Open & Candid: David Emory

OpenPlans excitedly welcomes David Emory to the Open Plans Transportation team. David’s been enthusiastic about transit since the inaugural MARTA train wound through Atlanta and put him to sleep (he was 3 months old).  While that inaugural ride bought transit to new riders, David’s career has lead him to other firsts in making transit accessible to new communities of riders via communications and mapping innovations.

David sat down and enlightened us on where he came from, how he got here and where he plans to go:

What are you going to work on at OpenPlans?
I will serve as a primary resource for OpenTripPlanner (OTP), an international community-based effort to create an open-source platform for multimodal trip itinerary planning. OpenPlans has been a key participant in the project since its inception in 2009, and I will be working to guide development of new features and applications as well as coordinating our engagement with the growing community of developers and users that has emerged around the project.

The Emory's at MARTA's inaugral ride. David is the passenger in the stroller.

Tell us about yourself.
I got hooked on transit at an early age; my father was director of planning for MARTA, the transit system in my hometown of Atlanta, and I was a passenger (at 3 months of age) on the system’s inaugural train trip in June 1979. I later developed an interest in computers and received a CS degree from Brown in 2001, before returning home to study transportation planning at Georgia Tech. Prior to joining OpenPlans, I worked for five years at the Atlanta Regional Commission, where I worked on transit policy issues and initiated a regional open transit data initiative. Outside of work, I am active with a number of volunteer organizations focused on creating a more livable urban environment, including the Georgia Sierra Club, Citizens for Progressive Transit, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, and the Atlanta Streets Alive! project.

What is Five Points?
Five Points, named after the historical hub of the transit system in Atlanta, is an open-source trip planning package I wrote it as a personal side project in the mid 2000s to support the development of a multimodal trip planner for the city. The initial deployment, called A-Train, was launched in 2007 with the help of a local transit advocacy group, who funded the purchase of a dedicated server for the application, and it remains online today at www.atltransit.com.

How does Five Points relate to OpenTripPlanner?
When OpenTripPlanner was launched two years ago, Five Points was one of several existing open source projects around the country that helped form the basis for OTP, together with others such as GraphServer and OneBusAway. Since then, my efforts with Five Points have been focused on incorporating the relevant elements of that work into the main OTP project. The feature in OTP that provides a graphical elevation profile for bicycle trips, for instance, is based on code I originally wrote for Atlanta.

What are three of your goals for OpenTripPlanner in the coming year?
There are many exciting directions we can take OTP over the next year, but these are three of my top priorities:
1. Improving the overall user experience, including innovative approaches to the visualization of transit system maps and how users interact with them.
2. Expanding the scope of the project to support such applications as transit system analysis and policy research, as well as better integration with general-purpose geospatial software such as the OpenGeo suite.
3. Enhancing and strengthening the existing community of OTP developers, users, and other interested parties, with improved mechanisms for project coordination such as a streamlined web presence and more frequent real-time communication via phone and IRC.

How will your professional experience as planner help shape your work at OpenPlans?
A critical element of urban planning today is accommodating the needs and interests of a broad array of project partners and stakeholders. This was a particular challenge in Atlanta, a sprawling region with a largely decentralized decision making structure. In my previous job I supported the region’s transit policy and coordination committee, which brought together over 20 county and municipal governments, several regional and state-level transportation agencies, and about a dozen different transit providers ranging from single-route campus shuttles to large urban agencies like MARTA. I believe my experience in that environment can be applied to the context of growing open source software projects, which by their nature are relatively decentralized efforts with a diverse community of stakeholders.