Author: Salena Fitzgerald
Transit Equity team presents their final project during the DSFD workshop.

The two-week workshop, held in June, was led by Fadil Santosa, professor and Yu Wu and Chaomei Chen Head of AMS, along with Bryce Corrigan, SNF Agora Institute senior statistician and lecturer.  

One of our goals in holding this workshop was to demonstrate how data science  can be a tool for good in our democracy, from shedding light on social and economic inequities to providing information to improve civic engagement and more” said  Santosa. 

 Undergraduates and graduate students from Texas, Georgia, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Missouri, Ohio, Utah, Michigan, and Maryland formed four teams, each charged with using data science techniques to address a topic relevant to democracy.

One group tackled the issue of gerrymandering, developing an algorithm to determine if voting district lines are fair in Colorado and Ohio. Another explored why specific populations in the U.S. choose not to vaccinate against COVID-19. A civic engagement portion focused on how to measure citizen participation among youth and nurture their involvement, and another team discussed challenges in transit equity by modeling the potential impact of Baltimore’s proposed Red Line on job accessibility. 

The Red Line is a proposed 14-mile east-west transit line that would connect the Woodlawn area of Baltimore County, communities in West Baltimore, downtown Baltimore, Inner Harbor East, Fells Point, Canton, and the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan cancelled the project in 2015. 

The team assessing transit equity estimated the time it took to get from one census tract to another. Using this information, they calculated job accessibility, which identifies the number of available jobs in a single area. The transit team focused on people who live and work in Baltimore City, analyzing each potential transit stop, path, and the time it takes for a person on public transit to move from one station to the next. They found that transit time for city dwellers living within a 15-minute walking distance from each planned Red Line stop would be drastically reduced.   

The transit team shared their methods and results with the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition (BTEC,) a community-led organization advocating for equal access to transit for riders across the Baltimore region.   

“The Data Science for Democracy workshop applications have indicated how the benefits of the completion of the Red Line are more concrete and beneficial than previously projected, making our case for urgent investments in reduction of transportation sector pollution, it’s adverse public health impacts, and in improved transit equity more persuasive with policymakers,” said Samuel Jordan, president of BTEC.