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Last updated: 5/8/17

Smart Streets

The City of Boston is using technology to re-imagine its streets. On smart streets, we use technology — like cameras and sensors — to learn more about how people navigate and interact on and with the City’s streets. Our most recent work focuses on roadway safety.

Boston is a leader in the global Vision Zero initiative. The goal of Vision Zero is to end fatal and serious traffic crashes. To do this, we will use technology and data to better understand how people act on roads. That data will help us improve street design and safety.

Mass Ave. and Beacon St. project

As part of our Vision Zero effort, we’re working with Verizon to test data gathering technology at the Massachusetts Avenue and Beacon Street intersection.

We are working with Verizon to test several smart cities services. Our goal is to capture aggregated data that helps us better understand the hazards on our roads. We’ll use this information to decide on what changes we need to make. This could include:

  • better streets, sidewalks, or signage
  • changes to how we enforce traffic rules, or
  • more in depth public education.

Why did we pick this intersection? It’s part of a larger City investment to increase safety on Massachusetts Avenue and Beacon Street as part of our Vision Zero program.

To accomplish this, our pilot program will use:

  • video cameras
  • LED lights
  • sensors under the road, and
  • a web-based platform for data analysis, dashboards, visualization and reporting.

Data we’re looking for

We want to get data on:

  • how vehicles and cyclists move — left, right, through, and u-turns — during different traffic signals (green, yellow, and red)
  • vehicles staying in the intersection for long periods of time
  • pedestrians crossing the intersection when traffic signals say “Walk” and “Don't Walk,” and where they cross using crosswalks
  • vehicles and cyclists yielding to pedestrians within crosswalks, and
  • cyclists’ use of bike lanes and situations that cause cyclists to ride outside the bike lanes.

We are capturing counts and data over time to help us better understand what’s happening on our roads. We are not going to use this information to issue tickets or enforce traffic laws, or keep any records linked to individual people or vehicles.

We will share updates on this page as we learn from the data we collect.

Protecting your privacy

The cameras and sensors which Verizon installs will collect records of vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists traveling through the intersection. Video and sensor data is analyzed (aggregated and counted) by systems mounted on poles right at the intersection. This aggregated and counted data is anonymous, meaning it does not have a person’s specific information attached to it. After the data is sent to Verizon, it’s made available to the City. The City will not store or have access to video footage, only counts of events (such as the number of cars passing through) during specific periods of time.

Verizon owns this data, and is giving it to the City through a license agreement. The City will be able to copy, use, and share the data during the pilot program and after it ends.

Neither the City nor Verizon will use license plate readers or biometric software — for example, facial recognition — on the video. The video also won’t be used to:

  • track individual people
  • issue traffic tickets, or
  • help law enforcement investigations, unless it’s required by law or a court order.

Verizon won’t sell or give the video taken in this pilot to anyone, unless it’s required by law or through a court order. The company will only review video recordings to troubleshoot problems or improve their analysis. Verizon will not use the data for commercial purposes unless it supports the pilot or Verizon’s internal technology development work

Other technologies we’re testing

This project is part of a larger effort by the City to become more educated about new technologies. We want to make informed decisions about how to integrate technology into our work, and about policy choices for the future.

The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics is exploring and experimenting with a wide variety of “smart city” technology, including:

The office, along with local startups, researchers, and nonprofits, recently created a sensor research cooperative called the Local Sense Lab. The goal of the lab is to think more broadly about the ethics, impacts, and evaluations of sensor technology. In addition to the Mass Ave./Beacon St. project, the group is testing an array of sensors throughout the City.

Our Streets Cabinet also invited urbanists, technologists, entrepreneurs, and visionaries to respond to a Request for Information to help us update our strategy for deploying smart, connected technology in the public right of way. The deadline was January 30, 2017, and you can see the more than 100 responses here. After reviewing the responses, the City plans to publicly post next steps in late April (note that this date may change).

DOWNLOAD THE RFI

The Boston Planning & Development Agency and several City departments are also working with Boston’s utility companies. Improving coordination will make utility services more affordable, resilient, equitable, and sustainable. Learn more about the Smart Utilities Project.

Partner with the City

If you need help piloting new ideas, we want to hear from you! The opportunity to test technology is open to any partner who can meet our requirements and provide helpful data.

 

These projects are for information purposes only, and don’t mean the City will buy any specific equipment in the future.

If you want to learn more about the City’s strategy for the use of sensor technologies, read a working draft of the Boston Smart City Playbook. It’s our message to the technology companies, scientists, researchers, journalists, and activists that make up the “Smart City” community.