By Adrian Ayala, UMTC Research Staff
When it comes to urban planning, the group of citizens with the least political clout in discussions regarding the future of our cities is often the same group whose voices need to be heard the most – children.
In order to promote safe walking to school and to alleviate parents’ fears along the route, the city of Oslo, Norway has developed a cutting edge crowdsourced gaming application that allows for direct input from schoolchildren. Oslo’s 44,000 schoolchildren are the city’s most active group of walkers, and thus, their input is essential in improving roads and increasing traffic security. Created by the Agency of the Urban Environment alongside the Norwegian Center for Transportation Research, “Traffic Agent” targets school children on their walk to school, and by using a game design, they receive large amounts of data on the condition of roads and the safety of the users of urban infrastructure.
The application uses GPS in order to collect data on children’s travel patterns, as well as allowing schoolchildren to report dangerous and favorable spots along the way. Some characteristics of the walking route that the users can report are “heavy/low traffic”, “high speed vehicles”, “poor visibility”, “lack of sidewalk,” among others. The GPS capabilities of the app are particularly useful for the municipality of Oslo, as they can precisely locate areas in which better safety measures are needed. This will allow them to add better lighting, road maintenance, additional street signs, and law enforcement to the areas in need.
The application also works directly with the Oslo public schools and through a special website designed for instructors, the students are given an anonymous code which allows them to access the app and report dangers along the way to school. Throughout the design of the app, anonymity of minors was of utmost concern, and through working collaboratively with the schools, the children’s identities can be protected. The data collected is only visible to the school and the federal project team. Furthermore, the teacher can access the data and discuss with their class on ways to arrive to school safer.
The gaming aspect of the app revolves around children being “secret agents” on the lookout for hazards. The interface features lively animations and an “agent’s” voice, in order to help children who are not yet at the proper reading level to utilize the app’s menu without additional help. The app allows the children to choose sex, transport method, and who they travel with (parent, classmates, other adults/older children). At the end of their route, they are asked to submit their trip to “headquarters” and are then congratulated for their efforts in keeping the city safe.
The Traffic Agent app is one of many in terms of Norway’s efforts to improve pedestrian safety, move towards greater sustainability and decrease the use of cars. The city government also plans to use the app’s data to move their goal of banning private vehicles in the city center by 2019 forward. To try the app, one can search “Trafikkargenten” in the iOS or Android store, and log in using agent code 4320771.