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Ford technicians study City Insights Studio. Photo courtesy of Ford

As cities get more crowded, companies are developing SimCity-like software that help urban planners plot better transportation networks.

Why it matters: These software programs enable communities to visualize the movement of people and goods around their city and develop solutions to reduce congestion and improve safety.

  • This is important because it's getting tougher to move around some cities, which are coping with population growth, worsening traffic and deteriorating public transit. And, the arrival of self-driving cars could improve conditions — or make them much worse.
  • Companies like RideOS and Bestmile are developing fleet optimization software to make transportation networks more efficient.
  • Another startup called Remix brings together disparate data sources into one view of a city’s transportation picture for better decision-making.

Zoom in: Ford’s City Insights platform also brings together data not usually found in one place so cities can view their entire transportation system holistically and explore solutions to traffic and safety problems before implementing them in the real world.

  • It has a secondary purpose, though: Ford wants to understand how its robotaxis and automated delivery vehicles might fit into the mix one day.

What's new: Ford is piloting the City Insights software in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where it works with city planners and other organizations to analyze specific transportation issues in the growing college town of 121,000.

How it works: Communities like Ann Arbor collect lots of transportation-related data, but don't often share it across departments or organizations. This limits visibility into what's really happening on the roads.

  • Ford pools parking, transit, traffic, safety and census data about Ann Arbor and uses its suite of software tools to bring it to life with a digital model of the city across 6 LCD screens, including miniature 3D-printed buildings.
  • The interactive tabletop offers planners a way to visualize information they might miss on a spreadsheet.
  • They can then analyze traffic patterns and simulate various scenarios.

What they learned:

  • Planners thought Ann Arbor needed more parking, but changed their minds after visualizing traffic flows and are now working on directing drivers to open spaces — a much cheaper alternative.
  • To improve safety, they identified the riskiest intersections by analyzing crash data from police reports alongside Ford's own connected vehicle data, showing instances of sudden braking, for example, which could suggest near-misses.
  • They also studied movement in back alleys, to see how city services could be improved. "If a garbage truck can’t enter an alley as part of its normal route, that doesn’t just create traffic. It costs the city money and negatively impacts the quality of life for residents and businesses," Brett Wheatley, Ford's VP of mobility marketing and growth, writes in a blog post.

What's next: Ford will expand the use of these tools to 6 more U.S. cities, including Austin, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

Go deeper

Updated 45 mins ago - Sports

IOC: Belarus sprinter who sought refuge in Tokyo "safe"

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya of Belarus in 2019. Photo: Ivan Romano/Getty Images

Belarusian Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who sought refuge in Tokyo, is in the care of Japanese authorities and the UN refugee agency is now involved in her case, an International Olympic Committee official told reporters Monday.

The latest: Officials in Poland and the Czech Republic have offered to help the 24-year-old sprinter, who refused national team orders to board a flight home after being taken to Tokyo's Haneda airport Sunday following her criticism of Belarusian coaches, per Reuters

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Team Italy crosses the finish line ahead of American Fred Kerley in the men's 100m final on day nine of the Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan, on Sunday. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

🚨: IOC "looking into" American Raven Saunders' Olympic podium gesture

🏃🏾: Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs: Reconnecting with U.S. father "gave me the desire to win" Olympic 100m sprint race.

🥇High jumpers persuade Olympic officials to let them share gold

🏌️‍♂️: Golfer Xander Schauffele wins gold for U.S. by one shot

🤸🏿‍♀️: Simone Biles won't compete in Olympic floor finals, individual vault or uneven bars

🏳️‍⚧️: Axios at the Olympics: Games grapple with trans athletesTrans athletes see the Tokyo Games as a watershed moment

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

IOC "looking into" American Raven Saunders' Olympic podium gesture

Team USA's Raven Saunders gestures on the podium with her silver medal after competing in the women's shot put event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on Sunday. Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

The International Olympic Committee is "looking into" U.S. shot-putter Raven Saunders' gesture on the Tokyo Games podium after she won a silver medal, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams told reporters Monday.

Why it matters: Saunders told AP she placed her hands above her head in an "X" formation while on the podium to stand up for "oppressed" people. The IOC has banned protests during the Tokyo Games.