first things Ann Arbor wanted to analyze was its parking infrastructure,” explains Brett Wheatley, vice president of mobility marketing and growth at Ford. “Home to a large hospital system, a prominent university, and a bustling downtown that city data shows is growing by 11 percent every year, Ann Arbor officials naturally wanted to know if there were enough parking spots to accommodate all the traffic flowing through the city.”

With the Ford City Insights Platform, Ann Arbor planners were able to get a comprehensive view of all city parking — data that previously was not available in one place — including city- and university-owned parking structures, as well as street-side parking spaces. They were able to visualize traffic flow during an average 24-hour period and easily see how parking was utilized — whether people were interested in street parking, hunting for spots in various garages, or simply passing through downtown.

Initially, it was thought the city needed more parking, but the analysis showed it would be better to find ways to inform drivers of openings and make access to parking easier.

“Safety also is a top priority for Ann Arbor and many other cities, especially as crashes with pedestrians increase even though city infrastructure and vehicles get safer,” says Wheatley. “Using the Safety Insights tool in the Ford City Insights Platform, cities can combine crash data from police reports and other sources with our connected vehicle data to help identify locations with a high likelihood of accidents. And since not every dangerous encounter or near-miss is documented by a police report, our platform helps give planners the ability to see a more complete picture of road safety.”

The addition of connected vehicle data gives planners insight into driver behavior such as where people are hitting the brakes harshly or accelerating unexpectedly. Planners can use this additional insight to decide where to focus their efforts as they work to improve safety.

The City Insights Platform also can be used to help improve the efficiency of city services. Ann Arbor officials tested this functionality by asking Ford to study their alleys with sensors that identify how people enter and at what times.

“With delivery trucks, residents, and pedestrians sharing the alleys with vehicles that provide city services, such as garbage trucks, it’s easy to imagine accessibility becoming a problem,” Wheatley explains. “If a garbage truck can’t enter an alley as part of its normal route, that doesn’t just create traffic, it costs the city money and negatively impacts the quality of life for residents and businesses.”

Going forward, Wheatley says, “we are collaborating closely with cities to find a better way, a way that brings all stakeholders together in an easy-to-use, data-driven environment that can help make our cities safe, more livable and accessible, as well as drive new opportunities for multiple generations to come.”

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