Movement. Motion. Presence.

English mathematician Isaac Newton outlined 3 laws of motion that laid the foundation for describing the motion — as best we humans can tell — of everything in the universe. What’s interesting about Newton’s laws is they each describe interaction between objects.


From as far back as we have written record, our species have built systems that attempt to control movement and collision, both in space and time. With our collective knowledge as a species we have arrived at a point in time now where moving from one point on Earth to another point can be planned and executed by almost anyone, with very little instruction. We’ve built routes, trails, roads, and passages that facilitate this movement free from collisions.


Walk. Drive. Bike. Bus. Trains. Most of us use one or more of these methods of transportation to get from our origin to our destination. Most of us now plan our trips by first deciding what available methods there are to get where we want to go. This planning process has changed considerably from, say, 150 years ago; 20 years ago; even 10 years ago.

What’s interesting, is the underlying infrastructure has change very little in 150 years. Apart from smoother roads, timed traffic lights, and some brighter paint to help avoid collisions, not much has changed in the underlying transportation infrastructure. My options for traveling from 2nd st. and Race st. to 30th Street Station are basically the same as they were 100 years ago. I can walk, drive, take a bus, bike, or take the subway. I can even travel part of the trip by horse-drawn carriage still.

Planning my journey today is significantly different than if I planned the trip in the past. For starters there are more people traveling. More people; more vehicles; more traffic. Before GPS became as prevalent and reliable as it is now, predicting what the traffic or other issues might be along a specific route was left to sorcerers and the CIA.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The growth in computing power over the past 10–15 years has made doing daily tasks more efficient. Increased storage capacity and compute power in devices that now have presence change our collective ability to optimize movement around the planet. Despite these advances, little has changed in our transportation infrastructure to take advantage of this ever increasing power that most of us carry around with us through out the day. For example, finding out the exact time a subway car will arrive at the Spring Garden St. station is accomplished the same way it was 10; 15; 30 years ago. We look at the scheduled arrival time and hope that it arrives. Wouldn’t it be great if the company in charge of that train line could implement a real-time tracking system that i could subscribe to from my phone when I want to plan a trip? Well, making those types of improvements in the existing system would require additions at the core of the system. This is a complicated and expensive task to to.

De-centralizing the Centralizer

Sadly, it seems, our aging infrastructure is not keeping pace with demand for, what seems like, simple technological improvements to certain things. The cost of keeping things running safely, alone, is more than we can afford.

Don’t panic. There is hope.

It turns out the power to improve things isn’t all in the hands of the transit companies or big government. With a bit of ingenuity, time and computing power, we, the people, can provide patches to the system. Take for example UnlockPhilly.

UnlockPhilly is a simple application that anyone can use to find accessible stations, trains and buses (and now parks!) in Philly. This was built at a previous transit hack-a-tho and has since gone from just a single map, to additional features like the ability to crowd-source accessibility problems.

But you’re all like, “I’m not a hacker.”

This hackathon is not all about hacking. Evidence suggests that the strongest part of this event is putting our minds together to come up with ideas that will help improve movement in the greater Philadelphia area. Its about putting the good ideas into motion and testing them out. Its about debating on the different ways to solve a problem, and coming to a conclusion about a solution.

This will be Code for Philly’s fourth, and best, transportation event yet. This year we have gathered data from more sources than ever, including data from our very own projects like CyclePhilly!

Apps for Philly Transportation Flyer (4)
Apps for Philly Transportation Flyer (4)

On Friday Night — our brainstorming night — of the 2015 Apps for Philly: Transportation will take place at the most central and busiest place in Philadelphia for transportation, 30th Street Station. We want everyone who has ever thought about how to improve movement from one point to another to come out and add to our mass of ideas.

On Saturday, we will put velocity behind some of the ideas and start the real hacking at another central location; SEPTA’s Command Center. We want everyone to come and put their ideas in motion, or work with a team to build something great.

On Sunday, we will conserve the momentum put forth by the teams and individuals on Friday and Saturday, and provide a platform for them to present their ideas and hacks to a distinguished panel of judges, who will choose the top projects to receive prizes.

Newton’s second law of motion defines a force to be equal to the change in momentum with a change in time. By this definition, we have the power to be a force of change and improve the way we move around the city and beyond. In order for this equation to work, we need you. We need each and everyone of you. Mathematicians. Scientists. Planners. Philosophers. Artists. Commuters. Engineers. Cyclists. Hackers. Let’s build the momentum we need to shake up the transportation landscape in our city.

if you can’t tell by now, Physics was my favorite subject in school. ☺