In three years, if all goes as planned, Oslo, Norway, plans to ban cars in the city center. In the meantime, though, it still isn't always safe to walk or bike in the area, especially for children headed to school. That's why a new app, Traffic Agent, "gamifies" safer street design and gets kids involved in improving the streets.
Using the app, when kids notice a dangerous situation, they can report it as "secret agents" for the city.
"The app was developed together with children and for children," says Vibeke Rørholt, who came up with the idea for the app as she developed a report on road safety for children in the city. Kids helped make it fun: they wanted to pretend to be spies, listen to "mysterious" music, and to be able to send messages to headquarters and each other.
As students walk, bike, or ride the bus, the Traffic Agent app maps their routes, helping the city gather better data on transportation trends. When a student notices something they want to report—either positive or negative—they pull out their phone, swipe their thumb over the screen, and the app records the GPS location and pins the report on a crowdsourced map. (The app is designed for use when kids stop walking, so it won't lead to Pokemon Go-like distraction).
The city tries to respond quickly to the feedback. When several students reported that they liked walking through a particular private yard on the way to school, Oslo officials contacted the property owner and got permission to build a path there. On a narrow hill where cars tended to speed, the city build a new sidewalk.
"We check the map for reports every morning," says Rørholt. If something doesn't need to go through bureaucratic paperwork—for example, cars are illegally parked—the city sends someone to take care of the issue immediately.
"We received a telephone call from the mother of a little boy who had reported some bushes that meant he couldn’t see when he was crossing the street," she says. "And two days later the bushes were cut. She phoned in saying he’s so happy that he could make this happen."
The city has partnered with 35 schools on the app and hopes that it can eventually be used as the sole tool for reporting road safety on school routes.
Ultimately, the goal is to get more students to walk or bike. "We now have politicians in Oslo that wants to encourage all inhabitants to walk and cycle more," she says. "If parents shall allow their children to walk, it is important that they feel safe on their way to school. If the parents do not feel safe, the solution is often to drive them by car."
Have something to say about this article? You can email us and let us know. If it's interesting and thoughtful, we may publish your response.