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Marshalltown, ISU partner to improve city transit system

T-R FILE PHOTO Two Marshalltown Municipal Transit busess parked at the Fisher Community Center transfer point.

Iowa State University and Marshalltown have teamed up to produce some data science for the public good.

The team put together information about areas where the city needed bus services and implemented those changes in 2019.

Marshalltown is the first of what will be several communities Iowa State and other universities will work with as part of their Data Science for the Public Good program.

“This is the pilot to a larger project,” said Christopher Seeger, Iowa State University landscape architecture professor and extension specialist.

Iowa State is part of the Coordinated Innovation Network of land-grant universities working to expand the Data Science for Public Good program. The program was developed by the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute.

“The network received a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build the training programs, and a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the economic mobility of communities with this program,” according to an article from Iowa State’s website.

In Marshalltown, researchers took information about bus routes, demographics and pedestrian access.

“We essentially inventoried and digitized the sidewalk and trail network that served as our basis our analysis,” Seeger said. “All that data that we worked is now available for everybody to use.”

The researchers looked at what the bus routes looked like on paper and compared it to what was actually driven, Seeger said.

All of the information gathered was shared with the city, who made adjustments.

“There’s a lot going on in the community with transportation and we were trying to share whatever we found,” Seeger said. “We used the sidewalk network we created and the bus stop location … and we identified all the areas that were within a quarter mile of bus stop that could access the bus stop by walking on a sidewalk as opposed to walking down the street.”

One of the new extended routes was at the River Birch Housing complex near North 18th Avenue and East Marion Street.

Bus routes were added near multi-family housing properties and extended routes to provide better transit services to the community.

“That was one area where we had a population that didn’t have that direct bus service and would be walking a quarter of a mile to receive that service,” said Jessica Kinser, Marshalltown city administrator.

The city wanted to make sure its transit services were serving everybody who needed to be served, Kinser said.

“It’s been very positive,” Kinser said.

The project began in early 2018, but like many other city plans, was put on the back-burner after the 2018 tornado.

“It’s been great to see things happen and see changes occur, which have led to our transit department to be recognized at the state level as the most improved and at the federal level as well,” Kinser said. “It’s certainly been a year where Kevin Pigors as transit administrator has done great work to improve the service we provide and it comes back to this partnership.”

Kinser hopes Iowa State comes back to do a follow-up on the data.

“We really see that as a verification that things we have done have put us on a great path forward,” Kinser said.

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Contact Thomas Nelson at (641)753-6611 or tnelson@timesrepublican.com

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