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Hackathon seeks to crack "Last Mile" access to opportunity

Hackathon seeks to crack "Last Mile" access to opportunity

Over the last weekend in February, more than 50 app developers, data experts, and civic hackers came together in Washington, DC, to help address barriers to opportunity in the Baltimore-Washington region.  During the “Celebrating the Cities – Hack the Last Mile” hackathon, participants built apps, websites, and data visualizations that shed light on the mobility challenges facing lower-income Baltimore and DC residents.

Acting DOT Under Secretary for Policy Carlos Monje welcomed participants on Friday night, sharing the Department’s vision of the critical role transportation plays in connecting Americans to economic opportunity.  

Following his keynote, I joined Stephanie Gidigbi, our Director for Strategic Initiatives; Adam Rogal, head of Uber’s API team; and Zuhairah Washington, Uber’s DC General Manager, for a panel discussion.  We explained our goals for the hackathon and encouraged attendees to be creative and solution-oriented as they worked through the weekend developing innovative approaches that might improve access to opportunity.

Team Happy Home
Winning team Happy Home, from left to right: Martin Folkoff, Shaq Katikala, Kevin Hawkins, Savanna Rovira, Naudy Martinez

On Saturday morning, data experts from DOT, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Census Bureau introduced participants to the open Federal data available for use in their projects.  Socrata  a Seattle-based tech company specializing in making data accessible provided dataset hosting, and Uber’s development team was also on hand to lend assistance.

Then the teams got coding...for 12 straight hours on Saturday and another 6 on Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon, the nine teams presented their projects to a panel of judges from Uber and the DC community.  One team created a tool to help DC residents find housing within reach of primary medical care facilities.  Another team developed an app to help Baltimore residents coordinate carpools on ride sharing services with others in their area heading to similar destinations. 

Possible Happy Home website design
What a Happy Home app webpage might look like

The winning team, Project Happy Home, developed a tool to help DC and Baltimore area residents find affordable rental housing.  But, they went beyond a simple monthly rent payment for a much more comprehensive understanding of "affordability." Yes, the team combined housing costs with apartment occupancy; and then they added travel times, the distance between home and destination, and travel costs to help people find housing that truly meets their needs and budgets.  

Although Project Happy Home was declared the weekend's winner, we congratulate all nine teams for volunteering their time and talent to help address these critical issues.

In the end, the real winners of this last-mile hackathon and others like it– will be the individuals, families, and communities searching for better access to opportunity.

Dan Morgan is Chief Data Officer at DOT.

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