Every time I walk into a Code For Princeton hack night, I find something eye-opening. But it’s not always the thing I was looking for.

On one particular occasion late this winter, I had come to a hack night looking for help for building a community website that puts sustainable activities in Princeton on a map. Sustainable Princeton made a nice pitch for it.

There were no takers.

But as I was listening to the next project proposal, my eye was drawn by – okay, sucked into – some cool graphics on the laptop next to mine. The laptop’s owner, Jack Kang, had participated in a Data & Art Hackathon, where the Code For Princeton team had put car crashes in New Jersey on an interactive map.

Grim as the subject may be, the map is beautiful. The interactive bit makes you want to grab that laptop and look around the various routes that you take on your way to work, to errands, on trips with your family.

I asked Jack if the map includes bike crashes. I’m on Princeton’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and interested in making the streets safer for bicyclists. A crash map was included in the Bicycle Master Plan that the town is considering, but it was very forgettable.

We spent a few weeks hunting down data on bicycle crashes, talking to Chief Nick Sutter of the Princeton Police and Jerry Foster of the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association (which, by the way, has a wealth of cool information for commuters).

Not being a coder, I can’t tell you about the details of what went into the actual work. All I know is that Chris Hefele and Ashok Khandelwal produced not one but two maps of bike crashes, both interactive, highlighting different aspects of the data. I took the maps to the bike committee where they had an electrifying effect. There is just nothing like hard data, presented in a compelling way!
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The bike committee used the bicycle crash maps to point out that the bike route network of the Bicycle Master Plan has gaps, precisely along the corridors where many of the crashes have happened in the 12-year period covered by the crash maps. We argued that those gaps need to be closed for Princeton to have a true bicycle network, and that it needs to happen as soon as possible rather than “in the long term” as proposed in the bike master plan, as “long term” may be more than ten years from now.

We took our recommendation to the Princeton Complete Streets Committee, who not only endorsed it, but agreed to co-sign it before it was sent to Princeton’s Planning Board. The early signs are that the “long term” recommendations for making the crucial bike corridors safer are now high-priority items.

Code For Princeton formed a team with Jack Kang, Ashok Khandelwal, Chris Hefele, Erika Serrano, Paz Tarrio and Hema Waghray. They built a website, Bike View, where you can see the crash maps, and where you can report bicycle related incidents or road conditions which are forwarded to Access Princeton, the town’s site / app for resident feedback. A related app was built by a Rider University team led by Nick Heath. This whole was submitted as an entry at the Coding For Community competition, where it won third place.

I congratulate the Bike View team for winning the recognition! – I hear they have been contacted by other towns about Bike View. But I also congratulate Princeton for having this group of highly talented civic hackers who so generously give their time – and make a real difference.  -Tineke Thio

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